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Roundup 7-24-2015

July 24, 2015

Contents

  • Economic Development – an Aspiring Innovation District?
  • Downtown – A New Tallest?
  • Bayshore – Cashing In
  • Economy – VC Watch
  • Economy – Housing
  • Surprise, The Rays Have Fans
  • Sprawlsville – Life is Perfect
  • Riverwalk Art – Will the Past Stand Up in the Future?
  • Better Elections?
  • List of the Week

Economic Development – an Aspiring Innovation District?

There was an interesting article in the Times regarding the USF area innovation district idea.

After decades of growing out, Hillsborough County now wants to grow from within.

To get there, the county is jumping onto the latest trend in urban planning: building an innovation district.

Hillsborough’s proposed 2016 budget includes $2 million to create a master plan for redeveloping the area around University of South Florida. The so-called innovation district would link the economic engines in that region — like USF, Busch Gardens, Florida Hospital and Moffitt Cancer Center, among others — to try to resurrect nearby transient, high-crime neighborhoods.

The county is moving forward with the plan even though Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a $2 million matching grant. Hills­borough’s budget won’t be finalized until September.

We are not sure why the money was vetoed, but credit where credit is due.  At least the County realizes that they still need to move forward.  That is good.  But what are they doing?

While still in its infancy, the innovation district represents a significant shift toward redeveloping established communities instead of building office parks and corporate campuses along the spacious Interstate 75 corridor, near the expanding suburbs.

“We can take an area that is dangerous to walk, dangerous to ride a bike and, in some cases, dangerous to drive and drop people off, and improve and enhance the community through the attraction of companies and businesses,” said former county Commissioner Mark Sharpe, who leads the push to create the district as director of the Tampa Innovation Alliance.

Sharpe estimates the idea could attract up to $1 billion in development.

As a very general idea, that is fine.

But what exactly is an innovation district — a term that sounds as visionary as it does vague — and how would it help the county achieve that goal?

Innovation districts have sprouted up in urban hubs throughout the country as younger workers have gravitated toward cities.

The districts are often located around existing economic anchors, like hospitals and universities, that were built away from downtown where there’s more space. These large employers have good-paying jobs and significant research capacity, but also realized they need to better position themselves to attract well-educated millennials, who tend to be single and want to live and play near where they work.

As it is, innovation districts are a mix of new business space with housing, retail, parks, restaurants and bars. It’s a departure from the once in-vogue business parks of the past 20 years, which sprawled out into large suburban spaces and were vacated after the workday.

And that is fine, too.  However, it has to be said that the area around USF is not really prime for such a transformation.  To start with, USF is built for cars.  The core of USF is very far from the surrounding neighborhood and the campus is car oriented.  And the roads around USF are not built for walking – nor is anything built around USF – and cut it off from the surrounding area.  It would be quite a task to really change the area, though that does not mean it should not be tried.

But there are challenges as well, including the region’s transportation woes. The county is weighing a half-cent sales tax increase to help alleviate gridlock.

Sharpe and county officials hope the new revenue could also eventually bring new transit systems to link the innovation district to downtown, West Shore and Tampa International Airport — particularly for millennials that increasingly eschew cars.

Not to mention linking USF to the surrounding area.

The county must also finally address the nearby low-income neighborhoods, said Commissioner Victor Crist.

“If you don’t stabilize the neighborhood and educate the area, you won’t have a viable workforce and you’ll continue to have high crime and people won’t want to move there no matter what you do,” Crist said.

In a report last year, the Brookings Institution noted that many of these districts have sprung up in underutilized or economically depressed areas. But lifting up the people in those communities must be baked into the mission of the innovation district for it to succeed, Lower said. Cortex, for example, offers coding classes for women and minorities.

We would not hold our breath for real transit connections.  As for economically depressed areas, many depressed areas that get revitalized are old parts of town with a dilapidated but traditional, urban building stock on a normal grid where buildings are ready for rehab and empty lots are easily filled with urban developments.  They are often ready made for fixing up.  The USF area is not.  It has to be completely rebuilt, which will not really help the people there now and is extremely expensive.

Of course, there is another issue.

Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik’s $1 billion redevelopment aims to create that kind of millennial-friendly space in downtown Tampa. That could create regional competition for the USF-area district, but Sharpe believes the two developments would work in harmony.

“There’s a desire to bring a large company downtown, but they couldn’t manufacture there,” Sharpe said. “So they could bring their headquarters downtown and manufacturing comes toward the university area.”

They could do that, but then it would not really be an attractive, walkable area.  The reality is that the two concepts do compete.  And moving the med school downtown will not enhance the attractiveness of the USF area.  In fact, it runs counter to the description of innovation districts in the quotes above.  But, so be it.  Part of the argument for moving the med school is to draw people to a cool neighborhood where they can “live, work, and play,” which is interesting regarding the innovation district.

Dennis Lower, president and CEO of the Cortex Innovation Community in St. Louis, put it this way:

“In the technology sector, people of credentials have a passport to go anywhere, and they will go to the coolest places they can find,” he said. “So if you’re not creating cool, you will have a problem.”

And we have said that for a while now.  They can go anywhere – including not in this area.

We are all for trying to fix up the area around UF.  We are all for innovation.  We like the Lightning owner’s proposal.  However, we are also cognizant that many of these ideas are inconsistent.  And none of them will fully succeed without real transit for more than a very small area and real planning changes.  We are still waiting for that to be truly addressed.  Until it is, nothing will have really changed.

Of course, maybe we still need the innovations and money to grow and keep them here.

Downtown – A New Tallest?

There was some news about the former Trump Tower site this week.

The city’s tallest skyscraper would rise on the former site of the ill-fated Trump Tower along the Hillsborough River under plans filed this week with the city.

Feldman Equities, a St. Petersburg-based developer headed by Larry Feldman, filed plans for a 52-story, mixed-use building at Ashley Drive and Brorein Street.

* * *

It is labeled only as “Future Riverside Residences” in city paperwork, but would conform to much of the site plan approvals granted for the Trump project, which had also been envisioned as a 52-story structure.

It would stand just under 627 feet tall, supplanting the 579-foot Regions tower as the Tampa Bay area’s tallest building.

The first floor would feature retail and restaurant space fronting the Hillsborough River. The next seven levels would be parking, with 630 spaces.

The structure follows with 14 stories of office space and 30 floors featuring 203 luxury residences.

