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Roundup 1-13-2017

January 13, 2017

Contents

Transportation – HART/PSTA Revisited

Transportation – TBX Questions

Transportation – Ferry Numbers

Built Environment – More on Walking

Economic Development – Venture Capital

Economy – Housing Costs

— The Developers Speak

Downtown/Hyde Park – The Tribune Lot Project Move Forward

Downtown – How Do You Solve a Problem Like the Library?

Transportation – The Other Airport

Rowdies – Chamber on Board

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

___________________________________

The College Football Playoff National Championship Game (which is a flowing name if there ever was one) has finished, and the area came off looking pretty good (especially on SportsCenter).  Thankfully, in a sign of what may be maturity, there generally was a lack of stories about how this was a big milestone showing the nation (or world) what we are really about (except this).   While we are all for such events and they do provide exposure, you have accomplished something when they become routine (think New Orleans or Miami), and hopefully they are becoming so for us.  So, good job, and on to other things.

Transportation – HART/PSTA Revisited

Back in 2012 and 2013 there were some attempts to get HART and PSTA to work together and move towards merger.  Local politics, largely in Hillsborough County, and local officials killed that, though there was still some talk of working together on a limited basis. That was before Greenlight Pinellas lost and Go Hillsborough went nowhere. Now, HART and PSTA are working on an agreement, from Stpetersblog:

The agreement sets out areas in which the two agencies already collaborate, such as a regional fare collection that uses one informational app that applies whether the customer is in Pinellas or Hillsborough. The regional fare collection app includes not only PSTA and HART, the Hillsborough transit authority, but Sarasota, Pasco and Hernando counties as well.

PSTA and HART are also partnering on such items as the purchase of some equipment and on goal-setting and legislative priorities.

The two would continue collaborating on those items and would research areas that could benefit from joint ventures. That could eventually mean the merger of some departments, Miller said.

We are not going to complain about something that should have been done long ago.  But we are not there yet:

The proposed agreement, which still has to be approved by both the PSTA and HART boards, comes at a time when the state Legislature and federal government are urging local transportation agencies to merge or otherwise create regional transportation priorities.

Funny how the Legislature can get local officials to focus (see PTC).

It also comes at a time when Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long has proposed consolidation of many of the Tampa Bay area’s transportation agencies into one regional group.

Long’s “regional council of governments” would be responsible for finding regional answers to transportation, affordable housing, economic development, and land use and redevelopment issues that face Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties.

Once again, that would be great, though there are regional bodies that are supposed to do that work on transportation (see, for instance, TBARTA).  We are all for regionalism, but we are also a little hesitant to add another level of bureaucracy before there is some evidence that anyone is serious.  The last thing we need is another powerless talking-shop to give the appearance of doing something while not doing much.

On the other hand, if we could get things streamlined – like one transportation agency for Hillsborough and Pinellas – we would be all for that.  That is already the way it is in many places and seems to be the direction other areas, like Atlanta, are moving:

Georgia lawmakers stopped short Thursday of proposing legislation establishing a regional transit system for metro Atlanta.

But a state Senate study committee approved a report recommending the General Assembly begin a “path forward” during the upcoming 2017 legislative session that could lead to a transit governance bill in 2018.

* * *

Political and business leaders, transit agency officials and Georgians who use public transit have long complained that metro Atlanta’s hodge-podge of bus and rail systems are inefficient. While MARTA and local bus systems have taken steps to work together, including letting passengers use MARTA Breeze cards to pay for bus rides on other systems, efforts to form a regional transit system have fizzled.

The committee’s report recommends the legislature set aside funding this winter the State Road and Tollway Authority (SRTA) would use to develop transit governance legislation to introduce in 2018. SRTA would hire an independent consultant for the work.

Sounds like a plan for us as well.  It remains to be seen if local officials are serious.

Transportation – TBX Questions

With TBX in flux, there was an interesting development in the Legislature:

The Tampa Bay Express project could face even more problems if Florida Sen. Frank Artiles (R-Miami) gets his way.

Artiles filed a bill this month that would bar the Florida Department of Transportation from including tolled express lanes in some of its projects.

* * *

Artiles’ bill would limit toll or express lanes to spans of road that still carry debt. Once debt payment on bonds to those sections is relieved, tolls would have to be removed.

That provision would also only apply to projects bonded prior to July 1. After that date, express lanes or carpool lanes would be blocked regardless of debt.

Artiles’ bill wouldn’t cancel all toll roads. It would not apply to Florida’s Turnpike system, which includes the Veterans Expressway, Polk Parkway, Suncoast Parkway and the Interstate 4 Connector, among other areas outside the Tampa Bay region.

We are not sure why carpool lanes would be targeted, but we have no problem with the other part.  The question is how likely is it to go anywhere:

Artiles’ bill does not yet have a companion bill in the Florida House of Representatives. Bills would have to be passed in both chambers and then signed by Gov. Rick Scott to become law. The effort faces an uphill battle. Scott has made tolls a key part of his transportation plan throughout his administration. So even if Artiles’ bill gained support in the Legislature, a pro-tolls Scott would still have to be convinced.

We actually doubt it would pass as described, but it makes a point that FDOT might consider.  We shall see, just like we shall see what the new TBX will be (though we suspect, especially given the silence of local officials after the Howard Frankland issue, it will be the same thing, just without taking a lane from the Howard Frankland).

Transportation – Ferry Numbers

We finally have some numbers from the ferry test program, from Stpetersblog.

More than 5,400 tickets were sold for the Cross-Bay Ferry between Tampa and St. Petersburg in December, organizers said on Wednesday. That’s up from the 4,700 tickets sold in its inaugural month of November.

* * *

Officials say that weekday ticket sales (Monday – Thursday) started out slow in December, but ticket sales doubled in the third week of the month and tripled during the fourth week, with more than 1,700 weekday tickets sold.  Weekend ticket sales totaled 3,734.

“Those results show strong community interest in the ferry, especially given the ferry did not run during two holiday ‘blackout’ days, and during several days when weather closed Port Tampa Bay to all commercial vessel traffic, including cruise ships,” officials said on Wednesday.

Setting aside that we don’t know the quoted officials, we would expect December to be busier, especially for the service provided, because it is for recreation and people have more days off and visitors in December – especially the last two weeks. From the Business Journal:

More than 1,700 tickets were sold for weekday service in December, which is less than half of weekend sales. However, the trajectory is positive. Weekday passes doubled in the third week of December and tripled in the fourth week.

Also, it is not clear from the first quote if the ferry service did not run the days the Port was closed to commercial traffic. Simply not having cruises would seem to be unimportant because it is doubtful that many people would take the ferry when they are going on a cruise. Moreover, if that many people are taking it from cruises, it just emphasizes the limited, tourist focused nature of the test.

In any event, those numbers are ok (averaging about 175 people a day on ferries with 149 seats usually making four trips (two round-trips) a day.  However,

Despite what Kriseman describes as positive ridership, there are still a lot of unknowns when it comes to the future of waterborne travel in Tampa Bay.

Current ridership levels would require a continued government subsidy for a permanent program to be put in place. The pilot project was paid for by a four-way buy in from St. Pete, Tampa and Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn has said he doesn’t want to do that again.

And, in addition to the fact that the schedule and pricing (and, for the most part, the lack of good transit connections) make it more of a novelty than a real service, there is the rub: will full service need subsidy and will anyone give it such a subsidy?  In any event, the test continues.

Built Environment – More on Walking

Last week, we discussed walking (and biking) safety in this area.  Our main point was that, while some progress is being made in some parts of the area, overall we are not progressing that much and that to really progress we need to change the way we plan and build the area.  This week, the Times had another article on walking safety.

Florida remains the nation’s most deadly state for those who journey on foot, a new report has found.

The seven most dangerous metropolitan communities for pedestrians are all in the Sunshine State, according to the Dangerous by Design report released by Smart Growth America today.

That includes the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area, which was ranked seventh with 821 pedestrians killed over a 10-year period through 2014.

The Cape Coral-Fort Myers area topped the ranking, which is based on population size, number of people who commute on foot and number of fatalities.

Florida’s bad record actually represents an improvement over an earlier version of the study, reflecting state and local government efforts to make streets more bike- and pedestrian- friendly. For example, the state’s “Complete Streets” initiative requires that road planners focus not only on drivers but walkers and bicyclists, too.

Actually, the worst seven and eight of the worst ten were in Florida (Miami-Ft. Lauderdale was 11th), so, while there may be some improvement, it would be nice if someone else would take the top (bottom) spot.

The Tampa Bay metropolitan area’s seventh-place ranking represents an improvement over its second-place finish in a study conducted two years ago.

Both Tampa and St. Petersburg have formally adopted plans to improve street safety, including better lighting, beacon crossings and separated bike lanes.

Examples include the addition of roundabouts and more crossings on N 34th Street in Tampa and sidewalk extensions in St. Petersburg known as “bulbouts” that slow traffic and shorten the distance to cross the road.

“We don’t like getting on these bad lists, but we know what we’re doing here and we think we’re making progress and going in the right direction,” said Jean Duncan, director of Tampa’s Transportation and Stormwater Services Department.

Maybe, but, as we said last week, without a real change in planning and how areas are built, we will continue to have problems.  (We are all for truly separated bike lanes, with an actual buffer from traffic rather than simply a painted line on a really busy street)

Many fatalities are the result of decades of car-focused design that created fast-moving multilane highways with few safe crossing areas, the report states.

* * *

“This is a sobering report by any measure,” he said. “We have a big job to do in Florida, and people at state level in the transportation field recognized that several years and are starting to make progress, but it takes a long time.”

It is a big job.  It requires a change of mentality that does not see an 18 or 24 lane highway or the sprawl of Wesley Chapel and South County as the key to better transportation and safety.  We are making progress (at least in some areas), but without that change in mentality expect to be high on this particular list (though not necessarily the top 10) for a while.

Economic Development – Venture Capital

Time to check in with the venture capital scene, again.

In Florida, 2016 was a solid year for venture capital with $1.2 billion of investments in startups. That sum, the best since 2001 in Florida, was inflated by a single $793.5 million investment in a South Florida company called Magic Leap. Otherwise, the remaining $406 million or so was spread among all the remaining Florida VC deals in the state for the year.

In the fourth quarter of 2016, no significant VC deals were reported for Tampa Bay area startups by the PwC/CB Insights MoneyTree Report, which tracks venture capital investing nationwide. For all of 2016, Tampa Bay saw VC deals amounting to $47.7 million, including $30 million in funding earlier in the year with Tampa cybersecurity firm Reliaquest.

Tampa Bay’s biggest year of VC funding of area startups of the past 20-plus years was in 2000 when nearly $548 million was committed. That’s 11 times what was invested in this metro area in 2016.

None of that news is very encouraging.  While there is always the chance of a big breakout at any time, it would be nice to have a more steady stream of investment coming in.  And, yes, you do not need to be developing start-ups to have a healthy economy or job growth, but it helps.  Hopefully, 2017 will be better.

Economy – Housing Costs

One of the major measures of the economy is housing prices (including rents).  There has been a lot of news regarding local prices, including a recent Times article:

In the year just ended, the total value of the bay area’s housing stock soared 10.3 percent, nearly twice as much than the nation as a whole, according to a new report from Zillow.

Dollar-wise, bay-area homes collectively exceed the market value of such giants as Bank of America, Procter & Gamble, Disney and Coca-Cola. If they all sold tomorrow, they’d bring in more money than the annual revenues of every Fortune 500 company except Walmart.

On the downside, Tampa Bay housing values still haven’t returned to pre-crash levels. And in another sign of the lingering effects of the foreclosure crisis, the large number of bay area residents who lease rather than own is spurring a hefty increase in rental rates.

* * *

While several U.S. markets are now more valuable than they were at the height of the housing bubble, about 60 percent including Tampa Bay are still below their peaks, Zillow found. Chicago, for example, remains about $134 billion shy of its all-time high.

* * *

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay renters spent far more than renters in several other major metro areas. Total bay area rents rose to $5 billion last year, an 11 percent increase compared to less than 4 percent nationally.

While 2017 is forecast as the year when more millennials and first-time buyers enter Florida’s housing market, the high rents they now pay can make it hard to come up with down payments and closing costs. One new apartment complex in downtown St. Petersburg charges as much as $2,885 for a one-bedroom unit.

You can get a lot of fine interactive information from Case Shiller about housing prices over time here. From the third chart you can find that through October, local house prices are still only 79% (let’s just say 80%) of their peak value.  Which is also clear here, which also gives a comparison to other areas making up some of the usual suspects:

From seattlebubble.com - click on chart for article

From seattlebubble.com – click on chart for article

As for rents, here is a chart ranking the metros by rent.

From Curbed.com - click on chart for article

From Curbed.com – click on chart for article

As you can see, it starts with number 26.  Tampa is 38th. The one bedroom year over year increase is healthy, though if you look at the numbers and the top of the list:

From Curbed.com - click on chart for article

From Curbed.com – click on chart for article

Our rent growth is a bit off the top slots, like Houston, Charlotte, Raleigh, Philadelphia and some others.  The two bedrooms are rent growth is larger.  One truly notable thing is that the prices are relatively low, averaging under $1000, and well below most of the higher profile projects being built in this area.

So, even with the increase, our housing prices are rising though relatively low.  However, as we keep saying, that is offset to a large degree by lower wages.

Another big concern is whether the need for new houses will be met by the standard sprawling mess that will just exacerbate our transportation and other infrastructure issues or another way that shows that we have learned from our past mistakes and actually plan properly.  Another is who will fill all the much higher than average priced rental units that are getting built.

— The Developers Speak

That last question intersects nicely with another Times article on South Florida developers getting active in this area.

Drive around Tampa and St. Petersburg and it’s obvious that the bay area’s two biggest cities are in the midst of an apartment and condo building boom. What’s not so obvious is that many of the projects — including some of the biggest — are the work of South Florida developers.

* * *

As the new year starts, at least 15 multi-family housing projects totalling more than $1 billion are underway or planned in the bay area by South Florida developers. If all come to fruition, they will add more than 5,000 rental and condo units — most of them high-end — to a market that already enjoys a reputation as one of the best places to build in Florida.

So what brings them here?

The bay area’s lure was readily apparent to the Related Group, a Miami company involved in five of the projects.

“The prices in South Florida, specifically Miami-Dade County, are very high and there is a high demand for land so it’s a little more difficult to make the economics work locally,” said Albert Milo, a Related vice president.

By comparison, he continues, “Tampa and St. Pete have a growing population, steady job growth and land prices are a little bit more affordable for developers. They also have a friendly business climate for developers to obtain their entitlements and permits and financing.” 

So, first is land prices.  Second, probably, is that there are so many projects under way in South Florida. Then there is unmet demand in the sense that the urban living market is under-developed in this area. And, of course, they think they can rent the units (or at least sell them for a profit and move on). Because they are in the business of selling their product, it is no surprise that the article is filled with quotes like this:

“We believe there is more than enough demand for these high-end projects,” said Patterson of Related.

And that may be true.  But it also may be true that we are fast approaching a point where, like many more built up and/or larger areas, rents actually begin to plateau or even slide. (A situation highlighted in a Wall Street Journal article entitled “Luxury Apartment Boom Looks Set to Fizzle in 2017”  Which was rapidly followed by a Business Journal article. ) As noted in the Times article:

For now at least, he is right. Buoyed by young professionals who prefer to rent than own, Tampa Bay’s apartment market is among the nation’s hottest and thus of great appeal to developers. According to the research firm MPF, average rents in the bay area grew 5.8 percent in 2016 compared to 3.8 percent nationally.

As new apartments are built, “virtually everything is going to be higher end and priced at that level just to make the deal work economically from the developer’s perspective,” said Greg Willett, MPF’s chief economist. “At some point you can run out of those renter households that want that sort of product but there’s not really any indication it’s hitting the wall yet.”

The real question is when that wall is hit. Though, there is always this:

Willett also notes that while rents for many new Tampa Bay apartments might seem ridiculously high to locals, they’re not bad for those moving into the area.

Really, it is hard to say.  We hope all the units get filled and demand keeps growing.  What is more likely is that the market will become saturated (at least for a while) and development will slow down. That could actually be a good thing if, and it is a big if, the market reaches a healthy, steady pace and avoids our normal boom and bust situation.  That would really be a truly welcome change.

Downtown/Hyde Park – The Tribune Lot Project Move Forward

The Related project on the Tribune lot is moving forward, if slowly.

Miami-based Related Group has secured a construction loan for the redevelopment of the Tampa Tribune site on the Hillsborough River, according to property records.

* * *

Bank of the Ozarks provided a $76 million loan for the project in a deal that closed Dec. 28, according to a mortgage filed in Hillsborough County on Jan. 6.

From the Business Journal - click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

We are not really fans of this project, but it is nice they could get financing – though given the developer, it is not surprising.  Is there a timetable?

The demolition of the Tribune‘s waterfront office building was to begin shortly after the newspaper was shuttered but was delayed by environmental concerns, a Related executive told the Tampa Bay Business Journal in late 2016.

The demolition process is expected to take several months and wrap up in April or May 2017.

We shall see.

Downtown – How Do You Solve a Problem Like the Library?

We have said that we would like to see a new library in a different location and something done with the prime library property (though we are fully aware of the funding issues).  The City is considering doing a half move – tearing down the library annex and auditorium between the main library and what is supposed to be the AER apartment tower.  Recently, the Times had an editorial about it.