URBN Tampa Bay posted a copy of the diagram from the Accela website (which also has a site plan).

From Accela database via URBN Tampa Bay’s Facebook page – click on picture for posting

The first thing to note is that the proposal is very preliminary.  There is no full plan.  In fact, it is not even clear if this is a proposal for an actual building or if it is just a move to position the property for sale to another developer.

That being said, cool.  It would be nice to have a new tallest building and to break the 600 foot mark.  We like the idea of a mixed use building – a true mixed use building.  And we really like that the idea seems to be to build the building to face the Riverwalk, which would be a first.   It would also have some very good views (though it would block views from other buildings, but that is the nature of downtowns.)

Because it is so preliminary, it is difficult to say much more. (URBN Tampa Bay has a nice write up here.  That also includes some modelling to show how the building might look.)  It would be interesting to see how this office space competes with the Lightning owner’s plan.

One thing to always keep in mind is that in the cyclical economy of this area, there are always bursts of proposals, many (if not most) of which never get built.  The developer here has a track record, but past performance is not a guarantee of future returns.  We shall just have to wait and see.

Bayshore – Cashing In

There is also another proposal from Crescent to build on the few remaining lots they have near their 8 story complex (which sold for quite a bit of profit).  While the location would be great for a substantial building, the proposal is for more of the same – including no retail.   Once again, URBN Tampa Bay has a rendering from the Accela website.

From Accela database via URBN Tampa Bay Facebook page – click for post

We completely understand the desire to build more of the same and cash in.  However, we think it is a shame that they are not making better use of the property.

Economy – VC Watch

There was an article in the Business Journal about venture capital.

Six companies in the Bay area received a total of about $40 million in venture capital funding in the second quarter of 2015, according to the The Money Tree report by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association, based on data from Thomson Reuters.

The bulk of the VC investment went to AquaVenture Holdings LLC,a Tampa company that provides filtered drinking water to businessses and water management to municipal and industrial clients. AquaVenture received $30 million, as Tampa Bay Business Journal reported in May.

That’s a big amount for this area.  Can we compare it?

The six local firms were among 17 Florida firms that pulled in a total of $153.7 million in the three months ended June 30. The largest VC investment in the state in the just-ended quarter was $50 million to Mdlive Inc., a Sunrise company that provides telehealth services and software. 

So we got a decent percentage of Florida.

Nationally, venture capitalists invested $17.5 billion in 1,189 deals in Q2. Quarterly venture capital investment increased 30 percent in terms of dollars and 13 percent in the number of deals, compared to the first quarter of 2015.

Doing the math, we are about .9% of the national population and got about .2% of the venture capital last quarter, which was a good quarter.  Just a little bit of perspective.

Economy – Housing

Let’s look in on the housing market.

Year-over-year sales of single-family homes — which make up the bulk of the residential real estate market — soared 31.7 percent in Pasco County, 29.5 percent in Pinellas and 27.4 percent in Hillsborough.

Prices in all three counties also rose, though less dramatically, while the median number of days homes sat on the market shrank — evidence that buyers are snapping up realistically priced homes.

“Overall, it’s been a very solid market for pending sales month after month, and June was a strong closing month,” Charles Richardson, senior regional vice president of Coldwell Banker in Tampa, said Wednesday.

But, he added, “it’s still a value-driven market. If you overprice a property, it’s just not going to sell today. Because of the Internet, buyers have a lot more information available to them, and they have a very strong understanding of what the value should be.” 

That is good.  How does it compare to the rest of the state and country?

Nationally, sales of existing (as opposed to newly built) homes rose 3.2 percent in June, with sales now at the highest pace since February 2007. Throughout Florida, year-over-year single-family home sales shot up 19.6 percent, while median prices increased for the 43rd consecutive month.

That is also good.  AS regular readers know, these stats seem to be on a roller coaster.  We hope the upward motion continues.

Surprise, The Rays Have Fans

There was a column in the Times about the existence of Rays fans.

The average attendance at Tropicana Field remains below 15,000, putting the Rays in danger of being Major League Baseball’s lowest-drawing team since the 2006 Marlins.

In many ways, it has become part of the franchise’s identity. The Rays are known for pitching, a shrewd front office and a lack of fans in the seats.

And, yet, there are some other figures that should be included in this never-ending debate. Last week, the folks at Nielsen released TV ratings for all U.S. markets for the first half of the season, and the numbers in Tampa Bay are intriguing.

The Rays may be chasing the Yankees in the American League East, but they have beaten up on sitcoms, cop shows and reality TV.

Rays games are the No. 2-watched programming in Tampa Bay whenever they air in prime time on Sun Sports. Let that sink in. No. 2.

That means, on average, more people are watching Rays games than whatever NBC, ABC or Fox is showing in Tampa Bay. Only CBS affiliate WTSP has higher average prime-time ratings than Sun Sports, and the gap (4.56 to 4.29) is not terribly large.

The Rays are getting a higher percentage of TV viewers than the Yankees or Dodgers do in New York and Los Angeles. They get more total viewers than the White Sox in Chicago or the Braves in Atlanta.

This means the community that is routinely ridiculed nationally for a lack of fan support is actually getting more enviable TV numbers than bigger or more historic markets.

So how is low attendance explained?

Perhaps it’s not an issue of whether Tampa Bay cares about the Rays, but rather a question of whether Tampa Bay can afford the Rays.

When you combine a community on the low end of the household income scale with a sport that typically needs to sell 2 million tickets a year, you have a challenge.

And this is how you end up with a lot of fans watching, but not so many attending.

Perhaps, but that does not explain how the Lightning draw more fans per game in a smaller building (admittedly with fewer games, but also fewer cheap seats).

The fact remains that the location of the Trop is a problem.  It is not central in the metro or to baseball fans.  We are not saying the Rays would sell out every game by moving, but the demographics for the Trop are not good and will only get worse as Hillsborough and Pasco – not to mention all those places east on I-4 – grow while Pinellas does not.  Even if downtown St. Pete gets a large number of residents, the fact remains that the fans are concentrated elsewhere.  Ignoring that obvious point is silly.

Sprawlsville – Life is Perfect

There was an article on the front page of the Tribune this past weekend about the boom times in Pasco County.

What is fueling such growth in the area? Is it the economic recovery in Hillsborough and Tampa, with the urban area spreading north over the county line? Is it affordability as Tampa land prices skyrocket and Pinellas County remains largely built out? Is it the attraction of a roomy new family home with a big yard versus urban living?

“It’s probably a combination of all those things,” said Marvin Rose, longtime Tampa Bay area housing market tracker. But he and other real estate analysts are watching for the south Pasco area to emerge from its reputation as Tampa’s “bedroom community” to become a self-sustaining, jobs-providing, live-work-play center of its own.

Ah, the clichés.  If everywhere is “live-work-play” then it stops being a selling point – or any point.

“I think you’ll find, for example, that on the eastern end of (State Road) 56, there’s an opportunity to live, work and play with (The Shops at Wiregrass’) success,” Eshenbaugh said. “It’s such a great location; there’s so much development around it. It’s a million-square-foot mall — life is perfect. Starbucks has arrived. McDonald’s is there, and now the hospital shows up. A community college campus. You can ride your bike from your apartment or town house, and if Raymond James (a long-planned financial center) goes in there, they have reached nirvana.

Getting McDonalds and Starbucks is certainly front page news in a top 20 metro.  And here is that bike friendly community college campus.  Perfect.

But there is more.

Richard Gehring, Pasco County’s strategic policy administrator, said the county’s southern corridor already has a population of about 125,000 people. In 15 years, that number is expected to be 320,000.

“This is our urban corridor,” he said. And where you have rooftops, retail follows. “There is dirt flying all the way from Little Road to U.S. 301.”

Wesley Chapel and the S.R. 56 interchange has become the economic engine for the county. The new Tampa Premium Outlets is racing toward its opening Oct. 29.

Anyone who has actually driven in Wesley Chapel/SR 54/SR 56 – because walking is completely out of the question, as is biking or taking any form of transit – would have a very hard time understand what definition of “urban” is being used here.  The SR 54 and SR 56 interchanges could not be closer to the very quintessence of suburban (or even exurban) sprawl.  In that area multiple intersections have three left turn lanes in each direction (see here, here  and here – though the last two do not show the present buildout .  Perfect.

(Granted, we will likely go to the outlet mall – though we are not sure how often because the access is destined to be a mess.)

The fact is that Pasco is just doing what everyone else has done (though you think they would have learned from all the mistakes Hillsborough/Tampa – and Pinellas – made, especially down the road in New Tampa), even with mobility fees.  The roads are clogged and poorly laid out.  Transit is nonexistent.  Walking is impossible.  Even the highway system (if you can call it that) is weak.  Pasco could still fix most (not all) of this, but they seem determined to go the other way.

In any event, it is just another example of the small town, “don’t miss the land rush” hype that has been (probably all the way back to the 1920’s or more, but we haven’t checked) and is standard fare in this area.  Maybe one day we will grow out of it.

Riverwalk Art – Will the Past Stand Up in the Future?

Speaking of the river, some Riverwalk art was revealed this week.

Friends of the Riverwalk unveiled designs Friday for three new monuments showcasing important events in Tampa’s history. If enough money can be raised, the monuments will be placed along the Historic Monument Trail on Tampa’s Riverwalk.

They depict events that “altered the course of the city and the county,” Tampa Bay History Center Curator Rodney Kite-Powell said during a news conference.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn sees the monuments as a way to show everyone Tampa’s history and culture.

“I think it’s one of the most transformative projects we’ve embarked on as a city,” Buckhorn said. “We want this Riverwalk to be a learning experience.”

The monuments will honor Tampa’s cigar industry, the expansion of railroads to Tampa’s port, and the impact of World War II on Tampa’s economy. 

The idea of being educational all seems fine.  The real question is execution.  These are the renderings:

From the Times – click on picture for article

From the Times – click on picture for article

From the Times – click on picture for article

We understand that art is subjective and that renderings do not really tell you what the reality will be and we know that the materials will make a difference.  However, based on these renderings, we are not so fond of these proposals (some are better than others).  Just like with some of the artwork slated for the Perry Harvey Park, they may tell a story that people want to be told, but we are not sure they will really stand the test of time.  The biggest problem in our eyes is that they try to do too much and gets very cluttered.  They do not have to tell the whole story – that is what museums are for, and, conveniently, there is a history museum nearby on the Riverwalk.

And this all raises the question of why the World Trade Center steel was not put in MacDill Park where it would be a learning experience and monument made from the real thing for everyone walking by rather than stuck in the Bayshore median where it is mostly ignored.

Better Elections?

Way back in 2011, we had a piece about open primaries.  Our idea was in no way original – just our opinion.   Open primaries exists in many states.  Nevertheless, this is what we said:

The Florida legislature has wrapped up for this session, which was extremely partisan.  Tampasphere has no party affiliation – it is issue based.  There is no monopoly on good ideas.  The concern is that politics and government – national, state, and local – seems inexorably to become more partisan and less effective every year.

One reason for this, we believe, is the closed primary system, which leads to a tendency to have “the base” – the most partisan voters – pick candidates.  It is well-known that many candidates play to “the base” in primaries and then try to move to the center for the general election.  To us, this seems like a recipe for les [sic] effective government – as elected officials always have to worry about “the base” rather than the entire population they represent.

Though imperfect, open primaries would force candidates to speak to the entire electorate from the beginning.  Obviously, there is a risk of voters trying to sabotage the other party by picking the most extreme candidate in the other party.  Frankly, that does not seem to be that big a risk – there are not too many examples (though this was really odd.)  The present system already has a tendency to pick very partisan candidates. (The Economist had an interesting discussion of California.).  It seems more logical that open primaries would generally represent to will of the electorate better.  Just a thought – we are open to other suggestions.

This week, the Times had an article on (thankfully) a move to get open primaries in Florida.

Armed with data that shows that the fastest growing segment of Florida’s electorate is choosing no party affiliation, a bipartisan group of activists is pushing for a constitutional amendment to open Florida’s closed primary system to all voters.

The All Voters Vote amendment will be delivered today to the Florida Division of Elections with the hope of getting enough signatures to place it on the 2016 ballot.

Miami lawyer Gene Stearns, who is leading the effort, said the goal is to encourage elected officials to listen to a broader swath of voters by giving voice to the growing number of Floridians who are written out of the state’s primary election system because they choose not to register with any political party.

“The two parties are becoming increasingly extreme and increasingly shrill because the people who control the outcomes dictate what you have to do to be nominated to a particular party,” said Stearns, who served as chief of staff to former House Speaker Dick Pettigrew and campaign manager to former Gov. Reubin Askew, both Democrats.