For all its new parks, bars and residential towers, downtown Tampa lacks one amenity that has become a signature draw in other progressive cities nationwide: an exciting library. The John F. Germany Public Library has all the basics — size, location, decent parking — but no presence, charm or functional public space. The city, though, is exploring an idea that could work: demolishing the library’s annex and auditorium and replacing the two aging and ugly structures with something that could draw more visitors. A park could reinvent the library as a marquee setting in a growing downtown.

* * *

A park would be a fitting and attractive use of the publicly owned land. Nestled beside the main library, it could be a quiet and peaceful location to read, a gathering spot for library events and a green oasis between an otherwise busy grid of streets surrounded by parking garages and offices. To the west, the park would overlook the river and the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, a perfect spot to gather before plays, shows and concerts. It would give the main library a much-needed splash of color and warmth, and bring a rich and fresh environment to a part of downtown that the city bills as the arts district.

We agree with pretty much everything in the first paragraph, until the last sentence.  A park on that lot is not necessarily a good idea.

The second paragraph tries to explain while a park is good.  It makes some sense IF the AER building never gets built.  However, if that building does get built, a park on the land in question would not really have any view of the river (ok, maybe a very small sliver of view from a small part of the park).  In the afternoon, it would sit in the shadow of the building and have a good view of its parking garage and the back of the building.  To the south, the view would be the Poe Garage.  To the east, any view would be blocked by the rest of the library.

We are all for some public green space, and one could argue that a park would create a small reading nook.  That is possible.  But it is not necessarily the best use of the land.  The truth is that the small amount of land that is likely to be in the shadow (literally) of a quite tall apartment buildings without any real openness to the surrounding area.  While be like parks that are framed by buildings with active streetscapes, this particular park would have no building actually facing it.  And that makes it a hard place to find a good use for generally.  Could it be a nice quiet space? Maybe, but it is definitely not clear.

The City should not rush to do anything with that land.  Let’s see what it looks like when/if the AER building gets built before we spend any money on it.

Transportation – The Other Airport

St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport had a good year in 2016:

The St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport broke a record in passenger traffic in 2016, with a 12 percent spike over 2015.

A total of 1,837,035 passengers passed through St. Pete-Clearwater Airport in 2016, the Pinellas County airport’s second consecutive record year and the fourth year in a row of double-digit passenger increases, according to a press release.

Which is very good for that airport.  But there is a problem:

The bump in traffic is credited mostly to Allegiant Air, which continues to grow as the airport’s dominant carrier despite a slew of emergency landings both at the St. Pete-Clearwater airport and from flights leaving or headed to the region.

Setting aside the well-publicized Allegiant incidents, the reliance on one major carrier for the vast majority of traffic is a definite weakness in the numbers.  But, for now, well done.

Rowdies – Chamber on Board

The Rowdies effort to get an MLS team got another endorsement this week.

The St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce is launching a Rowdies Council to promote the city as a winning destination for Major League Soccer.

The council will serve as a business-backed group of community leaders supporting Rowdies owner Bill Edwards in his effort to win an MLS expansion team.

* * *

Holden is co-chairing the group with Tash Elwyn, president of the Raymond James & Associates Private Client Group. They plan to announce leadership roles in three subcommittees in the coming days. Those committees will address sponsorship, season tickets and a referendum allowing Edwards to start an $80 million stadium improvement plan needed to entice MLS to St. Petersburg.

That is not surprising.  The Rowdies ownership is well-connected in St. Pete, but it is good, especially considering what happened with the Rays plan for a stadium in the same spot.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

There was news about Apple in Phoenix:

Apple has requested to make finished products in its facility in Mesa, Arizona, according to the document, first reported by Business Insider. Right now, it has permissions to make consumer electronics components there, the filing said.

Mesa first announced the Apple manufacturing facility in 2013, when there were expected to be 2,000 jobs created there. In 2015, Apple said it would invest $2 billion to expand “a command center for the company’s global networks.” The company currently has job postings for “data center site services technicians” in Mesa.

Apple has reportedly been looking to expand its cloud services to compete with rivals like Amazon and Google, The Information reported last year. Meanwhile, president-elect Donald Trump has said as president he would “create the incentives” to get Apple to “build a big plant in the United States.” 

One day, hopefully, we will be reading news about something like this here.

Roundup 1-6-2017

January 6, 2017

Contents

Built Environment – Is This The Measure of Walkable?

Downtown/Hyde Park – Lafayette Square Justifies Itself

Downtown – Riverwalk Tower Details

Downtown – Kress Block

Downtown/Hyde Park – No Surprise

Downtown/West Tampa – A Lesson to be Learned

Transportation – How Is the Ferry Doing?

Transportation – An Oversight?

Airport – A Facility Changes Hands

— One More Thing

Rowdies – Campaign Starts Moving

— One Last Thing

Sarasota – What a Billion Buys These Days

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

List of the Week

One Last Thing

_______________________________________________

Built Environment – Is This The Measure of Walkable?

There was a mildly amusing article in the Times this week about walkability/bikeability and this area:

Pedestrian deaths in Hillsborough County fell by almost 25 percent last year, following the deadliest year on record in 2015 for people walking the streets.

But transportation planners warn not to read too much into the drop. The county is still the deadliest in the region. Bicyclist deaths are up from the past few years. And in Pinellas County, pedestrian fatalities have increased 18 percent in the past five years.

“I would welcome the news but I wouldn’t jump to a lot of conclusions yet,” said Beth Alden, executive director of the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization.

For one thing, the 2015 spike was unusually high, with 51 pedestrian deaths. The 39 fatalities in 2016 still is more than any other year since 2010.

Really? We measure walkability (or bikeability) by the number of deaths (what about mere long-term stays in the hospital? how are we doing on that)?  In any event,

One major initiative for transportation leaders following 2015’s deadly record was to add more crosswalks in Hillsborough, especially along busy, multi-lane roads such as Hillsborough Avenue. But even something as seemingly simple as adding a few painted stripes or a flashing sign takes time.

Transportation officials, for example, wanted to put a signaled crosswalk near Middleton High School where two students died, but got bogged down by the logistics required to get the small amount of land needed for the signal box.

Why just focus on a few crosswalks in the middle of the sprawl (or in the middle of town, like, as its name would suggest, Middleton).  What about changing planning which created the problem in the first place (see South County)?

There’s a tension in transportation planning between mobility — how quickly and easily we get around — and safety. Often, planning prioritizes mobility, sometimes at the expense of safety, especially for pedestrians.

“We’ve had a mentality of making sure we don’t have traffic signals put too close together because it slows down traffic,” Blanton said. “If you have too many signals per mile, that creates a congestion problem, but it also leave a sort of barren wasteland for pedestrians to cross.”

Regardless of crosswalks and education initiatives, wide, fast roads remain dangerous for pedestrians throughout Tampa Bay. That’s especially true for Pinellas, which is a tight, concentrated, urban community, Blanton said. And those types of roads are at odds with ongoing redevelopment in places like St. Petersburg and Dunedin, which make areas a more attractive place to walk.

“That’s a positive trend, but it’s in the face of a physical environment we’ve created with a lot of fast-moving, eight-lane roads,” Blanton said. “People still need to get across those roadways to get to their destinations.”

Much of that is true, but especially true of the sprawl model used here.  Building sprawl that requires people to drive everywhere then telling everyone to slow down causes a problem.  And if someone tries to walk in the sprawling, car-centric mess, it is dangerous – even if you provide a few more crosswalks (though anyone who has walked around this area knows much of the “normal” sidewalk/crosswalk infrastructure is questionable).  Crosswalks are fine, but, once again, where is the discussion of changing the planning (and transit)?  You don’t make Dale Mabry, Hillsborough, Fowler or Fletcher walkable by just adding some crosswalks.

And while the City of Tampa was recently recognized in Bicycling magazine’s “50 best bike cities,” and earned a bronze award from the League of American Bicyclists, that, too, comes with some caveats, Alden said.

In 2016, Hillsborough saw a dozen cyclists die, the most since 2012. Pasco saw nine bicylists lose their lives, which was the highest number since 2011.

And only 6 percent of Tampa roads have bike lanes. The average for communities that earn a silver designation from the group is 51 percent.

“(That award) acknowledges that Tampa is actively working on the problem, but clearly there is a lot of work still to be done,” Alden said. “It’s going to be awhile before we get to that critical mass where we have a network of safe places where you can safely, or even predictably, cycle.”

It should be said that, if you look at building real bike infrastructure, Tampa has taken some positive steps (notably the idea of the Green Spine, which is a good start and the mostly conceptual Perimeter Trail which is in the middle of town, not the perimeter), though most of the actual work is focused on a relatively limited area (especially outside of downtown/Hyde Park). At least it is something to build on (though a lot of it is painting bike lanes on roads that most people won’t ever consider biking on because they are too dangerous or just painting some bike logos on a road to say “share the road” which is a good reminder of the existing law but not really bike infrastructure).  The County has done far less.

And that does not get into walkability. The reality is that the vast majority of the City and County are not walkable (or safely bikeable) and, while some of it is good, much of the new development (even a good amount of the urban looking stuff) still lacks real walkability elements.

A Times editorial tells us this:

Transportation planners face an ongoing challenge of balancing crosswalks and other safety tools with moving traffic on heavily used roads. Foot traffic from visitors to the Pinellas beaches has presented a test for years on Gulf Boulevard. And as Tampa and St. Petersburg redevelop their downtowns, creating urban environments more conducive to walking, planners face increased demands for pedestrian safety in emerging mixed-use districts.

But in many ways, that misses the point.  It is far safer to walk in downtown than on SR60 in Brandon or Dale Mabry pretty much anywhere (or Henderson or most of Kennedy) – namely because it is planned and built in a more walkable way. While putting some paint on a road or a crosswalk in the middle of a vast, unbroken sprawl may be better than nothing, it will not change the overwhelmingly anti-walking and anti-biking design of the area overall (like the many neighborhoods without sidewalks, even within the cities and the countless subdivisions that have sidewalks that are only useful for a little exercise). There must be a much more comprehensive change to how things are planned and built.

The bottom line is that this area – as an area – still has not really chosen to make itself truly walkable or bikeable.  There have been some moves, but they are limited geographically and in utility. It is a matter of choices, and, aside from pockets, the real choices still have not been made.  (And it should not take people dying to get something done.)

Downtown/Hyde Park – Lafayette Square Justifies Itself

Per URBN Tampa Bay, Lafayette Square’s developers have filed a statement to justify the waivers they are seeking.

“Exhibit C-2 – Waiver Justifications

As an urban mixed-use development, the Project serves to implement the City’s InVision Plan, whereby the Hillsborough River is viewed as the center, and not the edge of Downtown Tampa and serves to implement the City Comprehensive Plan’s CBD Periphery policies. Among other reasons to justify the requested waivers, discussed below, the urban nature of the Project necessitates many of the waivers affecting natural resources, such as trees and wetlands, although, as noted on the PD Site Plan, these impacts were previously approved under a prior rezoning of the subject parcels. In addition, the requested waivers to the Kennedy Overlay are necessitated by the fact that the Overlay standards do not contemplate a project of this magnitude with its significant parking, access and loading requirements. Moreover, variances to the maximum setbacks are necessitated by the need to preserve vistas to historical community assets and the gateway to the CBD, to provide access to the proposed Riverwalk and to create plaza areas along Kennedy Boulevard. In addition, a waiver is necessary to allow for activation of the Parkview Parcel plaza area. Finally, a waiver to reduce the Tower Parcel vehicle use buffer area is necessary to allow for reasonable on-site queuing to reduce the potential for off-site queuing at the entrance to the Tower Parcel.”

As a general concept, we like them presenting a justification, and there is something to be said for some of the arguments.  However, we wonder if it really implements the InVision plan.  Does that plan call for massive, really obvious parking garages? Just look at this rendering – the shorter (well 15 story or so), well-lit buildings that dwarf any UT building are the parking garages (and that have apartment buildings attached).

From URBN Tampa Bay - click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

We also wonder just what parking requirements this project has if, as indicated in early reports, the developer is providing more spaces than required by the City, which is not slouch on parking requirements.  And, frankly, the fact that the developer got approvals for a different design more than a decade ago means nothing to us.  That was before Tampa had any conception (no matter how flawed it is now) of anything walkable.

We are willing to give the developer a decent amount of benefit of the doubt on much of what they are doing to connect the project and neighborhood to the river.  We even get facing one of the apartment buildings to Kennedy.  However, that really doesn’t mean that they can’t have proper sidewalks, traffic flow, shade, and decent planning.  And it certainly does not mean that the parking garages (at least as represented in the renderings) are ok the way they are.

The more we get into the weeds on this project the more we feel that, while we like the general idea of this project, it seems a bit too much a repackaged 1990’s project in the details.  Maybe it will be tweaked (though we like most of the main tower look in the renderings). Maybe the renderings of the garages are inaccurate.  Hopefully, it will get tweaked to make it excellent, but our optimism is tempered by Tampa’s history of settling.

Downtown – Riverwalk Tower Details

Recently, more details about the Riverwalk (Trump Tower site) Tower were released.  From URBN Tampa Bay:

BREAKING: The updated site plan for the 52 story Riverwalk Tower project in Downtown Tampa has been revealed. The plan now includes the demolition of the Captrust office building. The project now includes over 17,000 square feet of retail space, up from 10,000 in the original proposal. The project’s office component has been reduced from 205,000 square feet to 172,000 square feet but the residential space has increased from 320,000 square feet to 447,000 square feet. The residential unit count has increased from 203 to 211 units.

The tower is now 649 feet tall.

From URBN Tampa Bay - click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

First, unlike some, we have no strong opinion regarding the demolition of the CapTrust building, though making MacDill park bigger is nice – maybe the City can finally move the World Trade center steel there from the mostly ignored location in the median of Bayshore now.  At 649 feet (couldn’t add one more foot?), the tower would be taller than Lafayette Tower (which was reported as 642 feet) and the tallest in the area. The restaurants on the Riverwalk are nice while the loading docks on Ashley, which is really a dead street down there, are not (but you need them somewhere).

Given the lack of renderings and more details, it is hard to say much beyond that right now.

Downtown – Kress Block

Staying downtown, let’s check in with the Kress block.

The father-daughter pair that owns the historic Kress block in downtown Tampa are embroiled in a legal dispute over an attempted sale of the property.

Jeannette Jason on Dec. 23 filed a petition asking the court to void a sale of the property that her father, Doran Jason, negotiated and attempted without her consent. Doran Jason, according to allegations in the filing, was attempting to sell the Kress block to Accardi Development LLC. The petition also seeks a trial by jury.

Accardi Development is controlled by twin brothers John and Jason Accardi, who own 717 Parking Enterprises. Between downtown Tampa and Ybor City, the Accardis own or manage 1 million square feet.

From the Business Journal - click on picture for website

From the Business Journal – click on picture for website

It is no surprise that the Kress block in embroiled in another mess.  The present owners have owned it for two decades during which there have been proposals for the block (some much better than others) that have gone nowhere.  And, frankly, the potential buyers have land-banked (or turned into parking lots) a number of properties downtown, so, without a definite proposal or at least some details, such a purchase would not really increase confidence of bringing the block back to life soon.  But, setting that aside, what are the issues right now?

“It’s just an action I have to take to protect my interest in the property,” Jeanette Jason said Wednesday.

The petition also alleges that Doran Jason improperly and without valid corporate authority diluted Jeanette Jason’s ownership interest in the corporate entities that own the Kress block. He also allegedly appointed a close friend, Joe Harbaugh, a manager of the corporate entities that own the property, the complaint says.

His wife, Patricia Jason, was also appointed a manager, though she subsequently resigned, according to the allegations.

And that sounds quite messy.  Regardless, it would be nice to get the Kress block buildings repurposed and redeveloped.  When that might happen, no one really knows.

One final note:  URBN Tampa Bay suggested that the City should use eminent domain to take over the block.  We understand their reasoning, but we disagree. First, the City does not have a great track record of picking good, major projects that get built and it is not like.  And, second, all parties involved in this matter have connections to City Hall which could make it even more complicated.  We think it is better to let it play out for now.

Downtown/Hyde Park – No Surprise

After a failed (and not very inspiring) proposal at the former Crescent Bayshore lot, there was news on December 15 that Liberty Group would be buying the property.  At the time, we were told this:

Shah said he doesn’t have any plans in mind for the site yet; it was just one that he “had to have.”

“It’s such a dynamic site, so there’s a myriad of possibilities,” Shah said Thursday, “and I just don’t want to rush into any plans right now.”

Two weeks later, per URBN Tampa Bay,

Liberty Group is now asking for a substantial change determination for the lot at 319 Bayshore, for a 10 story version of what was previously proposed for the site. The new proposal has 113 units and is 98 feet tall.

As URBN Tampa Bay points out, it is not clear if that is a real proposal by Liberty or just a trial balloon to see what they can get from the City without too much effort.  However, based on past proposals and some business logic, we would not be surprised if Liberty just want to build something quick and not too expensive and sell it for a good profit. (see here, here, and here)

Of course, the lot in question has a great deal of potential so, if it were built, such a proposal would really be shame.

Downtown/West Tampa – A Lesson to be Learned

The saga of the Tempo at Encore took a strange turn this week.  You may remember this:

The Tampa Housing Authority thought it had seen the last of the Siltek Group when in July it fired the contractor building a signature $25.6 million mid-rise apartment block on the edge of downtown Tampa.

The Tempo at Encore was behind schedule and had fallen prey to shoddy workmanship and poor management, said Housing Authority officials. And Siltek owner Ana Silveira-Sierra continued to let her husband, Rene Sierra, work as project manager even after he had pleaded guilty in a multi-million dollar kickback scheme involving affordable housing in South Florida.

And

The project was already 70 percent complete but the THA wanted no part of the Plantation, Florida-based company known as the Siltek Group, especially after the company’s founder and husband of the current owner pleaded guilty in a multi-million dollar kickback scheme that targeted public housing in South Florida.

After Siltek stopped construction, THA workers spent months removing rain-soaked drywall and other interior elements damaged by water because Siltek had failed to seal the outer shell from the elements before beginning finishing work inside.

That’s when things got a bit odd.

So Housing Authority officials were outraged to learn that Berkley Surety Group, the firm that underwrote the project, has hired a new company owned by Silveira-Sierra to finish the seven-story building.

Officially Berkley has contracted with Tron Construction. But records show that the firm was established by Silveira-Sierra less than one month after Siltek was terminated from the Tempo project and operates out of the same Plantation office.

It means that completion of the 203-unit building intended to provide affordable housing will effectively be in the hands of the same developer that the Housing Authority and its development partner, Banc of America Community Development Corp., are suing for botching construction.

Huh?

Housing Authority attorney Felix Rodriguez expressed frustration at Berkley’s decision in an October letter. He said the underwriting agreement gives the New Jersey firm the right to choose its own contractor.

* * *

The decision to go back to the same developer is likely about protecting the bottom line, said Jack Neu, a surety bonding specialist with Nielson, Wojtowicz, Neu & Associates.

That does not mean that the behind schedule project cannot get done properly or that the Housing Authority has no leverage, but it raises some questions about how this could happen.  It also raises questions about whether the Housing Authority will do things differently when the North Boulevard Homes land gets redeveloped – like having an agreement that if a contractor has to go, the people connected with that contractor can’t just be put back on the job without the Housing Authority’s consent.

Sometimes lessons are learned the hard way, which can be ok if the lessons are learned.  Hopefully they will be.

Transportation – How Is the Ferry Doing?

The Cross Bay ferry trial was begun with great fanfare.  We like the idea but have always had concerns about the cost and the schedule which make it more a novelty than really useful, even for a trial run.  It started off well, so how is it doing now?

A Gulfport city leader is calling the new Cross-Bay Ferry pilot program a waste of tax dollars saying it’s barely selling tickets.

Dan Liedtke, a city councilman in Gulfport shot a video on his cell phone showing just one person getting off the ferry on a run on December 6th.

* * *

The Cross-Bay Ferry is a six-month pilot project launched by Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties and the City of Tampa and City of St. Petersburg. Each local government pitched in $350,000 in tax dollars for the project.

“Today, for example, they’ve only sold seven percent of the tickets,” Liedtke told ABC Action News. “There’s 500, 600 seats available and they’ve maybe only sold 42 seats.”

Liedtke said one of the biggest problems is that the ferry is not simply fast enough going across the bay, with the average trip taking about 50 minutes. As a result, he said most commuters don’t see that as a good regular option to get to work.

One video does not tell a full story.

However, the City of St. Petersburg believes differently.

“Is it working?” ABC Action News asked Ben Kirby, Communications Director for St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.

“You know, we’ve seen great, great numbers,” Kirby said. “Better than expected on weekends.”

Kirby said they have seen more commuters using the ferry during weekdays too. They say a video shot by Ed Turanchik, a local attorney, shows a much more accurate picture of the number.

Turanchik’s video shows several dozen people getting off the ferry on the same ferry run a few weeks later.

It would be nice to have actual numbers (especially since there is public money involved).  Given the politics of transportation in this area, without actual stats it is hard to form any real opinion.  That being said, we still think that, even for a trial run, the cost and schedule are not really optimal to find out if the service has real utility and would not be surprised if some days few people use it.

And we are still wondering what happened to the much more logical ferry service between South County and MacDill.

Transportation – An Oversight?

The Business Journal had a very interesting article:

The city of Tampa released a video highlighting transportation options ahead of events this weekend surrounding the College Football Playoff National Championship being played at Raymond James Stadium.

It highlights eight options to get around the area, including the newly launched Cross Bay Ferry, the popular Downtowner and transportation network services Uber and Lyft. It does not mention taxi services.

* * *

Other transportation options referenced in the video include the TECO Line Streetcar, the In-towner Trolley, Coast Bike Share, the Pirate Water Taxi and Zipcar.

* * *

Yellow Cab Co. of Tampa President Louis Minardi is not happy about that.

* * *

Minardi ended his email saying he is “under the distinct impression that this was not an oversight.”

Maybe.  What did the City say?

Ashley Bauman, a spokeswoman for Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, said the video was meant to highlight transportation options that are unique to Tampa and the region.

Which is an odd explanation given that Uber, Lyft, and Zipcar are definitely not unique to this region.  If they were going to mention those three and try to be helpful to visitors, they should have mentioned taxis, too.

Was it intentional or not?  Who knows, but we would not be surprised either way.

Airport – A Facility Changes Hands

Anyone looking to the east from the landside building at the airport can see the two large PEMCO repair facilities on the other side of the runway.  The facilities had some financial problems at one point, but business has picked up.  Now, they are changing hands.

Airborne Maintenance and Engineering Services Inc., a subsidiary of Wilmington-based Air Transport Services Group Inc. (NASDAQ: ATSG), has acquired PEMCO World Air Services Inc.

* * *

“Based on PEMCO’s existing domestic and international scale, this acquisition will expand access to maintenance service for customers of ATSG’s expanding fleet of Boeing 767 cargo aircraft,” ATSG president and CEO Joe Hete said in a statement. “It is consistent with our goal to diversify ATSG’s revenue and earnings for an investment in the same price range as our planned and completed stakes in cargo airlines in China and Europe. The combination of PEMCO’s conversion and MRO sales of both Airbus and Boeing products with AMES’ existing offerings will create a sustained, growth-oriented aircraft maintenance product and services portfolio.”

Wilmington and Tampa will house heavy maintenance and modifications, while Tampa, Central America and Asia will be home to passenger-to-freighter conversions. Aircraft-on-ground field teams, line and turnaround maintenance, component repair and overhaul, engineering repair and design, and extensive manufacturing and kitting capabilities will be based in various locations.

It all sounds positive (of course, when a deal gets done, it usually does). Hopefully, it will turn out well.

— One More Thing

Another NYC connection is coming:

Southwest Airlines will begin two new, daily nonstop flights between Tampa International Airport and LaGuardia Airport in New York City, giving local passengers more options to get to the Big Apple.

The new flights will start June 5, 2017 but are on sale starting Thursday in time for summer travel, said Andrew Watterson, Southwest’s senior vice president of network and revenue. The flights will have an introductory fare of $89 each way or approximately $178 round-trip.

The more flights the better.

Rowdies – Campaign Starts Moving

As noted a few weeks ago, the Rowdies are making a push to jump to the MLS and play in an expanded Al Lang Stadium in downtown St. Pete.  Things are moving rapidly.

… Darden Rice is ready to help. The St. Petersburg City Council chairwoman has scheduled a Jan. 5 meeting to discuss scheduling a spring referendum that would authorize the city to negotiate a 20-year or more lease agreement with Rowdies owner Bill Edwards for the waterfront Al Lang Stadium.

Edwards current lease for Al Lang expires in 2018. The proposed new lease would be contingent on the Rowdies being selected as an MLS expansion team.

If council agrees, the referendum would take place in late April or early May. Edwards will reimburse the city for the estimated $250,000 cost of administering the special election, Rice said.

That is fine with us – and good for the owner for reimbursing the city. (Though there still are some concerns.)  Moreover, it appears that he has other investors on board.

In other developments:

Rowdies Owner Bill Edwards tells EoS that he has secured the services of former Orlando City SC executives Brett Lashbrook and Forrest Eber – both who played important roles in bringing MLS to Orlando a few years ago.

“I’ve got the best people on board,” Edwards said. “I’ve got Icon. I’ve got Populous. I’ve got Manhattan. Those are all people that do stadiums. I’ve recently engaged the services of Brett Lashbrook and Forrest Eber. They’re on board with us and we feel very strongly they’ll help us a lot in what we’re trying to get accomplished. After all, they’ve done it several times before and they know MLS pretty well.”

* * *

“I just didn’t instantly appear with a stadium plan or expansion plan, or decide to go to then USL and instantly decide to go to MLS,” he said. “I had conversations with MLS, with builders, with architects, with contractors for a year and half or two years now. Yes, it was something in the background. I was working, not openly necessarily, trying to get my plan together so when I did make that announcement, I’d be prepared.”

That definitely seems serious. And the Mayor of St. Pete is supportive.

Edwards said he hasn’t reached out yet to downtown residents, who led the charge against the Rays plans, but plans to do so.

Albert Scafati, president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association, said his group hasn’t formally discussed the issue yet, but he’s personally thrilled.

“I think St. Petersburg is on the map and Edwards has done a lot of great things here,” Scafati said. “It would be a coup for the city.”

From what has been reported, it sounds like the ownership is going about this process properly.  It is still early, but promising. (For a MLS-expansion competitor’s view of the Rowdies see here)  The more we see and hear from the Rowdies (and some supporters) on this, the more we are becoming convinced it just might work.

— One Last Thing

While all that is good, some things just never seem to go away (maybe we can just put it to rest now):

. . . reminiscent of former St. Petersburg franchise dramas (St. Pete Rays, anyone?), the possibility might emerge for the Sunshine City to have a franchise named after itself, not a body of water.

“An intriguing thought for the council to think about —stipulate the team be named for St. Pete,” Rice said Friday.

We’ll just say it: that would be silly.  Is it a regional team or just for St. Pete?  Do they want to alienate potential supporters from beyond the city limits before there is even a vote?  We get that some in St. Pete has never gotten over the Bucs being named Tampa Bay (see this footnote for a St. Pete Times April 25, 1975 article in Wikipedia.  You used to be able to pull up the article in Google newspaper archives as well), but that is the name of the area – and the body of water around which it has grown. Not to mention that the team has always been the Tampa Bay Rowdies. (No one has any warm feelings for or memories of the “St. Pete Rowdies.”) If they want to change the first part of the name, they should change the second part.

As the owner pointed out a number of times in his previous comments:

The Rowdies already have one strong selling point as one of the largest media markets without an MLS team. The fact that Edwards also controls his home stadium and has plans to privately fund expansion certainly helps as well. With discussions ongoing with brokerage companies and a handful of wealthy local investors, Edwards is confident he has enough options on the table to convince MLS he has the capability of pulling things off.

No better way to neutralize that advantage than changing a 40+ year old team name to exclude most of the people in the region. And, being a good businessman,

Edwards isn’t interested. The Rowdies have a history of 40-plus years as a franchise and have fans on both sides of the bay.

“I have no plans whatsoever for that,” he said.

Even the Mayor knows it is counterproductive to change the name:

As St. Petersburg’s mayor, Kriseman said, he’d love to root for the St. Pete Rowdies, but understands the team’s long history.

A perfectly rational position. If you want to let people know where the game is being played, do what cities around the world hosting major tournaments do and put “St. Petersburg” on a sign at the midfiled sideline so it keeps showing up on tv.

Sports teams played a major part in identifying this region in most people’s minds.  It should stay that way.

Sarasota – What a Billion Buys These Days

We don’t touch on Sarasota much, though it has a lot going on, but recently, a proposal to redevelop the old Quay property was approved.

The massive mixed-use Quay Sarasota development received final city approval Monday night after years of planning.

The potential $1 billion project will combine commercial, residential and office buildings on the long-vacant property and transform the downtown waterfront over the next decade.

The approval sets into motion a series of initial design and permitting efforts for water, sewer and road infrastructure that will serve the overall project, and for the first residential building and waterfront public space on the property.

The new development agreement also requires GreenPointe Communities to begin permitting with the Florida Department of Transportation within the month on the long-planned two-lane roundabout at U.S. 41 and Fruitville Road that will serve as the main gateway to the bayfront project.

Those efforts will take most of next year. On-site construction of infrastructure will begin in late 2017 or early 2018, said Rick Harcrow, GreenPointe’s regional president.

So what are we talking about?

The general development agreement approved Monday provides an overall layout for the site and allows for up to 695 condominiums, 175 hotel rooms, 189,050 square feet of retail space and nearly 39,000 square feet of office space in buildings up to 18 stories high. Plans call for the property to be developed in nine “blocks” that would be reviewed and considered at public hearings as each is individually designed.

The southwestern corner and southern edge of the property are likely to be the first “blocks” developed with around 100 condominiums overlooking the bay alongside retail and office space, said attorney Charlie Bailey, who is working with the developers.

A planned “waterfront district” with a public plaza, shops and restaurants is likely to follow either around the same time or slightly after, Bailey said. The rest of the development will bloom around the site in what is expected to be seven years of active construction, he added.

From Genesis Studios - click on picture for website

From Genesis Studios – click on picture for website

Redeveloping the Quay land would be quite a big deal for Sarasota (though it would still be hampered by the odd high limits that impede views in their downtown rather than open up view corridors), which has done quite a nice job with their downtown.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Pittsburgh is often held up as a model for (re)development and building a tech cluster where you do not necessarily expect one.

The Pennsylvania city’s rebirth as a center of technology and high-tech manufacturing still seems shocking to those who incorrectly picture the city as some Rust Belt casualty. With the intellectual capital of top-flight schools such as Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh attracting international talent, and companies such as Apple, Google, and Uber setting up offices, the city has been reborn over the last decade.

Neighborhoods such as the East End and the Strip District, home to Uber’s Advanced Technologies Center, have emerged as tech hubs, but this is only the beginning. Tech employment in the city jumped 19 percent from 2010 to 2013, and the industry is predicted to employ more than 200,000 people by 2020. 

Notably, much of Pittsburgh’s “tech” employment is actually in tech development rather than customer service and back office jobs for a tech-related company.  Also, one cannot overstate the importance of a school like Carnegie-Mellon in helping that.  However, it is also notable that:

“Pittsburgh is an overnight sensation that took 35 years to grow,” says Smith. “A lot of the things bearing fruit now were planted all the way back in the ‘80s, when the steel industry declined, and the city was hit arguably harder than any city in the country.”

Even back in the 1980’s, there were not just preliminary efforts to build on the universities but also nascent redevelopment efforts that have, over time, borne fruit.  And, now,

On a 178-acre section of riverfront a few miles south of downtown Pittsburgh, a former steel mill is being reborn into mixed-use development heavy on tech offices and incubation spaces for entrepreneurs. It’s a familiar pattern for the city, but given that Almono—a contraction of Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio, the names of the three intersecting rivers that helped shape the city—is the largest undeveloped piece of land in Pittsburgh, the impact could be an order of magnitude bigger than what’s come before it.

For decades, the site used to ring with the sounds of steelworkers and shipbuilders. Now, its supporters hope, it’ll hum with the sound of servers, tech workers, and the self-driving cars that ridehailing giant Uber has started testing earlier this year at a new facility on site.

“We think it has the potential to be the largest-impact project the city has seen in the last 50 years,” says Donald F. Smith, Jr., president of the Regional Industrial Development Corporation (RIDC), a public-private partnership that’s shepherding what could be a multi-billion dollar development that carves a new neighborhood out of the vast brownfield site on the city’s southeast side, near the Hazelwood neighborhood. 

From curbed.com - click on picture for website

From curbed.com – click on picture for website

In other words, an innovation district.

Will it come off like the model?  Who knows?  Will Pittsburgh really have 200,000 people in the tech business in 2020?  Who knows, but they are moving towards it.

There are lessons to be learned from a place like Pittsburgh which has some advantages we do not have (Carnegie-Mellon – which is quite close to this land, some transit, and established money used to industry) but also does not have a lot of advantages we have (strong population growth, weather, environment).  We think one of the biggest lessons is to be single-minded in consistently pursuing ambitious goals – something we seem to have a hard time doing.

List of the Week

Cost of living is often cited as a major selling point for our area (though housing prices keep rising and the cost of transportation does too), so this week, we present Glassdoor’s list “The top 10 cities where you can live well on a $60,000 salary.”

Coming in first was Detroit, followed by Memphis, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Birmingham, Kansas City, and Louisville.

You may not want to live in any of those places, but it is interesting to see Pittsburgh and another up-and-coming tech town, Kansas City, on the list. We are not.

One Last Thing

Kudos to the SunTrust tower for its lava lamp looking pyramid lights on New Year’s Eve.  It was very cool.

 

December 29, 2016

There will be no Roundup this week.

Roundup 12-22-2016

December 21, 2016

Note: It being the holidays, we are posting a day early and in slightly abbreviated form.

Contents

Transportation – What of TBX

Economic Development – Milken List Reprised

— The Surprising Return of Supercilious Pomposity

Economic Development – How Much is that Worth?

Downtown – What Citi Paid

Downtown/Ybor City – Not Now

Transportation – More Nibbling

— The Editorial

Channel District – Hotels

Plant City – Urban Village

Port – A Little Expansion

Rays – Um, No

Economic Development – Something to Think About

___________________________________________________________

Transportation – What of TBX

In the wake of FDOT’s TBX backtracking last week, where it said that it wants to make TBX something that people actually want and will be proud of, we got this:

Lawmakers are doubling down on promises from the state to pause plans for Tampa Bay Express. But those same lawmakers have not made any moves to pull funding for the controversial toll road project.

The Hillsborough legislative delegation was poised to spend much of its meeting Friday discussing TBX, but that changed after Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Jim Boxold told a Senate panel earlier this week that he wants to “hit the reset button” on the project.