“The result of this is more and more people are becoming unwilling to identify with either of them. The consequence of their collective decision is making politics worse and governments more damaged than they have already become.”

Under current law, only when a candidate has no opposition from outside their party can all voters cast a vote in that race in the primary.

The proposed amendment, if passed, would allow all registered voters to vote in primaries for congressional and state partisan offices regardless of the party affiliation of the voters or candidates.

The candidate who receives the most votes and the runner-up would advance to the general election. In state elections, the candidate who gets more than 50 percent of votes in the primary wins the election.

You can read the whole article here.   We still think it is a good idea.

List of the Week

There is no list this week.

Roundup 7-17-2015

July 17, 2015

Economic Development – And?

Last week, we highlighted a Times column on what drives (or does not drive) the Tampa Bay economy. (See “Economic Development – If You Build It Will They Will Come?”)  We noted that we cannot rely, as we have for so long, on the weather, the water, etc.  A few days later, the Tribune ran a long article on the work of the EDC.  It really did not add much to the conversation, but we will highlight a few parts.

Sleuths are at work in Hillsborough County, digging up information on out-of-state executives and their businesses.

Their goal: To entice top-paying companies to the shores of Tampa Bay.

Economic development guru Rick Homans leads the charge. Since 2012, Homans’ organization, the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp., has attracted more than 10,100 new jobs to the county and more than $816.7 million in capital investment for new and existing businesses.

“The key is to keep that pipeline of jobs and capital investment flowing into our community,” said Homans, president and CEO of the EDC. 

That’s all good, but it does not answer the question of why no one can say what drives the Tampa Bay economy or why our wages and per capital GMP are so low.

When corporations such as Citigroup, JP Morgan and Amazon roll into town, tax revenue increases, landscape companies prosper and other local businesses can even get a piece of the action, said Larry Richey, senior managing director and Florida market leader for Cushman & Wakefield commercial brokers.

“Winning those projects doesn’t just happen because we have nice weather, we live on the water and don’t have state income tax,” Richey said. “You’ve got to go out and win those projects by selling the Tampa Bay area.” 

First, setting aside that we agree with (and have discussed) how getting more jobs (especially higher paying jobs) create business other than just the jobs themselves, much of that sales pitch is weather, water and low taxes (and real estate costs and wages). For instance this.  To say otherwise is disingenuous. Second, Amazon is here because they need warehouses near big population.  They are all over the country.   (and they got incentives in the local counties).  Third, most of the banking in the area is backoffice, the focus on which is really one of the main issues of the economic development discussion.  We have nothing against all those jobs.  They are all welcome, but real success is HQ jobs, higher paying jobs, real tech jobs – and we need local businesses to stay and grow here.  That will grow the whole economy.

Everyone knows that (and there is no reason to act otherwise).

These days, at least part of Homans’ focus is on finding and luring a Fortune 500 headquarters here, lining up with Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik’s $1 billion plan for downtown redevelopment.

* * *

In the early stages of recruiting a company, it’s all very hush-hush. But once the deals are done, when offices get furnished and new employees pour in, the trickle-down to the community can be huge.

* * *

Finding a company that is the right fit for this area is the daunting part.

In its quest to lure a corporate headquarters here, Homans and his staff started with a list of 2,000 corporations.

“We started to look at which ones had any level of operations here in Tampa Bay and started to look at certain criteria like, has there been a merger or acquisition, has there been a change in executive leadership, has there been something that’s happened in their market that would prompt discussion about relocation.”

An example of that is the recent failed move by the Connecticut Legislature to increase business taxes by $1.2 billion over two years, prompting a major backlash from large businesses there. Aetna, Inc., General Electric Co. and Travelers Companies, Inc, all threatened to leave the state, which has one of the highest corporate income taxes in the country.

The EDC also looks at the top executives of a company and seeks out any possible connection — friendships, military service, family — they might have to this area. Did they attend college in Florida? Do any of them own a second home here?

The EDC’s list of 2,000 corporations narrowed to 350, mostly from the northeast, some from the Midwest, that match one or more criteria, which may include access to direct flights from their existing market to Tampa.

“We don’t want to waste time on a company that is rock solid with deep community roots,” said Homans, who gets a salary and bonuses totaling $275,000. “We look at whether there’s a high level of pain or a higher level of loyalty” to where they currently have a headquarters.

For downtown Tampa, it needs to be the right company, one that will become the signature brand for the area and lure other businesses in. Once that headquarters comes, Homans said, others will likely follow.

(Note the importance of taxes and do you think they would have a second home if not for the water and weather). And that’s all fine as far as it goes, but let’s be real – for downtown Tampa, any decent sized company HQ would be a coup.  (as opposed to potentially losing an HQ, like TECO.) While the EDC might be selective in choosing targets based on possibility of success (a perfectly rational approach), is it really going to be that selective (and should it be?) in terms of companies moving here (and are local governments going to balk at incentives when they give money for warehouses and retail establishments)?  And, of course, there is this:

Sometimes, it is the company that finds Hillsborough County. In all cases, confidentiality plays a major role in the process.

In one instance recently, a site selection consultant — the person responsible for scouting new business locations — called to announce that a Fortune 500 company wanted to come for a visit.

So, to some degree this is all chance. (Like Hertz in Ft. Myers)

The article then goes on to tout how the EDC partners with local educational institutions, etc.  And that is all good, too.

In all, it is a nice article, but it does not get to the main point: we are behind and we are not a clear draw like other cities.

We all know transportation is an issue.  We know the built environment is an issue. We know there is a lingering impression on education.  As we noted last week, even our major universities are still not as prominent or as powerful a draw as in other cities. Though we have assets, we are not a tech hub.  We are not a transportation hub (much as we love the airport and the port has potential).  Despite some good cultural assets, we are not known for our cultural achievements.  And we lack venture capital.

Those are facts.  All the articles in the world in local papers will not change that. (Nor will they change the fact that for decades there have been innumerable things touted as great successes, game-changers, bringing us into the big leagues, etc., that, while often ok, have not done the trick – hence the continuing discussion.)

We are happy the EDC is doing all that work.  We hope they succeed.  What would really help the EDC in their job would be if the other issues were fully and effectively addressed.

Transportation – Move and Punt

Speaking of one of those lingering issues, transportation, the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough/Whatever group voted this week on whether to move forward with the Go Hillsborough process. Not surprisingly, they voted to move forward.  Flawed as it is, we think it should move forward.  So does the Times, which features this editorial that echoes many of our comments:

By moving ahead to create a work plan, the county would be forced to examine the lopsided focus on road work. The city of Tampa would have to explain how it could fund a rail system, what type of rail that would be and where it would go and when. Hillsborough’s mass transit agency would have to show how it could achieve the goal of doubling the bus system and creating new express routes even as county commissioners are looking to siphon much of that money away for expanded bus service in the suburbs.

There is a big gap between the promises local officials made in rolling out the plan last month and the numbers that make up the spending plan. If a half-penny won’t pay for road needs already on the books today, how will it make this community a more appealing, convenient and marketable destination for the next three decades — along with vastly expanding the bus system and laying a foundation for rail?

Moving this plan to the next stage will force local leaders to put real details on the table. The voters need a better sense of what they would be buying and some picture of the options that commuters would have that they don’t have today. The county also would have time to show good faith by reversing the wasteful land development policies that created these problems with the sprawling road network in the first place. Supporters should use the next several months to strengthen and publicly air the work plan. It should be clear by the fall whether something that at this stage looks too little, too late can be improved to make it worth the effort to pursue in 2016.

Pretty much.

And not only did they approve moving forward,

Hillsborough leaders said Thursday that they won’t put the proposed half-cent transportation sales tax on the 2016 ballot without getting more public input on what kind of roadway and transit projects voters actually want.

Does 100 public meetings over two months sound like enough voter input?

The policy leadership group, a collection of county and city officials, has already spent two years trying to craft a transportation plan that they hope will entice voters. They’ve spent $1 million on consultants and conducted 36 public meetings this spring, in addition to a poll and online outreach.

They still do not know what to do.  And how much will it cost for the elected officials to actually know what their constituents want?

Parsons Brinckerhoff will be paid $350,000 for the work in addition to the $1 million the firm already netted from previous outreach. The county will pay the lion’s share of that, chipping in about $250,000. The rest will come from the cities of Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City in addition to the Tampa-Hillsborough County Expressway Authority.

Consultants will present a detailed list of projects to county commissioners at their Nov. 5 meeting. If the commissioners approve the list, they will set a Dec. 2 public hearing where commissioners will vote on whether to put the referendum on the November 2016 ballot.

Nothing like charging the taxpayers again.  And what is the purpose this time?

The next round of meetings will focus on identifying a specific list of road and transit projects that would be completed in the first decade of the proposed 30-year tax.

In other words, to do what the last round of the Go Hillsborough meetings was supposed to do. No surprise there.  They do not really want to have to make any decisions.

There was one Commissioner opposed to moving forward.

Commissioner Stacy White said the county needs to provide more details and implement better land use policies and mobility fees before he can support the plan. He was the only member of the policy group to not vote in approval of moving forward with developing the plan.

There is a decent amount of sense in that, though the process should move forward.  The two are not mutually exclusive.

Sadly, this muddle is what we have come to expect of the elected officials in Hillsborough County.  It is one of the major reasons we lag other areas.

Transportation – Never Enough

And now that the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough group had public meetings, then outsourced public outreach to consultants so as to create a proposal for a possible plan, HART now wants to have more public meetings.

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority has arranged for a series of open house meetings beginning July 23 to get public input on its Transit Development Plan Update, which reflects that possible surge of new money. The agency is required by the Florida Department of Transportation to update the 10-year plan annually.

HART officials attended all 36 Go Hillsborough meetings between February and May at which the public provided input on how to solve the gridlock on the county’s roadways. The Go Hillsborough transportation committee, made up of all seven county commissioners and the mayors of Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City, recently agreed that if a half-cent sales tax is approved by voters, HART will get a quarter of the revenue, or $30 million a year. The committee is expected to decide Thursday when the measure will appear on the ballot.

The HART board will get its first look at the transit plan update Monday during its regular meeting, ahead of the public open houses.

“These meetings we are planning are an opportunity for HART to go out to the public as part of its annual update process and ask the question, ‘Have we heard you right?’ ” said Marco Sandusky, senior manager of equal employment opportunities and community programs for HART.

Huh?  Getting public output is fine but at some point people actually have to make decisions.  If the entire public meeting plus Go Hillsborough process was not enough to tell officials what people want, why have they spent all this time and money?

Transportation – City Working the Taxes

It seems the first step to the City pushing some money to transit is under way.

With the millennial generation inching away from America’s car culture, building new homes no longer necessarily means more cars on the road.

That is especially true in revitalized urban areas favored by young professionals who seek a home within walking distance of offices, stores, bars and restaurants.

Yet Tampa regulations state that impact fees developers are charged when they build new homes and office blocks can only be spent on projects to help squeeze extra cars onto city streets. 

Setting aside that the impact fee system is broken, most of Tampa’s planning decisions also focus on cars – to this day.  In any event,

That could end Wednesday with the city council set to consider a change allowing the fees to go toward other forms of transportation, including mass transit, sidewalks and bicycle lanes.

“It gives you more flexibility certainly in the downtown where we’re not going to be widening roadways to add more capacity,” said Jean Duncan, city director of transportation and stormwater services. “It’s going to be a great tool for that downtown area for sure.”

(ed. note that the agenda said this was a first reading.) That’s fine, except for the obsession with just downtown to the neglect of most of the rest of the city.  Helping downtown is fine, but there is much more to the city (say, Westshore and the space between the two, not to mention everywhere else)

But the move would give the city another resource for Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s goal of making Tampa a more walkable, less car-centric city. If approved by council members, beginning Aug. 1, the city could use the money for new bike lanes or trails, improved bus shelters or to contribute toward the potential expansion of Tampa’s downtown streetcar system.

* * *

Buckhorn has proposed that the city take over operation of the streetcar and transform it from a tourist attraction into a mass transit option for residents of Tampa’s downtown. The project has taken on increased importance with plans by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik for $1 billion of redevelopment around Amalie Arena. 

We are in favor of expanding the streetcar, but we know that, on its own, the streetcar is not mass transit.  To be mass transit, it has to go outside downtown and bring people in and out of the area (and we do not mean a couple of blocks). And, for most of the run, it has to have dedicated paths or it will be too slow to be effective.  That is the whole point of mass transit in a city.