Boxold was scheduled to make an 11 a.m. presentation during the delegation meeting, but that was cut from the final agenda. The chairman of the delegation, state Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, said the decision was made to save time during the six-hour meeting.

* * *

Lee reiterated Boxold’s desire to re-evaluate TBX during Friday’s delegation meeting, calling the secretary’s comments “quite unusual” and a “significant admission” that the $6 billion plan to add express toll lanes to Tampa Bay’s interstates needs to be revised.

“Look at the 30-year history of the department and find cases where this kind of a significant about-face or pause has been done by the department,” Lee said after the meeting. “It doesn’t happen very often, and it’s emblematic of a department that recognizes that they need to do a better job of positioning this project.”

However, Lee said there has been no discussion to pull the project from the department’s work program, which means the state will continue to fund early stages of the plan, such as land acquisition.

Which brings us back to last week’s comments – how can you approve of something if you do not know what it is?  It really seems like, aside from the Howard Frankland bridge issue (and maybe including it), all the talk is all for show – to be seen to seem to do something while actually doing almost nothing at all (like what the County Commission did in the wake of the Go Hillsborough silliness). Following local custom, it does not sound like anything is really under reconsideration except to maybe do this:

State officials realize improvements must be made when it comes to the capacity of the bridge and interactions with the community, Lee said.

“I know they recognize that they have an aging, dysfunctional facility in the Howard Frankland Bridge,” Lee said. “My guess is, based upon conversations we’ve had, when that project is finally built, it will have more lanes than we expect it to have today.”

Which is fine as far as it goes, but does not fix any of the other problems with TBX – like the excessive size, destructive design, excessive cost, lack of real transit, lack of real congestion relief, and, in truth, lack of real connectivity for the average driver.  Our guess is that nothing will really change but the bridge because 1) FDOT is still committed to focusing on roads with express lanes and does not really care about our urban core, 2) most local officials don’t really care about our urban core aside from so photo-ops (see previous support by them for TBX), and 3) as shown in the mess with the Howard Frankland, most local officials did not even care enough about transportation to read the TBX plan in the first place (or they did read but just did not care about the obvious problems) and, aside from trying to avoid embarrassment, there is little reason for that to change.

Even though it is now clear that TBX is not a take it or leave it plan and can be changed for the better, there is no reason to think most local officials are going to want to get engaged to make it better and fix the deficiencies.  Maybe they will surprise us.  We hope they do, but we are less than optimistic.

Economic Development – Milken List Reprised

Last week we discussed the annual Milken Institute list and how it showed we are making progress but have a long way to go.  A Times columnist had a (sort of) different take:

Here’s a feel-good column to unwrap this holiday season that will reveal the Tampa Bay metro area is rebounding as one of the better performing, larger metro areas in the United States.

That’s great news after a decade of rough times in the bay area economy, hitting a low ranking among the nation’s top 200 metros at No. 169 in 2009. That’s when the recession cut deepest in Tampa Bay and Florida, and the housing market bust was most intense.

So here’s the best gift, courtesy of the Milken Institute’s just released 2016 annual survey of the best performers among the country’s 200 largest metro areas.

Tampa Bay ranks No. 33, up 25 spots from No. 58 in 2015 and up a whopping 136 metro spots from seven years ago when this market pretty much hit bottom at No. 169.

That bears repeating. The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metro area leapfrogged 25 (from 58 to 33) metro areas in one year and 136 of the nation’s 200 top metro areas since a low in 2009.

Looks like all the talk of “swagger” by Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn isn’t just political hype after all.

Setting aside the swagger reference for a moment, it is good to not be 169th, but we do not think being 33rd is really a cause for celebration – more acknowledging you are making progress and moving forward.

Being 33rd is even less cause for celebration when you note that we are only the sixth best in Florida:

Let me suggest another factor in Orlando’s success not captured in the Milken survey. That metro area’s economic development organizations are regionally streamlined to speak with one voice. They are also efficient and communicate to each other so they rarely duplicate efforts or compete against one another. Tampa Bay, by contrast, still struggles to operate as a single market, though there are signs of improving cooperation.

Or it could be, as a Times chart in the same column (reproduced below) points out, something else:

Best performing metros in Florida
Metro 2016 rank last year Why
Orlando 9 28 High job growth, emerging tech
Fort Myers 15 40 High job growth
Naples 17 15 High job, wage growth
Sarasota 26 44 High job growth
Fort Lauderdale 28 41 High job growth
Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater 33 58 High job growth
Jacksonville 39 82 High job growth

See here.

Note Orlando doesn’t just have jobs – it has emerging tech. (And remember that most of the usual suspects are ahead of us on the list). We are not against a more unified economic development approach, but the emerging tech may be important (and not listed for this area).

Like we said, it is good to get out of the basement, but we have a lot of work to do, especially when you consider our low wages, low GMP, and relative lack of influence.

— The Surprising Return of Supercilious Pomposity

Now, back to swagger.  We thought (hoped) that this area had already outgrown the swagger thing, but maybe not.  So we’ll just point out, once again, that swagger (“to conduct oneself in an arrogant or superciliously pompous manner” ) is always hype and very often actually a sign of insecurity.  Confidence (“a feeling or consciousness of one’s powers or of reliance on one’s circumstances” ) is different.  Swagger is for those who have not achieved. Just watch Warren Buffett, Steve Jobs (videos), Bill Gates, the heads of Alphabet or even the Lightning owner – they have lots of confidence but a distinct lack of swagger.

To say it more succinctly: Achievements (and the resulting confidence) are what really get respect.

Economic Development – How Much is that Worth?

A few weeks ago we discussed an economic impact study from the Port that included direct impact, as well as indirect, induced, and other impact.  As we noted then, other than direct impact, the rest is just speculation.  This week, there was a Times article about the economic impact of the upcoming College Football Championship game in Tampa.

How much of an economic impact will the College Football Playoff National Championship game have on Tampa Bay?

Depending on whom you talk to, place it somewhere near $300 million on the high end down to… well, practically nothing.

David J. Berri, a sports economist and economics professor at Southern Utah University, scoffs at the promise of a huge economic generator on Jan. 9 when the big game comes to Raymond James Stadium.

“You have this big giant party for people and then it’s over,” he said. “It’s great that you can do it, but the idea that it creates economic growth is ridiculous… It typically does not have much of an impact at all.”

The article goes into a lot of numbers and factors such as these:

The problems with rosy impact estimates, sports economists says, are numerous:

“You swipe your credit card in Tampa, but it’s deposited in New York City,” said USF’s Porter.

Adds Victor Matheson, an economist at the College of Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass.: “The single biggest thing a person will spend money on is a hotel or airline ticket in addition to the game itself. None of those areas of spending typically stick in the Tampa Bay area.”

Which make the calculations (especially other than direct impact) probably exaggerated (though we are sure there is some impact).  However,

Even some of the harshest critics of economic impact stats, however, say bringing the national championship here can be worth the investment in other ways.

“It’s a fun event for the community… and some businesses will come out net ahead,” Matheson said. “If the taxpayer is not on the hook for too much… If you can have an event like this and come out even, it’s probably a good thing for the city.” 

That, and for a place like Tampa, such an event gives good exposure that, despite all the hype for previous events, we still need.  So we are fine with it.  We just don’t believe the hype about impact.

Downtown – What Citi Paid

Last week we discussed Citi’s decision to buy their office park rather than move downtown (if they ever seriously considered moving downtown).  In any event, now we know what they paid for their office park, including already build almost 700,000 building they alone occupy plus a lot of land to expand:

A Hillsborough County deed filed Thursday reveals a price tag of $116 million for the 672,500-square-foot Citibank Center office campus in Sabal Park.

The sales price breaks down to $172 per square foot.

When you consider the 21-story box planned for the lot across from City Hall which the City Council approved sale of last week is reported to cost $120 million, then you can understand why Citi made the choice it did for its back office operations – no matter how extensive.

Downtown/Ybor City – Not Now

It seems the attempt to move some land from the downtown CRA to the Ybor CRA is over.

An idea that provoked a tug-of-war between boosters for downtown and Ybor City has died a quiet death.

In late 2015, business leaders in Ybor City proposed that the city redraw some lines to transfer the oddly named Gas Worx property — 7.6 acres that’s ripe for redevelopment — out of the downtown community redevelopment area and into the CRA for Ybor City. The Gas Worx lies along the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway between Channelside Drive and the Nick Nuccio Parkway.

That way, Ybor boosters said, property tax revenues generated by new development on the Gas Worx could be steered toward improving the gateways to the historic district. Inside a CRA, taxes generated by new growth in rising property values are reserved for public projects intended to foster even more development.

City officials never calculated how much money was at issue, but it was likely in the thousands of dollars.

Downtown boosters objected, and for months the city wasn’t even sure the idea was legal. The concern was that moving the Gas Worx from one CRA to another would force the city to reset the base value for the downtown CRA. The current base value was set in 1983, when the total value of property inside the downtown CRA was worth a lot less than it is today. Changing the boundaries, they worried, might jeopardize millions of dollars a year in revenue generated for downtown projects by growth there.

This move was always likely to turn into a bit of a fiasco.  But, in any event:

Finally, in November, the city’s legal staff said they couldn’t find a definitive case on the issue, but the consensus was that the risk of the worst-case scenario was low.

With that, the City Council was ready to move ahead with the transfer.

Then the new owner of the Gas Worx weighed in.

This month, Darryl Shaw sent the city a letter saying he had thought it over and concluded it’s in everyone’s best interest not to start redrawing CRA lines. Shaw, the CEO of the BluePearl Veterinary chain of animal clinics, paid $10 million for the Gas Worx property in June.

Shaw hasn’t said what he plans to build there, but his request was good enough for Ybor City business leader Joe Capitano Sr., who initially said the proposed transfer wouldn’t hurt downtown as much as it would help Ybor.

“I totally agree to sponsor whatever the owner wants,” he said in an email to the city.

With that, the City Council dropped the idea.

The whole thing is funny to us.   If the whole idea is that the land is in a specific area and the money (which will be paid anyway) is to improve a specific area as a matter of overall policy, it is not really clear why the owner’s preference should be determinative.  They should just deal with the public policy. On the other hand, while clearly well-intentioned, we thought the switch is the kind of thing that risks creating resentment and complications later and was of questionable utility.

It is good that it was dropped. (Maybe downtown and Ybor boosters can work together to fix up the transitional area between them with the money.)

Transportation – More Nibbling

HART, which is perennially underfunded and also locked in a roadcentric vision, continues to nibble around the edges of our transit issues:

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit authority is starting to identify policy priorities ahead of the 2017 legislative session. Staff members have identified four policies that will continue the agency’s outside-the-box services supplementing traditional bus service.

HART is looking for funding opportunities for a business class service to Tampa International Airport from both downtown St. Pete and Tampa. The AirPorter service would cater toward the business community by creating a more luxurious way to get to and from the airport on public transportation.

That is not to say that it is inherently a bad idea to have good service between downtown and the airport – it isn’t, though maybe HART should not worry so much about “luxury” service for a very small slice of the population (really, “luxury” – don’t you think those people worried about “luxury” will get a car to their door?) and focus on proper service that most people would find pleasant, useful and affordable.  Maybe, being a public transit agency, they should look to make transit useful for the broadest segment of the public possible (at least a broader segment of the population) rather than a few very narrow niches.  Just an idea.

— The Editorial

Speaking of transit, there was a Times editorial about our local transit agencies.

After several failed starts, Tampa Bay may be finally starting to get its act together on mass transit. The transit agencies on both sides of the bay are looking at more ways to cooperate — a step toward improving regional bus service, saving time and taxpayer money and laying a foundation for new regional transit. County leaders in Pinellas and Hillsborough are also considering how to sharpen the region’s focus and make the area more competitive for state and federal transit money. There is plenty of work to do and details to iron out, but the work behind the scenes is encouraging.

Maybe, or it could be the same old maneuvering.

Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long, the incoming board chairman, got things rolling this fall with her ambitious proposal to consolidate the bay area’s key transportation agencies and her discussions with state and local officials on both sides of the bay. It is an overdue idea that is both practical and strategic, and key state lawmakers are interested in moving forward when the Legislature meets in the spring. Folding the separate transit agencies in the region under a sole umbrella, or consolidating some services, would bring a sharper focus to the region’s commuting needs and provide an opportunity to save money. By having the entire region agree on its transportation priorities, the bay area would speak with one voice for state and federal transportation dollars, becoming a more attractive candidate for a portion of the limited pot of public money.

Wait. Merging the agencies is not a new idea.  It was brought up and shot down by Hillsborough/Tampa/HART officials.  What has changed, if anything, is unclear.  Will HART and Hillsborough actually allow this to go forward now?  There is no telling. (Maybe the inability of either agency to have a successful referendum for funding has focused some minds.  Who knows?)

The two counties’ mass transit agencies, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority and Hillsborough Area Regional Transit, are considering an agreement to collaborate on some operations, from human resources to technology. This is a good step toward maximizing resources in both counties and taking advantage of bulk buying and other efficiencies that come with a larger operation. Leaders at PSTA and HART will continue the talks through January with a goal of offering a collaborative framework to the Legislature in its coming session. HART is also crafting a proposal for new regional service called AirPorter that would connect riders in downtown Tampa, St. Petersburg and the Carillon area to Tampa International Airport.

Collaborating on the back office stuff is good (also an older idea). Though the “collaborative framework” could just as easily be seen as a half-measure to stave off moves to actually unify transit systems (which was basically the idea when floated during discussions about merging PSTA and HART a few years ago).  It is completely unclear.

There are more particulars to deal with, and Tampa Bay is still a long way from a robust regional transportation authority and one common plan for mass transit that includes light rail. But in a region that was divided by county lines and rivalries for far too long, the substantive conversations taking place now represent real progress and point to a productive new year.

This area is still divided by county lines and rivalries between and even within counties.  Nevertheless, we withhold judgment until we see if anything actually happens.

Channel District – Hotels

There was news of a hotel proposal for the Channel District.  It would not be the first proposal, but it would be the first hotel in that particular area.

Liberty Group is planning a nine-story hotel with seven-story parking garage at 1155 E. Kennedy Blvd., where Kennedy Boulevard intersects with North Meridian Avenue. Liberty Group is planning a nine-story hotel with seven-story parking garage at 1155 E. Kennedy Blvd., where Kennedy Boulevard intersects with North Meridian Avenue.

Liberty, which acquired the vacant .95-acre parcel in May for $3.25 million, is seeking a non-substantial change approval from the city of Tampa, as its proposed development is smaller than a site plan approved for that property in 2007.

Non-substantial changes are determined by city staff and not subject to public hearing or city council vote.

The new site plan, filed with the city on Monday, shows a 213-room Hampton Inn & Home 2 Suites by Hilton with 198 parking spaces. The ground floor of the hotel, at 14,899 square feet, will include a Starbucks coffee shop and lounge seating, according to the site plan.

From URBN Tampa Bay - click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay - click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

First, from what we can see, we like the street retail.  We like the Starbucks on the corner interacting with the street, rather than just the lobby.  And a hotel in the area is good.  On the other hand, the design is not really exciting, but it is generically ok.  The parking is a little sloppy, but they need parking, and it is not fatally bad (and it is consistent with other bad parking designs in the Channel District).

Basically, it is filler, which is fine.  (We just hope that whatever they propose for Bayshore is a lot more interesting than their usual fare.)

Plant City – Urban Village

It is not often we write about Plant City, but the Business Journal had an interesting article recently.

Plant City officials are looking for developers to transform 15 acres of city-owned land into a mixed-use development serving as a transformative hub for specialty retail, residential and commercial uses.

The City sent requests for qualifications to 60 developers last week and expect to begin negotiating with companies in June. Depending on its response, construction would begin as early as the fall on the Midtown Redevelopment Project.

* * *

Ideas for Midtown redevelopment, which sits adjacent to the city’s historic downtown district, began before the economic crash in 2008. Progress on the project following the recovery was slow going as officials took their time meeting various environmental benchmarks to make the property shovel ready. That, according to Herr, allows private investors to save big on any proposed projects.

The city spent $4.5 million readying the land for development including street improvements to create better traffic flow and safer pedestrian and bicyclist access, a new park, sound buffering around the CSX rail lines and environmental remediation.

Here are a sample of the renderings in the article:

From the Business Journal - click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

From the Business Journal - click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

We are all for this idea.  It could make Plant City quite cool (and ready for rail from their nearby downtown station to Tampa).  And it shows that you do not have to be in the middle of a big city (and should not have to pay a premium) to have a walkable area.

However, given the history of Temple Terrace’s downtown project and that Plant City is still seeking developers, we will just wait to see what actually happens (though we hope they succeed and show the County Commission that it too could do decent planning if it jsut cared enough).

Port – A Little Expansion

There was a little more news from the port:

Port Tampa Bay Commissioners are expected to approve a nearly $14.5 million contract to a Miami construction company to build a new berth at the port’s Redwing site.

The port’s staff recommended approval of the contract with GLF Construction Corp. of Miami. It is scheduled to come up for a vote Tuesday at the Port Tampa Bay board monthly business meeting. The contract includes a five percent contingency for any unforeseen conditions.

* * *

GLF was the low bidder on the Berth 302 project at Port Redwing which includes a 1,000-foot-long steel bulkhead, dredging, a new access road to the dock and building a piling that will support a concrete slab for heavy lift cranes to operate upon.