Moreover, there is no official plan to do anything other than stretch the streetcar a bit, no real plan to get to the airport and Westshore.  Sure, it is mentioned, but what is the actual plan?  And, of course, there is no explanation of how the city running trains would integrate with the county – where most of the people live – and expand to really make downtown the thriving heart of the area. Narrowing the roads in and around downtown and not having transit into downtown is not really a recipe for making it really accessible and thriving.  The reality is that, even if more people live in and around downtown, it will always be a fraction of the people in the county, let alone the area.  You need a way to get those people in and out of downtown for it to be really successful.

So, yes, putting money to things other than roads is good.  But how, when, where, and what are all big questions.

“North Hyde Park” – Building, but What?

There was an article in the Tribune regarding “North Hyde Park” (which is name that is pure marketing), the area north of Kennedy near downtown.

The legend of Kennedy Boulevard being the great dividing line between Cool Tampa and the rest of the city may be fading.

The latest evidence? A residential boom appears imminent in North Hyde Park, a neighborhood of former warehouses and light industry just north of Kennedy that has been targeted for several new apartment, town home and mixed-use projects.

“There’s just a buzz of activity in the North Hyde Park area that we hope is continuing,” said Stefan McSweeney, a director with St. Petersburg-based Cardinal Point Management, which is proposing a mixed-use project at 301 N. Rome Ave. “For us, it’s a mix of the demographic of people that want to be in an infill location. It’s close to the highway (Interstate 275), close to downtown, close to South Tampa. We see that as good long-term potential for our project and a lot of other ones in the immediate area.”

The Cardinal Point project would have 23 town homes along North B and Fig streets and light retail facing Rome between those two streets. It joins a series of proposed and recently completed projects in the same strip.

Southport Financial Services has filed paperwork for a 90-unit apartment complex at 707 N. Rome Ave.

Construction continues on Lennar at West End Townhomes, with 39 units ultimately for sale along Oregon Avenue and Lemon Street.

Phase II of the recently completed NoHo Flats apartment complex between Gray and Fig streets will get underway this summer, with the 274-unit Havana Square apartments rising across Rome Avenue from NoHo Flats.

Those complexes join Vintage Lofts at West End, a seven-story complex with 528 units at Rome and Cypress Street that was built before the recession.

It is true there is a lot of development going on in that area.  One can look at different reasons why.

The city’s InVision plan, a 20-year blueprint for making downtown Tampa and its surrounding neighborhoods a community of livable places, describes the North Hyde Park area as “emerging as a new opportunity for significant transformation.”

“I think the real estate community was paying attention,” said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. “I think they realized that this was an opportunity to create a livable, walkable, pedestrian-oriented neighborhood with retail and residential. It’s an established neighborhood, it’s within walking distance of downtown, and it’s got great view corridors. I think the market was following the city in this case and realizing this was a neighborhood that offered a lot of potential.”

Let’s review: the area was targeted for development before the recession but a lot of it got caught in the recession, like NoHo Flats, which is actually not on Howard, but whatever. (See here, how it was part of Vintage Lofts.  Also notice the routine “this area is booming” article.)  Moreover, almost none of the developments have retail. (There is this, but that is about all.) Phase One of NoHo Flats has a big surface parking lot, which is in no way pedestrian friendly, and the area in general is not walkable.  Nevertheless, in theory the area could be walkable it does not get the same treatment from the City that Spruce Street got, as highlighted in last week’s Roundup.

Of course, there is another reason developers may have moved north of Kennedy:

Anthony Everett, director for central Florida for Pollack Shores Real Estate Group, said Kennedy Boulevard no longer is the symbolic barrier it once was. The original Hyde Park and south-of-Howard Avenue, or “SoHo,” neighborhoods remain among the city’s elite addresses, but skyrocketing home and land costs are pushing development north, he said.

“I think that line has now moved to (Interstate) 275,” said Everett, whose Atlanta-based company breaks ground this summer on the Havana Square project. “I think that barrier has now been broken, and I think the natural path of development and just the need for housing broke that.”

It is cheaper to develop there.  And that is fine as long as what is developed is good, walkable, and promotes it as an urban area.  Thankfully, some people recognize that.

The city may have acknowledged the potential of North Hyde Park, but neighborhood groups say the area needs more than just words in a master plan.

Ben Buckley, head of the North Hyde Park Civic Association, said city codes adopted in automobile-centric post-World War II Tampa are an impediment to creating a live-work-play environment.

He and Rob Dubsky, past president of the New Hyde Park Alliance business group, point out the lack of sidewalks and streetlights and severe flooding issues along Cass Street, which has been identified as a key segment of the city’s “Green Spine” car-bike-pedestrian route from the Glazer Family JCC to Cuscaden Park.

Buckley and Dubsky are pushing for a city planner to assume a role similar to that of Jeff Speck, a renowned urban planner hired by Vinik to marshal the Tampa Bay Lightning owner’s plan to develop the downtown core.

“We need an orchestra leader, if you will. We need somebody to work with all the different departments in the city, all the neighborhood associations, the city council, all the codes. Everything has to be re-thought, and there needs to be one person that understands this new concept.”

Dubsky said he was thwarted from opening a North Hyde Park retail shop because of antiquated parking requirements. His target customer base would have been pedestrians in the bustling Rome Avenue residential stretch.

He remains sold on the area and holds three properties within North Hyde Park.

Everything in that last quote is true. The area has great potential.  Everyone sees that.  It could be a really cool area or just an urban-ish muddle that never really reaches its potential. It is not very hard to get from ok to really good or excellent. The real question is whether the City will do what it should or just settle.

Channel District – Is Publix Coming?

There have been a number of public rumors (like this) that Publix has inked a deal to come to the one story building next to the tower in the Martin project in the Channel District.   We do not have confirmation, but we would just like to point something out.  Why are all the plans for grocery stores in downtown Tampa one story buildings?  It is not as if Publix does not know how to do an urban store – and we do not mean the store planned for St. Pete.   We mean a real urban store for a dense residential area, like the one in downtown Orlando around Lake Eola.  You can see it here. It is apparently “[a] new urban prototype for Publix, the 29,431-square-foot upscale grocery.”

That is typical of what we are talking about regarding planning and settling (just like the completely un-walkable Publix on Platt.) Sure, it would be good to have a grocery store in the Channel District, but it would be really nice to have an urban store done properly.  If you want to really compete, you have to do things right.

Kennedy – TGH Complex

It appears from the Accela database that construction permits are being pulled for the first phase of the TGH complex on Kennedy. (Search for “1307 W Kennedy” in the database).  URBN Tampa Bay posted a rendering of the building.  (It is apparently being called the Kennedy Healthplex, which is consistent with the general culture of hype in the area.)

From URBN Tampa Bay’s Facebook page – click page

(edit: URBN Tampa Bay directed us to a better version of the rendering here.  We thank them for the update.)

They also have the site plan here. We are not going to discuss the big parking lot in the back because we consider that a land bank (at least we hope).  On the other hand, it seems the buildings will really be facing the parking lot in the back, with the circle as the focus of the complex. (Maybe we’re wrong, but that is how it looks and that is what designs have been trying to do from the beginning).

Moreover, it seems that, while the buildings are going to be in the general vicinity sidewalk on Kennedy, they do not seem to interact with it at all.   In fact, they seem to be basically cut off from the street in the typical office park design that kills any vitality.

While it is good to build in that area, it will not really create a true urban area unless it is built to be an urban area.  If the reality is as the drawing appears to show, it will be a(nother) lost opportunity on a large plot of land.

International Trade/Latin America – Cuba

There was also an article in the Tribune (which was busy on Sunday) about Cuba trade.

Tampa leaders have offered up the city as host for the first Cuban consulate in the United States in more than five decades. But even if it goes elsewhere, people here will keep the Cuban government busy.

Tampa has the third largest Cuban population in the United States, a growing number of flights to the island nation and people who want to do business there.

What’s more, Tampa’s Florida Aquarium and the National Aquarium in Havana are expected to announce a partnership soon on coral reef research, cultural exchanges are becoming routine, and universities are eager to conduct studies there.

“I think the initial importance of a Cuban consulate is to provide convenience to Cuban Americans based in Tampa and central Florida,” said Bill Carlson, president of TuckerHall, a public relations agency in Tampa that has supported business and humanitarian missions in Cuba since 1999.

The only question, then, as the two nations work to normalize relations, is whether people in Tampa will deal with the Cuban government here or somewhere else.

* * *

Winning a consular office would provide people in Tampa faster services from Havana and establish the city as a gateway to Cuba. It also would mean a visit whenever a top Cuban diplomat comes to Florida, paving the way for closer connections with leaders from the island nation.

In the long run, Carlson said, a Cuban consulate would tell the world that Tampa is a growing commercial hub and likely attract business from other Latin American destinations.

Pretty much, which is why it makes no sense for any local official to equivocate over the issue.  If there is going to be a consulate, why should it go somewhere else?

Critics of a consulate in Tampa say it would become a center for protesters. Strong opposition remains to normalizing relations with Cuba as long it is ruled by the communist Castro regime.

That is a reason we should be ok with it going elsewhere?  And how does that serve our economic development or international profile in any way?

Going back to when Pan Am’s predecessor wanted to make Tampa a hub for South America and the locals rejected it (so it went to Miami, as the rest is history.  See “A Bit of History – Tony Jannus”), Tampa has made some odd decisions.  If we are going to be a gateway to Latin America, we need to act like it.  Either we are serious or we aren’t.  The times are changing.  If China or Vietnam wanted to put a consulate here, would there be an issue?

If there is going to be a Cuban consulate in the US, it should be here.

And just to emphasize the point that if we do not push for our place, Miami will push us out of the way, there was this nice article on Cuba trade prep in South Florida.

University Mall – Could Be

There was an article in the Times about the possible renovations at University Square Mall.  Most of the article is about how the mall could help revitalize the area, which is true.  But this is the key:

Adding to the challenge is that malls across the nation have struggled to reinvent themselves in recent years.

“Shopping malls in general, across the U.S., as a property type, have been suffering,” USF real estate professor Greg Smersh said. “People want more convenience. You have more couples who both work and spend less time at home, so they don’t mind paying more for convenience. They would rather pull into a Walgreens than go to a shopping center. The same trend has affected shopping malls.”

Smersh added, however, that a mixed-use approach involving office space and residential has helped some malls rebound. That’s the exact plan at University Mall. For the renovation, RD Management is partnering with New York’s S9, an architectural firm that specializes in the planning and design of large-scale, mixed-use developments.

Except, it’s not mixed use in that way, at least not from the released plans.  There is no residential.  We are not sure about offices.  In fact, as the article tells us:

The biggest change, however, may come with the latest renovation of the venerable University Mall. Mall owner RD Management LLC recently announced plans for a multiphase project that will begin in early 2016 with the transformation of the mall’s western wing, including the addition of three new tenants and two freestanding restaurants.

One of the most significant changes will be the addition of an outdoor lifestyle area, which will replace the indoor mall corridor near the shuttered JCPenney.

Similar improvements will follow for other parts of the 41-year-old mall, which contains more than 125 tenants, including Macy’s, Sears, Burlington Coat Factory and a Dillard’s closeout store.

In other words, none of the helpful elements mentioned are involved.  The mall property is key to fixing the general area.  It is quite large and could really be transformative.  Unfortunately, so far the plans are not going to do that.  There is still time, and there is still hope.  We shall see.

The PTC Finds That the PTC Is Right

There was more from the PTC this week:

An attorney for rideshare company Lyft said he plans to appeal a decision that says the company functions like a taxi service and is subject to local cab regulations.

The ruling Tuesday was part of an ongoing appeals process for tickets that Hillsborough inspectors issued to the company for operating a for-hire service without proper permitting. A hearing officer ruled in May that Lyft is a taxi company and was violating Hillsborough County rules by operating without proper permits.

* * *

After a brief discussion and a series of questions from County Commissioner Ken Hagan, the board voted unanimously to affirm the hearing officer’s findings.  

In other words, the PTC’s hearing officer ruled for the PTC.  Then the PTC board affirmed the hearing officer and said that of course it was always right.  Now it will actually go to court.  The article tells us what some of the lawyers said, but as we reported before, the PTC lawyer has already basically admitted in court that the whole point of their policy is to be protectionist – which is not necessarily illegal but it is silly.

The real issue is that the PTC has bad, protectionist, anticompetitive, market distorting, and anti-innovation policies. (Even its “compromises” are aimed at using government threats to keep people from competing with the legacy companies. )   And don’t forget their complete disregard for the consumer.  Same old DNA.

List of the Week

We could not find a good list this week, but we did see in a piece from 83 degrees media that

Hillsborough County takes the honor for its #10 ranking for ‘best counties to raise a family in Florida’ 

That seems a little overly specific for a list (and really not much to celebrate, especially when you consider that apparently they did not include other local counties in the top 10).