The expansion at the Redwing site is a critical part of the overall port’s newly updated master plan – Vision 2030, said Edward Miyagishima, senior advisor to Port Tampa Bay’s President and CEO Paul Anderson. Port officials foresee the Redwing site becoming an “industrial cluster” of businesses focused on manufacturing and distribution. New opportunities related to methanol and ethanol production, fertilizers, steel manufacturing, offshore supply, and biomass production are projected. So far, in August 2016, Tampa Tank and Florida Structural Steel broke ground on an $18 million facility expansion there. Port officials are also seeking to address the growing size of global fleet vessels by widening and deepening the Big Bend Channel serving Port Redwing.

We are fine with all this, though when we talk manufacturing, we were talking more finished, complicated goods.  Nevertheless, if there is a chemicals (or composting) manufacturing side is part of an industrial cluster there, fine with us.  Still, to reach its true potential as an economic engine, the Port needs finished goods going out in containers.

Rays – Um, No

We are not sure exactly why, but last week the Times floated a trial balloon regarding a Rays stadium (and it is not the first time the Times has brought up this location) :

When considering stadium sites in Tampa Bay for the Rays, there is one important factor that cannot be overlooked:

The perfect site does not exist.

Downtown Tampa would be ideal, but adequate land and financing will be hard to come by. Downtown St. Petersburg has room and funding mechanisms, but a rotten track record with attendance. Other locations have their upsides, but most of them have more downsides.

So why is it important to point this out?

Because it adds a certain wild-card element to the chase. If one site does not stand clearly above the rest, then the final choice could hinge on the details involved.

And that brings us to Derby Lane, a site rarely listed among the favorites but increasingly appealing in some circles. It may eventually be Pinellas County’s best chance of keeping the Rays from packing up and crossing a bridge into Hillsborough County.

That doesn’t make Derby Lane a frontrunner today. Downtown Tampa remains the favored choice for the Rays, even if the team’s options have been limited by Jeff Vinik’s expanding empire.

But if the cost is too high in Tampa, Derby Lane could be an intriguing fallback because of its proximity to Hillsborough. Which is the same reason that a Gandy Boulevard site was once the leading contender, when the Pinellas Sports Authority was shopping for stadium land in the early 1980s.

Back then, local officials were looking across the street from Derby Lane, where the Brighton Bay apartment complexes were eventually built. Today, Derby Lane’s 130 acres could be in play because of the declining appeal of greyhound racing.

While not perfect, there are some sites in Tampa that are pretty good.  But setting that aside, Derby Lane was bad idea when the Times first brought it up in 2015 and nothing has changed since then.  It still has limited access (one raod and no real transit or possibility of it) and is not convenient to most of Hillsborough unless you think all of Hillsborough is south Tampa (which a number of the Times columnists seem to) – and even then the Gandy would back up.  Any site with access involving only one (and a not particularly wide one, either) road is not an acceptable site.  Just drop it.

Economic Development – Something to Think About

We have gotten a lot of numbers about improving employment in our area, and it is better.  But here is something to think about:

The conventional full-time job is disappearing.

Survey research conducted by economists Lawrence Katz of Harvard University and Alan Krueger at Princeton University shows that from 2005 to 2015, the proportion of Americans workers engaged in what they refer to as “alternative work” jumped from 10.7% to 15.8%. Alternative work is characterized by being temporary or unsteady—such as work as an independent contractor or through a temporary help agency.

“We find that 94% of net job growth in the past decade was in the alternative work category,” said Krueger. “And over 60% was due to the [the rise] of independent contractors, freelancers and contract company workers.” In other words, nearly all of the 10 million jobs created between 2005 and 2015 were not traditional nine-to-five employment.

There are so many issues there that we are not going to try to parse the whole thing.  We just leave it to you to contemplate, especially when you contemplate this:

Tampa Bay’s rising (home) prices, though, may be scaring away one critical group of buyers — millennials. A new study found that buyers under 35 are eying cities in the American heartland like Minneapolis and St. Louis where prices are more affordable.

Florida and California had the least popular cities for that new generation of homeowners, according to Ellie Mae, a software company that processes almost a quarter of all U.S. mortgage applications. Just 30 percent of millennials preferred the Tampa Bay area compared to 44 percent who saw Minneapolis as a potential home

“As housing prices continue to rebound, millennials are increasingly representing a higher percentage of homeowners in the middle of the country, where they can get more home for their money,” said Joe Tyrrell, an executive vice president at Ellie Mae.

Like other buyers in the Tampa Bay area, millennials also face a limited selection of homes to choose from. In November, Pasco and Hillsborough both had less than a three-month inventory while Pinellas was right at the three-month mark.

At the nexus of low wages, job insecurity, and rapidly increasing housing costs, is a conundrum for economic development officials seeking to lure Millennial talent to push our economy to the next level.

Roundup 12-16-2016

December 16, 2016

Contents

Transportation – Of TBX, Five Year Plans, and Public Input

Economic Development/Downtown – Whither Citibank

Transportation – Will the PTC Finally Go Away?

Latin America – Cuba Calling, for Now

Port – The Vision Thing

— One More Thing

Airport – Another Good Ranking

Downtown – Mixed Feelings

— One More Thing

History Center – It’s a Pirate’s Life

Built Environment – Walking

Hyde Park – No Thanks

Downtown – Straz Squeeze

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State

— Orlando

— How About Us?

— Speaking of Startups

Broward Keeps Moving Forward

List of the Week

_________________________________________________

Transportation – Of TBX, Five Year Plans, and Public Input

FDOT is reviewing its five-year work program plan for district seven, which includes the Tampa Bay area. (You can access it at the FDOT website here)  As part of that process, they want your input. (You can access the comment page here)  That is a good thing, because the five year-plan still seems to include all of TBX, including the Howard Frankland bridge widening, even though supposedly no one now knows exactly what that will actually entail (though express lanes may come back to the bridge plan. See here and here) In fact, and once again contrary to what local officials and TBX boosters said about TBX being an all or nothing, set-in-stone plan,

Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Jim Boxold told a Senate Committee Tuesday that it’s time to hit the reset button on the controversial Tampa Bay Express Project.

“We have had some challenges with getting that project to a point where the local communities that are affected are pleased with where it is, and so we have the benefit of some time before we’re ready to move forward with that project,” Boxhold told the Senate Transportation Committee.

“We probably have 2-3 years before that project is what we call ‘production ready,’ ready to turn dirt,” he added. “And so we’re going to sort of hit the reset button, bring in additional staff or different staff to manage that project, and work more intensively with the local communities.”

Note, that is within the five-year plan period of the plan they want comment on now, without proper detail.

“Needless to say, there are minority communities that are affected,” he said. “Given the project’s magnitude, it’s important that we take the time to get it right.”

“We want a project that not only the department can be proud to build, be proud to put the Governor out there for a groundbreaking, that the local community is just as proud to join us for that groundbreaking,” Boxhold continued.

And a good way to do that is by getting public input.  Though it is hard to comment on something when even FDOT does not seem to know what the plan is.  But setting that aside, when is the comment period?

Beginning Monday, December 12, 2016, you will be able to view the Tentative Five-Year Work Program documents, presentations and maps and submit your comments on this website.  We need to receive your comments by December 27, 2016, in order to become part of the official record.

It might surprise FDOT to learn that the middle/end of December involves a major holiday this year.  We know that such disruption is a rare occurrence in mid/late December.

Anyway, we welcome openness on FDOT’s part (if there is really new openness), but a good way to start to show that you want the public to not just be quiet but actually have real input is to not put the comment period about some ambiguous project over Christmas.

We need highway improvements.  We do not need the full TBX.  We are all for working with FDOT to get a good project, which is not what TBX is right now, where it bulldozes neighborhoods and has express lanes built to limit capacity. (Plus no real transit)

And, notice the 2-3 year timeline for figuring out the highway plan would also include the conclusion of the transit study.  So let’s see what that tells us before we set some plan in stone.  Because, as the former FDOT leader said last week, notably after he left office, even as he was supporting big roads and private rail systems:

While we make improvement to the highway network, we should also look at providing light rail-alternatives in Miami-Dade County, specifically connecting the western portions of the county to the airport, downtown and to the beaches, and providing north-south alternatives to I-95 and the Turnpike. We need to look at similar options in Tampa Bay. Having said that, our current model of delivering light-rail projects is not yielding the desired results.

Setting aside that, far from having a problem of no privatization, FDOT’s model is not delivering the desired results to a large degree because FDOT is focused on express lanes and not really behind real transit (though don’t forget all the local issues), even someone with his attitude knows we need rail.  So why plan for just roads before knowing about transit when transit is being studied?  We need a coordinated, synchronized transportation system.  To get that, we need a coordinated, synchronized, systematic planning process.  It still does not seem we are there.

Once again, feel free to let FDOT know how you feel here.

Economic Development/Downtown – Whither Citibank

About a year ago, there was news that Citibank was looking to expand in the Tampa area and speculation they may look at the Lightning owner’s project.

It looks like Citigroup, which already has 5,500 employees in Hillsborough County, is looking for a possible corporate campus of up to 1 million square feet, and the 40 downtown acres of Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Bill Gates’ Cascade Investment fund may be in the running.

The New York banking giant is well into discussions with more than one local developer. The possibilities include creating a larger campus at a new location or keeping Citigroup’s existing operation at Sabal Park near Interstate 75 and finding additional space elsewhere.

They did decide to expand in the Tampa area, which was part of a plan to cut costs.   So where are they going?

Citigroup Inc. has acquired a large suburban Tampa office park where its Citibank division is the sole occupant.

* * *

The property, in Sabal Park, is 672,500 square feet; Citi also has a short-term lease for 75,000 square feet in Hidden River Corporate Park. The Sabal Park campus is home to a global shared service operation, Peterson said in a statement, and “has extensive infrastructure.” It was developed in 1998.

* * *

Citi’s acquisition of its suburban real estate likely ends the possibility of a major relocation to downtown Tampa. If the company is still looking to expand, it has the potential to do so on its own property. The park sits on 92 acres, much of which is devoted to surface parking, where parking decks and additional office space could be built.

Yes, they could expand and improve their suburban location.   They probably will.

The decision to stay in an office park is disappointing but not surprising.  When Tampa is viewed as mostly a location of back office (or mostly customer service) operations the biggest benefit of which is saving costs (land is cheaper, taxes are cheaper, and employee costs are cheaper), it is more likely that companies will look to lower cost option for space (yes, buying it is not cheap but that gives them equity and the ability to expand) than new downtown construction.  While it may not be universally the case, it has to be kept in mind. 

Transportation – Will the PTC Finally Go Away?

There was news from Tallahassee about another move to abolish the PTC.

A bill filed Friday by State Rep. Jamie Grant, R-Tampa, would abolish the agency that regulates for-hire vehicles in Hillsborough and would repeal the 1996 special act that made Hillsborough the only Florida county to establish such an agency.

If approved in the upcoming legislative session, the act would take effect Oct. 1. Regulation would transfer to Hillsborough County government.

The House bill already has support in the Florida Senate with the backing of Dana Young, R-Tampa. Young is one of a number of local Republican lawmakers who for several years have accused the agency of siding with the taxicab industry by working to block ridesharing firms from operating in Hillsborough.

* * *

Since it only applies to Hillsborough, Grant’s bill is classified as a local bill, meaning it does not require matching legislation be filed in the Florida Senate. Instead, the bill will be among a batch of local House bills that will go before the Senate. Young said she does not anticipate any resistance from other lawmakers.

It’s no secret we support abolishing the PTC.  It is a completely unnecessary organization.

And there is also this:

The upcoming legislative session may also be the year Florida finally establishes statewide regulations for ridesharing, which already have been enacted in 34 other states.

Previous attempts were blocked by former Senate President Andy Gardiner, who is a friend of Paul Mears III, president of Orlando taxi and limo operator Mears Transportation. Mears gave the Republican Party of Florida $150,000 during the years Gardiner was in leadership.

New Senate President Joe Negron has publicly supported creating statewide standards for the fledgling industry.

Statewide rules are the most logical solution.  Transportation does not end at the county line.

Latin America – Cuba Calling, for Now

The first regularly scheduled nonstop flight from Tampa to Havana started this week.  We are all for the flights and hope that the new administration does not stop them.

From the Business Journal - click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

In further news,

In April, a Royal Caribbean cruise will become the first to make the historic sail to Cuba from Port Tampa Bay.

The announcement of the cruise, which came Friday, makes Tampa Bay one of the first metro areas in the country to land both a nonstop flight and cruise itinerary to Cuba after the easing of restrictions by President Barack Obama that have kept Americans from visiting for decades.

* * *

The recently updated Empress of the Seas will port in Tampa for the 2017 summer season and offer a series of four- and five-night sailings to ports in Cuba. It will join two other Royal Caribbean ships in Tampa, the 2,543-passenger Brilliance of the Seas and 2,416-passenger Rhapsody of the Seas. The Empress of the Seas ship will start the season with a seven-day cruise, then offer four- and five-day itineraries. More details of the summer itineraries will be released at a later date, according to a news release. 

We feel about cruises like we feel about the flights.

Port – The Vision Thing

Last week, we wondered why the Port released an economic impact report.  Then we found out: preparing the ground for the release of its Vision 2030 master plan through, you guessed it, 2030.

“This is a bold, new road map for Port Tampa Bay,” said CEO Paul Anderson at a news conference Thursday. “This plan aligns with the comprehensive plans for the city of Tampa and Hillsborough County.”

Actually, we’ve heard most of it before, but here is the run down from a Times article:

The master plan includes:

Like we said, most of that has been revealed. But then, in the Times article, they did something very unusual – it questioned some of the plan:

But it’s unclear how realistic or profitable some of these ventures could be in the long run.

Port Tampa Bay invested $25 million in the two gantry cranes earlier this year to prepare for the opening of the expanded Panama Canal, which allows for bigger ships to access American ports. The new cranes, which have been operational since this summer, have yet to service a ship the size they were meant to lure to Tampa Bay. The port is also up against ports that handle more than double the tonnage in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Jacksonville that have established container businesses.

The port plans to expand an auto import terminal, according to the master plan, so it can receive more ships that are importing new cars from Mexico. But no new cars are flowing into Port Tampa Bay just yet. And the future of that business is uncertain under President Elect Donald J. Trump, who has said he wants to impose a 35 percent tariff on cars imported from Mexico.

The port also wants to build a new petroleum storage center to better position it as the hub for gasoline imports in Central Florida for automobiles, airplanes and other vehicles. But this comes at a time where more people are driving electric cars and other clean innovations are shifting toward using less gasoline and oil.

The master plan forecasts a robust growth period ahead for Tampa’s cruise business, with annual revenues from passengers potentially nearing $1.4 million by 2030 compared to about $900,00 recorded in 2015. This forecast does consider the limitations of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which isn’t tall enough to allow the newest and largest cruise ships to pass underneath. But port officials are hopeful that cruise opportunities to Cuba will fuel new growth. 

As we said last week, we want the Port to thrive.  It is very important to this area’s economy and future.  And we are all for actively competing – because that is the only way to thrive. On the other hand, none of the Times’ observations are inaccurate.

So, can the Port thrive?  Yes.  Can it succeed in its plans? Possibly.  But it will take a lot of work and some luck.  And we think it should not be focusing on real estate, especially with so many other real estate proposals for the area around downtown.  Speaking of which,

The port’s Channelside plans were recently revised to include 60-story towers, instead of 75, after a few air height and transportation studies ruled the buildings were too tall. The final plans for the Channelside development is expected to be approved by the city early next year, said Luis Ajamil, the Miami architect who designed the plan. Then the port will be able to select a developer to head the next phase of the project.

Let the Lightning owner build his project, then see what demand there is.  If the Lightning owner’s plan is successful, the Port’s land will become ever more valuable and the optimal uses of the land may change.  If the Lightning owner’s project is not successful (God forbid) or not quite a huge hit, building on the Port land at the same time will just be harmful.  Regardless, there is no reason not to wait.

In the meantime, the Port should focus on its core business.  There is a lot of competition among ports and a long way to go to reach the actual port part of the Port’s plan. (Maybe get a ship for which the new cranes are useful.)  The Port is very important, and much more as a port than as a developer.

— One More Thing

Interestingly, this week:

According to the Council, Florida’s 15 ports have generated about $4 billion in state and local tax revenues. A 3 percent annual growth rate in cargo was driven by increases in dry bulk commodities, containerized cargo, petroleum, cars and steel products.

Doug Wheeler, Council president and chief executive, said that the state has been doing a better job at attracting cargo from Latin American markets. The challenge, he said, is ensuring that the ports are able to handle the increasing size of cargo and cruise ships.

The event was held at Port Tampa Bay’s new east port terminal.

Port Tampa Bay (with Port Manatee) has a major issue with both the biggest cargo and cruise ships because of the skyway’s height (too short) and the depth of the channel (too shallow).  The Port’s Vision 2030 plan calls for someday dredging the main channel to 50 feet (which should be deep enough) but nothing regarding the Skyway. (see here and here)

Airport – Another Good Ranking

The annual JD Power airport rankings are out.

Tampa International Airport ranks second in J.D. Power and Associates’ latest customer satisfaction analysis for top airports in North America for the second year in a row.

Portland International Airport was the only major airport to rank higher than Tampa, as it did last year, with a score of 786 out of 1,000. TIA’s score was 775. McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas was third at 759. Overall, the results were similar to the 2015 ratings, though this year Tampa International was able to close the gap with Portland by 11 points.

We are still not sure why Portland is supposed to be better.

Downtown – Mixed Feelings

The City Council decided on selling the parking lot across from City Hall.

The City Council voted Thursday to sell a vacant block next to City Hall to a New Orleans developer for $7.5 million.

* * *

The council vote was 6-to-1, with council chairman Mike Suarez voting no.

Suarez said he liked the project, but believed city officials should have done more before seeking bids to coordinate development of the property with a transit study expected to be done next year. The study, which is looking at possible expansions of the street car, and Suarez said the city missed an opportunity by not factoring the possibilities into the development plans for the block. 

They should have both looked for better bids and seen about the study.  No rush to sell this lot.  Anyway, just to remind you, here is the rendering:

From the Times - click on picture for article

From the Times – click on picture for article

HRI Properties plans to build a 21-story tower with a 223-room Hyatt Centric Hotel, 225 apartments and a 408-car garage. Seven thousand square feet of retail space in the tower will include a restaurant and a Starbucks.

Construction is expected to start in August or September, with the $120 million project opening in early 2019.

That is quick.  We’ll see.

“This is absolutely the highest and best use of a property like this,” council member Harry Cohen said.

This is absolutely the highest and best use?  A “signature” building – which was the stated intent – rather than a boxy building (that will be much shorter than the neighboring SunTrust building and One Tampa City Center, which were conveniently not included in the rendering – really, from the building around the proposal in the rendering, we have no idea what they used as background) that presents blank walls (in the rendering the blank wall towards the back appears to go up 13 stories, which would be remarkable) or unornamented parking garages – might be higher or better.  It’s not that we don’t like the idea of putting a mixed use building on the lot.  We do.  (And we don’t really even care about private buildings on private land in the 20 story range.  But this is selling public property.)

We just don’t really like this building on this lot, and we don’t see why the City would sell land in valuable location when there are all sorts of lots around downtown that could be developed (and are planned to be developed) like this – including one across the street that is basically just a surface parking lot with a smallish office build that has no historic value.

— One More Thing

We are not surprised that a prime lot would draw a big price.  However, there was this:

HRI’s offer was the highest of three bids and is higher than the value suggested by two appraisals commissioned by the city. One put the block’s value at $6.85 million, the other at $4.41 million.

Bob McDonaugh, the city’s top development official, said he knew of no downtown block that has sold for as much. By comparison, the 900 block of N Franklin Street, where the Atlanta development firm Carter is now building a 23-story apartment tower, sold for $6.4 million in 2015.

Under the terms of the deal, the city will get $4.5 million in cash. Officials have agreed to wait 10 years or until the property is transferred, whichever comes first, for the remaining $3 million.

In other words, the lot did not sell for $7.5 million in today’s dollars.  Everyone knows that by waiting to pay off 40% of the price for 10 years or when the developer cashes in on a sale, the actual value of the sale price in decreases.  We are not going to try to figure out what the discount to the developer is, but it is likely not small.  What is the logic of that?

History Center – It’s a Pirate’s Life

We like the Tampa Bay History Center.  It is a nice building in a nice location with some good exhibits, though some are a bit more like scrapbooks than full exhibits.  Now, they are looking to add more.

“We surveyed our audience for what else they would like to see,” said C.J. Roberts, the history center’s CEO. “They answered pirates, pirates, pirates. So, that is what they’ll get.”

In January, construction will begin on an 8,500-square-foot addition to the third story of the 60,000 square-foot history center. It will increase the center’s exhibit area by about a third.

When complete in late 2017, the new space will feature stories of real-life sea raiders through a permanent display, “Treasure Seekers: Conquistadors, Pirates & Shipwrecks.”

The centerpiece of a 4,300-square-foot gallery hosting the exhibit will be a replica of a small, fast pirate sloop — still 60 feet stem to stern — that visitors can explore inside and out. It will include real buccaneer artifacts like cannons and an interactive theater where visitors can choose a swashbuckler-themed adventure game.

* * *

Furthering this expanded mission is another part of the addition — the 1,400-square-foot, Touchton Map Library/Florida Center for Cartographic Education. The center will have 18,000 maps at its disposal, plotting state history to the 15th century.

The map exhibit they did a few years ago was quite good.  Hopefully, this will continue where that left off and build on it.

From the Times - click on picture for article

From the Times – click on picture for article

Total cost of the expansion is $11 million. Half already has been raised through private contributions and government grants, including $350,000 from Hillsborough County. Roberts expects two-thirds of the cost will be paid from the private sector and one-third from government grants.

We are also glad they are getting most of the money from donations.  That is how it should be.

We hope it goes well.

Built Environment – Walking

There was an interesting piece on ABC Action News.

A transportation crisis is now hitting some Tampa Bay areas neighborhoods hard.  

A year-long project from USF’s Center for Urban Transportation Research has just uncovered that many people are having to walk or ride the bus more than 45 minutes just to get to work, and often in tough conditions. 

* * *

She lives in the University Area near USF, one of the local neighborhoods now considered at risk. Many of the road Smith walks don’t have sidewalks.

“It’s way harder,” she said.

The research project found other local communities like this including parts of East Tampa, Palmetto, outside Dover and more.

It also found people living in these areas are often struggling to make ends meet and are spending more than 40 percent of what they make just getting from place to place.

“Not having a car is like a long ways to the bus stop, said Annette Barrow, a University Area resident. “And when you get to the bus stop, it’s a long wait for that.”

Barrow said most people here are forced to walk along this street and then will often ride the bus for nearly an hour trying to get to work or the store.

Setting aside that this is not really a novel observation in our area, there are a few things going on here.  First, obviously, is economic and related issues associated with having a lower income.  Setting that aside for purposes of this discussion, second is poor transit service.  That is a function of the mentality that transit is just for people without much money – those “other people.”  As long as that attitude holds, transit will be underfunded.  When you design transit for the choice riders as well as those who need it, those who need it benefit.

The last thing is the lack of walking infrastructure in this area.  Not only are there sidewalks to nowhere (or, due to the sprawl, essentially nowhere) and development patterns that make walking really unpleasant even if there are sidewalks. And there are many areas without sidewalks.  Amazingly, there are even nice neighborhoods in South Tampa near that main walking spot Bayshore that lack sidewalks. (see here and here between MacDill and Bayshore), in addition to East Tampa, see here and here)

The last two issues are matters of choice.  They could be, and should be, changed for the benefit not only of low-income residents, but everyone.  If you want to be a city, act like a city.

Hyde Park – No Thanks

A while back there as an announcement about a proposal for the last parcel in the Crescent Bayshore project. The proposal was pretty average. Then there was news that the some neighbors objected that their views would be damaged. Well,

A Houston developer that had proposed a 12-story residential tower on Bayshore Boulevard has abandoned its plans for the property.

Dinerstein Cos. in October submitted plans for the tower at 319 Bayshore Blvd., adjacent to 2Bayshore, a luxury apartment complex.

* * *

Gardner declined to comment on why Dinerstein decided not to pursue the project. The company’s request for the city to approve a taller building than originally approved for the site — 122 feet or 12 stories instead of 98 feet — is still active, Gardner said.

Our reaction is a very definitive shrug.  The location of the parcel cried out for a much better project.  So what is possible?

He said there is a “lot of interest” from groups that envision a variety of property types on the site, including office space, a hotel or assisted living facility.

An ALF?  We assume that is more a statement to be careful what you oppose, especially since the lot was quickly snapped up by some local hoteliers (though you never know).  Anyway, we shall see.

One thing we do know is that people who bought in nearby buildings should have no expectation of that whatever is built on Bayshore will not be in their views.  They knew they were buying in the middle of town on a street with a number of high-rise buildings.  It was foreseeable that another one might get built.  Caveat emptor.

Downtown – Straz Squeeze

As downtown develops, some parking lots are going to go away.  That is what happens in cities.  That is why planning and transit are important for cities. To wit:

The construction of an apartment complex on the northern edge of downtown is causing major traffic problems for patrons of the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.

“My sense from them is that it’s really becoming a very critical situation,” said Harry Cohen, the Tampa City Council’s appointee to the Straz Center board.

* * *

Parking around the Straz Center has been tight for years, but in recent months the squeeze has gotten worse, Cohen said, because of an apartment project now going up next to the Barrymore Hotel.

Crescent Communities of Atlanta is building 394 apartments, plus a parking garage, on 5 acres that until this fall provided 500 parking spaces for the Times Building during the day and the Straz Center at night and on weekends.

Cohen this week asked for help in the form of more police officers to direct traffic on especially busy nights, developing more satellite parking lots with transportation to the concert hall, as well as thinking about a long-term solution.

“The venue is only getting more crowded, and there just isn’t enough parking,” he told fellow council members this week. “I really think we as a city have got to look at different ways we can create the opportunity for more people to be able to fit there.”

The best way for more people to fit is by not having them all bring their cars, but that would require real transit beyond downtown.    Anyway,

The city has been working on both short- and long-term relief, said Bob McDonaugh, City Hall’s top development official.

In the near term, it has leased the old Morgan Street jail site at no cost from the Florida Department of Transportation and plans to pave it to create 314 parking spaces. Those are expected to be done by June.

Looking further out, McDonaugh said he got Crescent Communities to agree to provide access to Straz patrons to more than 400 spaces in its new garage, which he expects will take seven months to build.

Meanwhile, the Straz, where attendance runs about 600,000 a year, has been sending patrons emails saying it knows parking is tight and offering some suggestions.

“Please believe us when we say we feel your pain,” says the email, which features a photo of an actor holding her head in horror.

The suggestions include arriving early, as well as using alternatives to driving such as the Pirate Water Taxi, free Downtowner electric shuttle, HART’s free In-Towner trolley, Uber and Lyft, local taxi companies’ $4 “In-Town” fares, the Cross-Bay Ferry and various lots within walking distance of the Straz.

Some congestion is to be expected.  On the other hand, the relatively routine congestion on the west side of downtown (not just around the Straz), which is welcome in the sense it shows people want to go downtown, is also predictable (And we still wonder why some parking spaces seemed to disappear. like these) We are not sure why there wasn’t a plan to deal with it.

As for the Straz specifically, it sits next to a surface parking lot.  Maybe, they should consider buying it and building a garage should or coming up with some other deal with the landowner.  Given the location of the Straz and the lack of transit, we doubt the parking issue is going to go away anytime soon.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State

— Orlando

There was a series in the Orlando Sentinel about Orlando in 2030.  Predictions are always a little risky, but whatever.  There was one about their airport (international traffic will be up 315% they say – strangely specific number, but could be) ; another about SunRail (either make it more frequent and useful or it might go away – reasonable analysis) ; and one about I-4, which was our favorite:

The Florida Department of Transportation anticipates that daily traffic on I-4 will jump from 188,000 vehicles now, along a stretch between between Ivanhoe Boulevard and Princeton Street, to 230,000 in 2030.

But, not to worry:

“When our team completes construction in 2021, the Orlando stretch will be a better-functioning highway,” states I-4 Mobility Partners, a consortium.

The new version of I-4 will have “safer curves, improved access to connecting roads and all new driving surfaces – and a more aesthetically pleasing corridor through artful bridge design, lighting and landscaping,” the consortium promises.

And, really, in 2021, it might be.  But by 2030, we doubt it.  Though we are assured:

The new I-4 when completed will have new express lanes, which critics label as Lexus lanes because motorists who use them will have to pay a toll. The busier the road gets each day, the higher the charge.

“Everyone is going to be accustomed to using the express lanes,” said Harold Barley, MetroPlan Orlando director. “I see traffic congestion being a rare occurrence in 2030 and travel time will definitely be more reliable.”

The magic of express lanes will fix it all, even though the population will keep growing and the highway will not be expanded anymore. Sure.

At least FDOT admitted that TBX will not really fix congestion.

— How About Us?

Now that there is an agreement with Uber and Lyft in Hillsborough County, and with last week’s hyped announcement of funding for a Federal tech training program and all the talk about start-ups, this caught our eye:

South Florida Uber drivers and riders can apply for scholarships to learn to code, thanks to a partnership announced Monday between ride-hailing giant Uber and Ironhack, one of Miami’s leading coding bootcamps.

The partners will offer $100,000 in scholarships to acquire professional skills in coding and design. Two winners will be awarded full scholarships to take one of Ironhack’s bootcamps in 2017, and 50 partial scholarships will be awarded to additional winners.

“Uber’s roots will always be in building world-class technology, and this scholarship will help fuel South Florida’s growing tech ecosystem and startup scene – while making invaluable learning opportunities accessible to even more people looking to launch careers in tech,” said Uber South Florida General Manager Kasra Moshkani.

It’s the first time Uber has offered coding scholarships in its markets, however it has sponsored UberPitch events in Miami and other cities that match entrepreneurs with investors, a spokesman said.

Ironhack is located in downtown Brickell at Building.co, a shared workspace for growing tech companies and startups. The school, which opened in Miami two years ago, also has campuses in Madrid and Barcelona.

You can read the article here for more details.  It would be nice if we also had such a program.  The more people who are trained, the better.

— Speaking of Startups

There was also an interesting article in the Miami Herald about the challenges faced by start-ups in South Florida.  The seven top challenges are: money, talent, incomplete tech ecosystem, research university system, managing rapid growth, and competition from large companies.  (You can read the article here.) It is interesting to read about the start-up problems in other areas and how they, to a large degree, mirror our own.

Broward Keeps Moving Forward

As everyone knows, there was a transit referendum (with a bad plan) in Hillsborough that lost in 2010.  The local leaders then took years to get around to doing anything other than making pronouncements about how transportation is so important.  When they finally set up the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough process, it was full of posturing, backtracking, consultants, and political intrigue that eventually produced a not very good plan that never made it to the ballot.  In the meantime, Pinellas rejected Greenlight Pinellas.  We have no idea if they are doing anything there.

With that as a backstory, as we noted in November, Broward rejected a transportation tax, sort of.  Actually Broward passed it, but the weird structure of the plan required it to pass in cities, which it failed to do.  What did Broward do?

One day in the future, a traveler could get to the edge of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport by train, then climb aboard a people-mover to be transported to the terminal.

Broward County commissioners embraced the possibility Tuesday, moving forward a deal to give a sliver of land adjacent to the airport’s Perimeter Road to All Aboard Florida for a potential train station. The vote was unanimous.

The details remain to be worked out; the vote allows County Administrator Bertha Henry to approve a tentative deal while commissioners are on winter break. A final vote would take place in March.

Assistant county attorney Andrew Meyers said the deal is a swap. The county would give up the half acre but would gain air rights over it and over railroad land next to it.

* * *

The sliver of land is important to both the county and the railroad company.

Broward County wants to keep open the possibility of running The Wave, a planned streetcar rail system, to the airport at the same site. The county also wants to maintain the possibility of running a people-mover from the station to the airport terminals. The county’s air rights would allow it to build an elevated rail line, officials said.

Currently, people can travel to the airport by car, county bus or, on weekends, the Sun Trolley. But faced with clogged roadways and no more space for road expansion, Broward is slowly turning to rail as a way to move people around.

Not very Hillsborough-like.  Of course, they already have some rail and the formerly All Aboard Florida (now Brightline) is building a station in Ft. Lauderdale right now.

Broward voters in November rejected a set of sales tax increases totaling 1 percent, or one penny on the dollar, to pay for transportation and infrastructure improvements. Some form of the referendum is expected to return to the ballot in 2018 or 2020.

Not very Hillsborough at all, namely because Broward seems serious about doing something about transportation.

List of the Week

This week, we have the annual Milken Institute rankings of economic performance by metro areas.  This is one of those rankings that is reasonably respected and should be given some weight, though every ranking has its weaknesses.  You can see the methodology here.

The top 35 (you’ll see why) “large” metros are as follows: San Jose, followed by Provo, Austin, San Francisco, Dallas, Raleigh, Nashville, Ft. Collins (CO), Orlando, Seattle, Salt Lake City, Charlotte, Denver, Portland (OR), Ft. Myers, Charleston (SC), Naples (FL), Oakland (CA), Orange County (CA), Santa Rosa (CA), Atlanta, Grand Rapids, Boise, San Antonio, San Luis Obispo, Sarasota-Bradenton, Savannah, Ft. Lauderdale, Ogden, 30 Fayetteville (AR), 31 Greeley (CO), San Diego, Tampa-St Pete-Clearwater, Boulder, Rockingham County (NH).

Other Florida cities in the “large metro” category include: West Palm Beach (36), Jacksonville (39), Port St. Lucie (50), Miami (60), Daytona (69), Gainesville (100), Lakeland (114), Ocala (130), Palm Bay (153), Tallahassee (172).

Most Florida cities moved up the list, which is good.  Tampa-St. Pete-Clearwater went from 58th to 33rd.  (Orlando went from 28th to 9th.)

So, by this measure, we are doing ok.  Still, most of the usual suspect, and six Florida metros, are above us.  We are making progress, but there is much work to do.

Roundup 12-9-2016

December 9, 2016

Contents

Economic Development – Of Training and Talking

The Port – Study

USF/Downtown – MOSI

Downtown/Hyde Park – Lafayette Place Design Review

Ybor City – Semi This Way Does Not Come

Tourism – Big Number

Rowdies Rally

Meanwhile, in the Rest of Florida

Meanwhile, in the Rest of the Country

— Atlanta and Highways

— A Fortune 500 Company Downtown

Interesting Graphic

________________________________________

Economic Development – Of Training and Talking

There was some interesting news in the tech field this week.

President Barack Obama has named Tampa one of the country’s designated TechHire Communities, indicating the city’s Innovation District in the University of South Florida area has met White House standards for an innovation district and puts the community in a position to achieve job training goals.

The designation comes after the city won a $3.8 million federal grant in July to expand tech training for young adults. The grant is expected to benefit 1,000 trainees.

So what exactly will this do?

Sharpe said in the next three years, the Alliance will host meetings with local businesses, with the help of CareerSource Tampa Bay, to get the word out and train individuals who may not have a four-year college degree but have the talent to work in the tech sector.

That is an admirable goal.  Training people and getting them employment is a good thing, and we are all for it.

So what was the reaction?

“This stamp of approval from the White House is exactly what this community needs to show the world we are a player among innovation districts,” said Mark Sharpe, chief executive of the Tampa Innovation Alliance.

And

“The city of Tampa is emerging as a tech leader in this nation,” said Mark Sharpe, Tampa Innovation Alliance CEO, at the conference.

“Our goal is to make Tampa Bay recognized as a hotbed for talent and create a pipeline between the community and tech companies,” Sharpe said.

Like we said, we are all for training people and helping place them.  As for showing we are a player, hotbed, leader, etc.:

The following cities and regions were announced on Thursday:

In other words, while the program is a good idea, being included says nothing about our status in tech or innovation.  Period.

The Port – Study

There was a report released by the Port this week:

Port Tampa Bay released a report Thursday that shows it contributes $17.2 billion in economic impact to the region, which grew from the $15 billion reported in 2013, the last time the port commissioned a study.

The economic impact report studied financial figures for 2015, according to a news release, and was completed by the firm Martin Associates. The purpose of the study is to measure the local, regional and state impact of Port Tampa Bay generated by maritime activity at its cargo, cruise and shipyard terminals.

The report outlines that Port Tampa Bay supports 85,000 jobs directly and indirectly related to its operations. Total port-related wages and salaries grew to $5.1 billion and the mean salary for port-dependent jobs was $55,000.

We are not sure exactly why this report was done, but it was, so let’s look at it in a little more depth.  First, we get the idea of trying to determine impact, but whenever you get an impact estimate, you have to separate what is direct impact – what the port actually does directly – from the vague estimates of indirect, induced or “related” impact, which are far more fluid concepts.  It is true that when people work at the port, they spend money elsewhere and operators at the port spend other money.  That is why we do not say you have to exclude those numbers completely, but you have to break it down, which the report actually does.  You can see the report in this Business Journal article.

In terms of jobs, the direct impact is this: Cargo: 12,722; Cruise 703; Shipyard 1,480; Real Estate 1,135; Total 16,040. (pg 9 of the pdf).  Of course, that is far less than 85,034 total for direct, induced, indirect, and related jobs quoted above. Nevertheless, that is fine – as long as it is broken out.

Similarly, the direct salaries are $880,979,000 as opposed to the $5.1 billion figure quoted above.  Once again, that is fine, as long as it is broken out and the indirect, etc numbers are taken with a big chunk of Himalayan salt.   (You can compare Tampa to Port Canaveral in 2012 and JaxPort in 2013 and Port Everglades in 2015 – done by the same consultants.  We do better but remember two things: these reports are mostly from earlier years and by consultants who assess economic impacts of their clients for a living, and we are the “biggest port” in Florida.  Note: We could not find a similar report for Miami.)

The bottom line is that we all know the Port is a major asset and engine to this area’s economy.  We all want it to do well.  Studying how it is doing is fine, as long as it is not overhyped and there is no complacency. Just remember, even if we are doing ok the competition is never-ending.  And if we really want to grow our economy to be where it should be, being ok is not enough.

USF/Downtown – MOSI

There was news about MOSI:

For the Museum of Science and Industry, 2016 was a year of dueling realities.

One was of an institution struggling to make ends meet. Ticket sales dropped 20 percent last year, donations fell well short of annual goals and the museum, known as MOSI, finished its fiscal year with a $1.3 million deficit, according to financial reports obtained by the Tampa Bay Times.

The other was of a museum that saw encouraging developments in its plans to move and start fresh in the downtown Tampa project of Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Bill Gates’ Cascade Investment. Notably, Vinik has strengthened his involvement in the museum’s reincarnation, bringing his associates to MOSI’s board and providing input on key decisions.

* * *

In recent months, MOSI also added two board members with close ties to Vinik: Patti Jurinski, Vinik’s sister-in-law who previously worked for a Boston cancer research hospital; and Kimberly Madison, the director of administration for Strategic Property Partners, which is the company owned by Vinik and Cascade that’s overseeing the redevelopment project.

You can read the article (here) about the money issues, but it seems pretty clear that, unless something goes completely sideways, the move downtown is on.  Especially when you consider that the County this:

While the museum’s continuing money woes don’t appear to be threatening its prospects for a move, some officials in Hillsborough County — which owns MOSI’s building and supports the museum financially — are growing concerned.

“There has to be a different approach,” said county Administrator Mike Merrill. “It’s never a good thing to lose money. We have a place we want to end up at, which by all accounts will improve their fortune, but in the meantime we have to maintain the brand and control costs.”

And this:

County officials are encouraged Vinik continues to signal a strong commitment to MOSI’s relocation. Outside of wanting to see MOSI succeed, there’s an ulterior motive: Hillsborough wants to free up the 80 acres of land the museum currently occupies for economic development.

“We need to get access to that land before the end of the five years,” Merrill said. “So how do we transition it to get to where it needs to be?”

Whether the move is the best or not is probably irrelevant at this point – it seems decided.  We are not philosophically opposed to a move (though we have no idea where exactly it would go and what exactly it would involve), but it does look like a typical Tampa/Hillsborough County deal that is only really discussed after the decisions have already been made.

If there is going to be a move, let’s have some real information (like where, what, who pays, and what will really happen to the land on Fowler) about it especially since the County 1) is horrible at planning, 2) ham-fisted in economic development, and 3) keeps pleading poverty about transportation and other issues.

Downtown/Hyde Park – Lafayette Place Design Review

URBN Tampa Bay has posted the City’s review of the design on Lafayette Place.

The city of Tampa’s Urban Design Staff has released comments for Lafayette Place:

Quoted from the staff report…
“• There is no indication on the site plan (Sheet 2) that the KOL sidewalk, landscape treatment, and specialty lighting standard will be installed (Sec. 27-243(f). These streetscape elements shall be incorporated into this design and project.

We are good with pretty much all of that.  Of course, it does not address the biggest issue with the design, though it is not clear that it falls under the design review process: the massive, obvious parking garages.  You can fix sidewalks all you want (and we do want) but that will leave two 15 story parking garages looming over the Grand Central area.  As we have said before, we get they need parking, but what is proposed is just not good.

Ybor City – Semi This Way Does Not Come

Now that the work on 21st and 22nd is done, trucks are finally being rerouted.

On Thursday, the City Council voted to remove 21st and 22nd streets from its list of approved truck routes. It also banned truck traffic along E Fourth Avenue from Channelside Drive to N 22nd Street and on E Seventh Avenue from N 22nd to N 34th streets.

That’s great – and a proper use of highways – namely the Selmon/I-4 Connector.  That road created a needed transportation connection, helps traffic flow, and actually helps the urban area nearby.  We are fine with that.  If only FDOT used ALL those criteria with other projects, like the really bad parts of TBX.

Tourism – Big Number

Hillsborough County, like Florida in general, hit some high tourism numbers.

Hillsborough County hotels set another record for bed taxes in November 2016, according to Visit Tampa Bay. The county tax collector’s office shows nearly $2.5 million was collected, an 8.15 percent jump over the same period in 2015.

The November report covers taxes on room-night sales in the month of October. The November report comes on the heels of a record October report (September sales), when the county collected $1.8 million in bed taxes, up a half-percent from the previous year’s record.

During the 2015-16 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, Visit Tampa Bay reported a record $29.6 million in bed taxes. The destination marketing association is closing out its strongest ever calendar year and preparing for new out-of-state and international marketing campaigns to launch in January 2017.

Assuming nothing changes, next year, Hillsborough will be able to raise the tourist tax by another percentage point.  It is time to start discussing (and not just behind the scenes) whether it will and for what it would go. Of course, with the efficient County Commission we have, it is not clear that conversation will happen, but it should.

Rowdies Rally

Decades after MLS, for whatever reason, decided against reviving the Rowdies name – giving us the Mutiny which were completely mishandled and did not last – there was an unexpected (at least in the specific timing) event in St. Pete this week.

Tampa Bay Rowdies owner Bill Edwards wants to become part of first division Major League Soccer, announcing a campaign toward that goal during a highly-attended event before fans at the Birchwood in downtown St. Petersburg on Tuesday night.

A presentation included renderings of renovated Al Lang Stadium, which would have to be expanded well past its current capacity of around 7,000 for an MLS franchise. Edwards said renovations would be privately funded.

But for any of it to happen, he needs the appropriate fan support. There will be no 18,000-seat Al Lang without an MLS franchise.

* * *

Edwards told the enthusiastic crowd, which included MLS representatives, that Al Lang would remain the site of the Rowdies. Improvements, rumored to be in the $80 million range if they take place, would lead to filled-out east end of the stadium where the old baseball centerfield wall now resides. 

Interesting.  We know he had talked about MLS someday, but we not expecting a push right now.  Here is a rendering of the stadium:

From the Business Journal - click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

It is a bit unconventional but not bad.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman expressed excitement, calling the city and MLS a “perfect fit” while former Mayor Rick Baker, now president of the Edwards Group, laid out the four requirements for a franchise.

“The first is a strong ownership group, and we own that space,” he said. “Second, a strong media market, we own that space as well. Number three is a stadium site, and stadium plan. We would have the most gorgeous (waterfront) view not just in soccer, but in every sport in the country.”

The fourth — community support — seems to be the stickler.

Isn’t that often the issue?  In any event, how are they going to make this push?

The campaign, centered around the hash tag MLS2StPete, is similar to other cities (Cincinnati, St. Louis, Nashville) which will be vying alongside St. Petersburg. The league has 20 teams, with four more to join in 2018, and a possible four more beyond that where the Rowdies hope to fall in. 

Which is a bit odd.  The Rowdies were the first “Tampa Bay” team, focusing the idea of the Tampa Bay area uniting around something (and bringing us our first championship under the Tampa Bay name.) We get the owner is a St. Pete guy and a hashtag is not a deal killer to us, but, given the history of the area, it seems unproductive for driving support to not focus on the region (which is how the national media does it. See here.

But setting that aside (for the most part), there appear to us to be a few issues up front.

First,

Garber said during that speech that while Orlando City Soccer controls the MLS territory and TV rights to this region, “it’s something that can be worked out,” a spokeswoman for Edwards said.

So that will take some money.  While Orlando teams generally do not have big followings in the Tampa Bay area, we doubt the Orlando owners would want to give up their media rights with a nice payout.

Second, location demographically.  Yes, the Al Lang site could work, but also runs the risk of having the same issues as the Trop. Physically, it is a nice spot by the water (though a little cramped to get a crowd in an out of on a routine basis with no transit) Demographically, it is not centrally located.  Yes, downtown St. Pete is nice and doing well and USF St. Pete is nearby, but they will still have to draw from the whole area. (That is basically why we do not understand the hash tag.)  Will enough people make the trip?  We don’t know.

Third, location physically.  While it is a good location physically, is the location a bit too tight. 18,000 would be the smallest MLS stadium. There are a few that are about that size, so maybe that is ok.  And having a more intimate stadium is not necessarily bad.  (There is also the question of whether St. Pete overall, not just City Hall, wants to lock up this portion of the waterfront.)  And there is always the issue that a stadium, even privately funded, would have to be approved by a referendum in St. Pete, which is never guaranteed.

Overall, it is very early in this process.  We are all for having the Rowdies in the MLS, especially if the stadium is built with private money.  We just have some concerns.  Then again, it is not our money. It definitely would be nice to have the Rowdies in the highest level of soccer again.

Meanwhile, in the Rest of Florida

There has been a much talk of innovation districts, startup centers and the like, including a relatively large one last week.  Therefore, it was interesting when we saw this in the Wall Street Journal:

A pair of private developers are looking to build a technology and cultural hub in a faded manufacturing neighborhood in Miami.

South Florida-based commercial real-estate brokerage and developer Metro 1 is working with private investment firm Dragon Global to develop a 15-acre mixed-use project, called Magic City, in Miami’s Upper East Side.

The goal is to attract a community of innovators and entrepreneurs to live, work and play in a walkable campuslike neighborhood that attracts technology companies and retailers, said Metro 1 President and Chief Executive Tony Cho.

The project is currently self-funded but over time the developers will look for long-term debt and equity partners, they said.

The $1 billion project, which the developers are dubbing “Innovation District,” will be developed in multiple phases over several years with the initial one focused on repurposing existing dilapidated factory space.

* * *

In all, about 170,000 square feet of industrial space would be repurposed for commercial and retail use, and there are plans to build an office tower that would house an innovation center, an amphitheater and residential units, said Mr. Cho.

We have no idea if it will be built as planned or built at all, but it is an interesting contrast to local plans (though there is an argument for starting small and building up).  Also interesting is this pitch:

In technology hubs such as New York City, San Francisco and Silicon Valley, employers often look for locations that are walkable, said Bob Zangrillo, CEO of Dragon Global, which has focused on internet and technology investments in social networking, e-commerce and entertainment media.

Building smaller apartments without having to build “behemoth garage space” will make the residential units more affordable for workers, Mr. Cho said, noting that ride-hailing apps will help to fill residents’ transportation needs.

We shall see what happens.  But just another sign that everyone is competing for innovation districts and hubs.

Meanwhile, in the Rest of the Country

— Atlanta and Highways

While FDOT (and local officials) work to expand our highways to bizarre size and cut a bigger gash through our urban areas, Atlanta, which has long had large highways is trying to deal with them:

Atlanta has a case of highway-capping fever.

First, Buckhead proposed a park over Ga. Highway 400; then downtown released their vision for capping the Connector with Stitch; and now, Sandy Springs is jumping on the bandwagon with an ambitious vision for an above-freeway park of their own.

According to Reporter Newspapers, the City of Sandy Springs unveiled its intentions to study the potential of a highway-capping park above Ga. Highway 400 at Johnson Ferry Road. Part of their updated land-use plan, the 20-acre park — more than double the size of Buckhead’s hypothetical green space — would be located just south of the Interstate 285 interchange.

The bridge would connect Pill Hill and the Medical Center MARTA Station on the eastern side of the highway with both planned and existing corporate centers on the western side. It would also sit along the planned Sandy Springs portion of PATH400, which is slated to pass through the interchange.

You can read here and here for more about the concept, but there are a couple of notable items.  First, Atlanta has realized that vast highways are not really conducive to an attractive living environment and is working to deal with them (not ripping them up, but at least hiding them and using the airspace for something pleasant).  Second, Sandy Springs is booming and they are looking to have their development connect better to their transit.  We are doing neither of those things.  Maybe we should learn from others’ mistakes and avoid making them in the first place.

— A Fortune 500 Company Downtown

As part of a trend of Fortune 500 companies moving their HQ’s to downtowns:

Johnson Controls spin-off Adient will move its operational global headquarters, along with hundreds of jobs, to downtown Detroit.

The global automotive seat manufacturer on Wednesday officially announced plans to make the Marquette Building — located at 243 W. Congress across from Cobo Center — its new home for 500 employees, including about 100 new positions that were with its former parent company in Milwaukee.

* * *

Adient purchased the 10-story, 164,000-square-foot building as well as a nearby parking garage as part of a $97.8 million investment for the move, including $50 million into renovating the Marquette Building.

The renovations are expected to take two years. In addition to office space, the building is expected to include a product showroom, fitness center, eatery and rooftop terrace.

The Marquette Building is one of the old office buildings in Detroit (you can see it here)  Also note, if you are inclined to too up the forunte 500 list,

though not yet an official member of the Fortune list, Johnson Controls’ $17.1 billion in 2015 automotive revenue would have ranked it 163rd in the Fortune 500 as a standalone company.

We get that it is a car supplier, which makes Detroit more attractive (though it also shows that getting a company to move from its core area is not simply a matter of low taxes and beaches).  Nevertheless, it is another example of the trend of the move to urban areas.

Hopefully, the Lightning owner will be successful attracting one to his project.

Interesting Graphic

One of the big selling points of the Tampa By area and Florida generally is low labor cost and low-cost of living (though that can be measured many ways that make it more or less true).  On the other hand, there has been a lot of news about rising home prices (which is not good with low wages).  Therefore, the following graphic that depicts the size of house one can buy with $300,000 in various metro areas is interesting.

From Curbed.com - click on graphic for article

From Curbed.com – click on graphic for article

You can actually mess around with the full, interactive version here

Just something to keep in mind (and the fact that our wages tend to be lower than most major metros) when considering what our competitive advantage is.

Roundup 12-2-2016

December 2, 2016

Contents

Transportation – FDOT Changes

Transportation – PTC Anyone?

Economic Development – Incubating

— And One More Thing

— Conclusion

Tampa Heights – Good News

West Tampa – Repurposing

Built Environment – A Kennedy Project

Moffitt – Growing

Downtown/Hyde Park – Update On the Trib Site

MacDill – Hurricane Hunters to Lakeland

Look At That Sprawl

___________________________________

Transportation – FDOT Changes

There was a strange occurrence at FDOT.

A top official at the Florida Department of Transportation’s local district who oversaw the controversial Tampa Bay Express project resigned last week.

Debbie Hunt was director of transportation development for the Tampa Bay district. She led new road and transit projects, including the $6 billion overhaul of the area’s interstates known as TBX.

“It was her decision,” district spokesman David Botello said. “It’s a big loss for us.”

* * *

Botello said he did not know why Hunt resigned and could not say if the decision was linked to TBX. The department faced heavy criticism from elected officials earlier this fall for how the project was explained to leaders and community members, especially the state’s plan to put a toll on one lane of the Howard Frankland Bridge. 

And we are not going to speculate.  It really does not matter.

Whatever the reason for the resignation, the questions about TBX and the process going forward remain and are amplified.  Just a reminder of where we are on that:

Emails obtained by the Tampa Bay Times showed that top DOT officials in Tallahassee paid close attention to the Howard Frankland controversy. DOT’s Tampa district office was instructed to send its responses to Tallahassee for review. When a story quoting angry local officials was posted online, DOT Secretary Jim Boxold replied to an internal email containing the article with a wry remark: “That went well.”

Boxold later stepped in to scrap the department’s plans for the bridge, and the department indefinitely postponed public hearings that had been set for October. District officials have said they don’t expect to have a new plan for the bridge ready before June.

Where we are is still having a mess of a plan that has some positive elements (like the intent to fix some completely messed up junctions) and a number of negative elements (like not actually fixing them fully, being way to wide through the core of Tampa, and express lanes).

The plan can be fixed.  The question is whether it will – and whether local officials will actually pay attention from now on – because, as the Howard Frankland plan screw up showed, TBX can be changed and the real problem with the whole TBX process was not FDOT, it was that local officials for the most part were just going along for the ride.  Regardless of FDOT staff, if local officials do not step up, it will still be a mess.

— Speaking of FDOT

While we are on the subject of highways and FDOT:

“Siemens is working with the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority to realize the first large-scale connected vehicle project in the United States,” said Siemens executive Marcus Welz.

Company leaders are in Tampa this week giving the new system a whirl.

* * *

As the car drove around town, the software determined if traffic signals ahead were red or green. That information helped the driver slow down or speed up as he approached.

“It also allows to give some harmonized speed recommendation in order to have the traffic flowing in a smooth fashion throughout the city with minimized stop,” Welz said.

The software will likely be built into future vehicles or drivers can put it in their existing cars.

It’ll also have the capability of warning drivers about pedestrians and bicyclists making roads safer for everyone.

We’ll set aside the possible privacy issues of having your car tracked by the roads every second.  As noted by URBN Tampa Bay, the article tells us this:

“It’s a technology where the U.S. Department of Transportation says it can prevent 80% of unimpaired vehicle accidents,” Welz said.

Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority leaders like the idea of using the technology instead of constantly re-building or re-developing highways and roads.

“You’re going to see more of the intelligent transportation systems used, especially in cities and areas where we don’t want to widen roads,” said Bob Frey of the Expressway Authority.

In 18 months, 40 intersections in Tampa should be equipped with the technology.

If so, even using FDOT’s logic, do we really need 18 lanes of interstate through the middle of Tampa?  And if it is not clear, should we really spend $6 billion dollars on TBX to destroy and disrupt neighborhoods before knowing?

Transportation – PTC Anyone?

Just before Thanksgiving, it was time for the new County Commission to board on committee assignments.

County commissioners met Tuesday to organize for 2017 and dole out assignments to various boards and committees. Commissioner Victor Crist begged to be taken off the Public Transportation Committee, where he just spent as chairman during the acrimonious and litigious Uber/Lyft debate.

“I’m respectfully requesting the board to allow me to move on from the Public Transportation Commission,” Crist said. “I don’t wish to serve on that board any longer.”

Commissioner Stacy White, a few minutes earlier named the county board chairman, then asked if anyone was willing to take the seat.

Can’t say we are surprised that no one wants to have to deal with the PTC mess.

Finally, Commissioner Les Miller, offered himself up as tribute.

“This hurts, Mr. Chairman,” Miller said, followed by a long pause. “I’m going to be a nut, lose my mind, jump off a cliff, and take the PTC.”

The board applauded.

Well, someone had to do it, at least until the PTC is abolished – which it should be.

Economic Development – Incubating

A few weeks ago, we wrote about economic development, clusters, etc. (See “Economic Development – Biotech, Clusters, and the Connection of Everything”)  We noted a report about our “entrepreneurial ecosystem” that, per a Times column, told us:

So how exactly is Tampa Bay’s entrepreneurial ecosystem doing? That’s tough to answer. Anecdotally, regional start-up activity appears strong. But it is scattered in incubators, accelerators, universities, coffee shops and (yes) garages across the bay area. One attending entrepreneur, SavvyCard CEO David Etheredge, noted that area start-ups tend to hit a ceiling here once they grow to a certain size and feel pressured to relocate to find stronger investor interest in the next stage of funding a company.

And that thought was echoed by the Lightning owner:

-The ecosystem is fragmented. There are pockets of organizations and communities. They’re not funded as well as they should be. They try to talk to each other, but everyone has to worry about their own success. I’d like to explore convening the leaders.

And that is all true, which was why it was interesting to read this in a column by the same Times columnist as the column referenced above:

A plan to build a major business incubator in downtown St. Petersburg — one big enough to catch the attention of entrepreneurs across Tampa Bay and beyond — has won key initial backing of the city and Pinellas County.

Here is a vision:

From the Times - click on picture for article

From the Times – click on picture for article

Setting aside that we do not know whose attention it may or may not catch, what exactly are we talking about?

The incubator would encompass at least 40,000 square feet, with an additional 10,000 square feet set aside for an anchor business tenant, at a cost of about $12 million. Funding would come from federal and state dollars.

“This is significantly larger than most incubators — by intention,” said Pinellas economic development director Mike Meidel. “We want it to be unique and a true asset to the county and all of Tampa Bay.”

So, naturally, this is a unifying effort for the area’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Three players are behind the new incubator.

The facility will be run by Elmore’s Tampa Bay Innovation Center. [St. Pete] will provide the land for the incubator, to be located at the southwest corner of 11th Avenue S and Fourth Street.

And Pinellas County would own and help develop and maintain the incubator. The Tampa Bay Innovation Center recently won a memorandum of understanding with Pinellas County to facilitate the next phase of the project, including tenant recruitment and fundraising.

Meidel says proceeds from the expected county sale of the old Star Center will assist in funding the new downtown incubator. Federal grants will be sought via the U.S. Economic Development Administration, while state funds will be pursued via a bill to be introduced in the Legislature.

Not exactly, though it sort of consolidates a bit of effort in Pinellas.  So what exactly will it be doing?

The as-yet-unnamed incubator is expected to house some technology startups. Beyond that, a choice will likely have to be made. The incubator may support life sciences and marine sciences startups. Or, more likely to Meidel, it may support advanced manufacturing sectors, including medical device startups and rapid prototyping businesses.

Of course, a few days later, the Times had a column about another “innovation district” initiative in Tampa. (You can read it here.) While it focused on actually revitalizing the area around USF, what do you think the focus of that innovation district is planned to be? You can be sure biotech is high on the list.

And what is the timing of all this?

Elmore says the new incubator is at least two years from opening, if the rollout happens as planned.

In other words, we shall see.

We are all for working to develop our start-up culture, but we do question how this actually works to create a more unified, effective effort for the area as a whole.  We get that it is near some hospitals and USF St. Pete, but if the area’s problem is a fragmented, uncoordinated entrepreneurial ecosystem, shouldn’t we work to get that effort less fragmented and more coordinated?  It really seems like everyone is still just going their own way (if not actively competing with other efforts in the area) without solving the basic problem first.

— And One More Thing

We have often said that we do not care about hype and proposals, we care about actual accomplishments.  Everything above is still in the conceptual phase.  The concepts have some merit, but they are still concepts. While running the columns referenced above, the Times also ran a yet another column that gives us a cautionary tale regarding economic development (though the story is not unique at all).  We are not going to go over the whole column, but here is the background:

In the spring of 2015, a growing tech firm based in Lakewood Ranch on the Manatee-Sarasota county line announced plans to move its headquarters to downtown St. Petersburg.

GeniusCentral Systems Inc. agreed to add 40 new jobs paying at or above 115 percent of the state average annual wage of what was then $42,446 a year. Those jobs would include some paying as much as $200,000, the company said. In exchange, GeniusCentral would be eligible to get an incentive package of as much as $320,000 from the state, county and city — if it met its jobs commitment.

The news conference that spring was attended by Gov. Rick Scott and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, among others celebrating what appeared to be another economic victory. A 50-employee software developer, GeniusCentral said at the time that in order to sustain its fast growth it needed better access to skilled technology workers. It said it had considered relocating to such tech-laden markets such as Austin, Texas, and Boulder, Colo., far from Florida. But in the end the firm said it found nearby St. Petersburg to be “ideal” for expanding its operations as a leader in website and loyalty marketing programs for the organic grocery industry.

Just not ideal enough.

The company had relocated to a 17,000-square-foot warehouse, bedecked with funky exterior murals and cool-vibe interiors, in the Warehouse Arts District on Fifth Avenue S.

Things soon went wrong. By this fall, GeniusCentral was out of St. Petersburg, relocating to a more run-of-the-mill (and cheaper) building on State Road 70 in Bradenton. That move back to Manatee County will likely nullify the company’s incentive package from Pinellas County and prompt a re-evaluation by state economic developers on the remaining part of the deal.

So what lessons does the column tell us we should learn?

Lesson One: It is easier to recruit a business with sweetened financial incentives than to hold on to it.

* * *

Lesson Two: It’s tough to recruit young, cost-sensitive companies to downtown St. Petersburg when employees struggle to find affordable places where they actually want to live.

* * *

Lesson three: St. Petersburg is enjoying a boom in apartment and hotel construction, new museums and artist studios, and a lively nightlife from entertainment venues, restaurants and bars. But the city needs more balance. And that means more businesses and good-paying jobs in the downtown area. The city prefers “cool” innovative firms that can pay decent wages and amplify the vibe St. Pete wants to nurture. The challenge: St. Pete may be pricing itself out of the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Fair enough.  But this is the key:

There’s a familiar pattern to economic development. First, an incentive deal is struck to recruit a business to the area. Second, public officials gush over the perfect fit of the new player coming to town.

* * *

We’ve heard versions of this before, especially in the hype around the recruitment of New York’s IRX Therapeutics, a cancer-fighting biotech firm, that won incentives to relocate to St. Petersburg — but never did.

Stuff happens. Predicting small tech company strategies in a changing economy is tricky. But St. Petersburg should be careful it does not become a punchline as the city that too often gets stood up (or dumped) at the prom.

Or, to put it another way: Announcements are not accomplishments, no matter how much you hype them.  Accomplishments are accomplishments.

That is not to say local officials should not be trying to grow, attract, and retain business.  They definitely should be.  But the success is when the company is well established and thriving, not the announcement.

— Conclusion

This is our take away: we are all for developing the economy of this area.  We are all for strong efforts to do so.  We only want this area to reach its actual potential.  But, the key is actually getting things done, not the gushing statements when something is announced.

Likewise, we are all for developing a good entrepreneurial system.  We are all for fixing up the area around USF in Tampa and south of USF in St. Pete. We should be aspiring to be better.  But if everyone agrees about a deficiency, maybe we should fix that deficiency rather than carrying on with business as usual.  Maybe.

Tampa Heights – Good News

For those who have been waiting to see if the Heights project was really going to happen, there was news this week.

Developers of an $820 million mixed-use development on the Tampa Heights waterfront have secured a construction loan for a portion of the project’s first phase.

* * *

That loan will fund the construction of The Pearl, a 314-unit apartment building with 28,500 square feet of retail space on the ground floor. In addition to The Pearl, The Heights’ first phase will include the revitalization of Armature Works, slated to house a market hall, event space and restaurant.

Adam Harden, a partner in SoHo Capital, confirmed the loan’s closing Thursday afternoon and said construction on The Pearl would begin Friday. The total project cost is $70.3 million, Harden said.

From the Business Journal - click on pciture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

While we like the Armature Works project, we are actually more excited by the Pearl because it shows that the full project may actually get built – not just an event space or marketplace.

West Tampa – Repurposing

There was a report in the Times of something that could really make us happy.

The former Balbin Bros. Cigar Factory at 1202 N. Howard Ave. was purchased for $1.4 million this week by a partnership between a Tampa hotelier and a Louisiana-based hospitality company. Though still in the early stages, plans call for a hotel with about 70 rooms that likely will be part of a major chain but with a name reflecting its local heritage, partner Mike Desai said Friday.

 

From the Times - click on picture for article

From the Times – click on picture for article

Of the 200 or so factories that operated during Tampa’s cigar-making heyday between 1885 and the Great Depression, only about 25 survive. 

(You can see the area here) The fact is that the old cigar factories are some of the coolest buildings in Tampa.  We do not know any of the details and it is early days in the process, but, done right, it would be great if those old buildings were all brought back to life (especially since there are quite a few in the maybe soon to be hot, one can only hope, West Tampa).  We only hope that the City will care enough to have rules that any new buildings in this part of the city will be truly urban in design to take advantage of the old buildings in the area.

Built Environment – A Kennedy Project

For a city that has a history of settling and, even when appearing to try to build something urban (or claiming to want something urban, see retail on Westshore near Spruce), there was a small but interesting proposal for Kennedy near Dale Mabry.

A South Tampa church could be demolished to make way for a new retail development.

WPG, a Tampa-based developer, is asking the city to rezone the half-acre property at 3702 W. Kennedy Blvd. so it can build two multi-tenant strip centers totaling 22,600 square feet with surface parking, according to site plans filed Monday.

Here are a rendering (sort of) and site plan:

From the Business Journal - click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

From Business Journal - click on diagram for article

From Business Journal – click on diagram for article

Not extremely exciting, but based on those documents, the building actually is up to the street and even, shockingly, has front doors facing Kennedy and not the parking lot. It is only a proposal and a small one at that.  But it is nice if the idea of building something even mildly walkable and urban gets spread beyond a few isolated neighborhoods and around the city – even if the city does not require it.

Moffitt – Growing

A few weeks ago, we discussed biotech clusters and noted that one of the main anchors to any biotech cluster in this area would be Moffitt.  It seems Moffitt is working to grow:

The H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center is moving forward with an ambitious $800-million expansion that will include a new hospital wing, two research buildings, a clinical support building and additional outpatient facilities, CEO Dr. Alan List told the Tampa Bay Times Thursday.

* * *

The first step, scheduled to begin in 2017, will be the construction of the clinical support building to house faculty offices and laboratories, List said. The expected cost is between $38 million and $40 million.

The new space will allow the 206-bed cancer center to add beds — something that will be necessary if Moffitt moves forward with the immunotherapy treatments, List said.

But that’s not all:

Later, the plan calls for additional research space, where doctors can put more work into finding treatments and cures.

* * *

The plan will eventually include construction on a new bed tower so Moffitt can serve additional patients. The goal is to shift most of the center’s outpatient services to another facility nearby on McKinley Drive and free up the University of South Florida campus for in-patient services and research.

That is all quite ambitious.  We are all for it, if it can be done.  How will it be funded?

The entire expansion is expected to take 10 years. Moffitt leaders plan to raise $500 million and hope to finance the rest with a bond bankrolled by state cigarette taxes.

Though note:

The expansion will be mostly funded through philanthropic contributions, but Moffitt is asking the state for $300 million from cigarette taxes. The state legislature would have to approve that funding and Gov. Rick Scott would also have to approve it.

The plan is very ambitious, but can get done. And we hope it does.  Not only is Moffitt’s success good for the area economy, it is good for the people it serves.  (But it does leave open the question of connecting it to the USF Med School complex downtown.)

Downtown/Hyde Park – Update On the Trib Site

It seems that the Related project on the old Trib site is going to be delayed.

The Tribune‘s building will be razed to make way for an eight-story, 400-unit luxury residential building with a 10,000-square-foot restaurant on the ground floor. Related has also reached a conceptual agreement with the city to build a riverfront trail as part of the development.

Environmental issues stemming from the printing presses and ink contamination have delayed that process, said Arturo Pena, Related’s vice president of development.

* * *

Removing ink contamination and dismantling the printing presses have been underway for months, Pena said, and Related expects to begin demolition in December.

So how long will it take?

But don’t expect the drama of a wrecking ball. Pena said demolition will be done gradually over the course of several months and isn’t anticipated to wrap up before April or May 2017. 

We wish they would take that time to make the project better – including reworking the major feature of the project: the parking garage – but we doubt that will happen.

MacDill – Hurricane Hunters to Lakeland

A while back, it became clear that the Hurricane Hunters were probably going to have to leave MacDill, because the space was needed for other uses.  Now we know where they are going.

NOAA Aircraft Operations Center will be located at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport. “AOC serves as the main base for NOAA’s fleet of nine specialized environmental data-gathering aircraft, including the agency’s three ‘hurricane hunter’ planes,” the agency said in a release.

While it would have been nicest to have them at MacDill, Lakeland is about as good a choice as you can have, except maybe St. Pete-Clearwater.  We are glad they are staying in the area.

Look At That Sprawl

The Times had an interesting item on their website that showed how various parts of the area had developed over time. It is cool and can be seen here.

What is really interesting is that almost all of them are in areas that were filled in with sprawl.  There is no doubt that the growth has been impressive.  Then you remember that local governments did not really account for the cost of building and maintaining the infrastructure of all that development and that now you are going to pay for it.  What it really emphasizes is that planning decisions made now have an effect for decades and that this area could have avoided many of its transportation problems with a little more foresight, planning, and investment over the last few decades.