 

Roundup 7-10-2015

July 10, 2015

Economic Development – If You Build It Will They Will Come?

There was an interesting column in the Times last week about what drives our economy.

What would happen if “Tampa Bay” was trying to pitch itself as a compelling partner on Match.com? What would stand out? How could this place sell itself competitively when compared to the better-known and presumably more exciting Orlando, the tourism king, or Miami, the unofficial northern capital of Latin America?

What are Tampa Bay’s drivers?

This is the crux of a recent conversation I had with Ryan Severino, senior economist and research director of Reis, a 35-year provider of commercial real estate information and analysis that monitors office vacancy trends across the country.

Tampa Bay’s office vacancy rate stood at 20.5 percent in this year’s second quarter, ranking this metro area 66th among 79 U.S. metro markets. The good news is that 20.5 percent is the lowest office vacancy rate Tampa Bay has enjoyed in at least the past five years. The bad news is Tampa Bay’s office vacancy rate has hovered in a narrow band, as high as 22.2 percent in mid 2013, and trails 65 other metro areas with lower office vacancy rates — including Miami and Orlando — with some as low as the single digits.

In other words, improvement but still lagging (a constant theme it seems).

I asked Severino: How does Tampa Bay boost demand for office space? The bay area needs a compelling story to tell, he says. It needs some pizzazz — just as Orlando gets from everyone knowing it for its popular theme parks or Miami enjoys as the Latin capital of the United States.

“It needs drivers,” says Severino. Tampa is hardly alone in that respect, the researcher adds. The bulk of U.S. metro areas suffer from a case of Bland Brand.

“What are the drivers for those markets? I have no idea,” Severino says.

Nor does anyone else unless you go to the old standards: growing population and the housing and services that those people need (and low wage call center jobs.  Sure, there are some companies around that really do something else and add value, but that is not the heart of the economy nor has it been the heart of economic planning.  It seems that most economic planning has simply relied on the weather and the water and assumed we would be fine, while other areas were aggressively developing themselves.  And this is not new.

Now this is a well-traveled discussion. Many Tampa Bay business leaders have tried valiantly over the years to find legitimate ways to break this metro area out of its Anonymity Zone. Here’s are some highlights in frustration:

Yes, they should be encouraged, as should the Lightning owner’s quest to bring an HQ here.  But the reality is that all those campaigns or attempts are over sold at their inception and have failed to really do the trick.  They are sold as a panacea, and they just aren’t – there is no panacea.  The fact that there are so many in such a short time (and the history of the County Center where the Commissioners work) is proof of that.  As we have said – there is no quick fix.  There is just a lot of work – and the need to actually fixing things like transportation, planning, and everything else we are always talking about.

I asked him if he knew of the efforts, unveiled seven months ago, by Tampa Bay Lightning owner and former stock market whiz kid Jeff Vinik to create a billion-dollar, 40-acre “work, live and play” district in the greater Channelside area south of downtown Tampa. High on Vinik’s to-do list is to recruit a notable corporate headquarters to help anchor a project that already will include a relocated University of South Florida medical school.

It rang a dim bell with Severino, but was hardly a front-burner project for somebody who tracks office trends across dozens upon dozens of metro areas.

But he likes the idea. “Building something bright, shiny and new on that scale near the water, backed by an influential guy? That’s the kind of thing that can help Tampa Bay,” he says.

Sure it can help. Of course, having real economic drivers is what really brings people and value and fills office space. But relying on real estate is not going to do it.

Then, there was this:

Back to my conversation with REIS research chief Severino. He suggests Tampa Bay must land more significant companies —businesses with national and international name reputations — and the ripple effects from the higher salaries and job skills that accompany them before the metro area can achieve higher recognition.

A few metro areas have successfully broken through the bland barrier, so it is possible, he says, and gives two examples. Pittsburgh, once a mighty industrial town, chucked that 19th century image by refocusing its image and workforce around high-quality universities such as Carnegie Mellon and the health care industry. And Dallas, Severino says with admiration, has managed to become a major magnet for a wide spectrum of business by combining a pro-business image with low taxes, less regulation and a strong workforce.

“So one city had to reinvent itself and the other has just continued to grow with a talent for recruiting other businesses from afar,” he says.

Let’s look at that for a minute.

Pittsburgh was already an established city – even if it had a shrinking population.  It had well funded institutions (and their very connected technology component), money (notice the Carnegie and Mellon), and people willing to really invest in building the area, its institutions, and its economy.  Pittsburgh also had urban areas and real (if limited) transit.

Dallas has 1) oil money, 2) a good location, and 3) an airport that took advantage of that location.  TV shows and football we free advertising for it.  Dallas also invested in real transit as well as roads.  It was not bashful.  And it was bigger and better known than this area.

The real point is this: we do have drivers of our economy, but because of the decisions made by local officials (and some businesses), they are not the right ones.  There is poor transportation infrastructure (and even the Go Hillsborough process promises to just leave us less behind other areas, not catch them).  Our urban areas are limited at best. Sure, we have USF, but that is one institution and, for most of its history, it has lived in the shadow of other state schools.  UT does not develop technology and is just coming into its own.  The port missed the container revolution and is playing catch-up.  The airport is great but it is still recovering from the previous administration and it is not a hub. And we do not speak as a region so other areas pass us by.

And look back to the item last week (and the very extensive comment) about technology investing.  We have an issue.

So what are we?  To be successful, we have to be more than just people who left cold weather.  The sun and sea are nice, but other areas have that, too.  And the article’s examples show that sea and sun are not even that important to developing the economy (neither Dallas nor Pittsburgh have them).  And while they are all useful and part of the economy, we need to stop focusing on playing fields, movies, retail establishments, tourism, sprawling housing, and settling and put much more focus on the real prize and the things we actually need to do to get there.

Transportation – The Sierra Club Speaks

Speaking of a main factor in moving the economy – transportation – there was news that the Sierra Club has voiced an opinion on the Go Hillsborough process:

The executive committee of the Tampa Bay Sierra Club issued a statement Wednesday night saying it is not ready to support the sales tax and wants to see other changes put in place first.

“Critically needed reforms require no referendum,” the statement said. “The Sierra Club of Tampa Bay urges the Hillsborough County Commission to change development policy, increase development fees and adopt the local-option gas tax before pursuing a sales tax increase.”

Skipping over the gas tax thing, everything else there is in line with our previous discussions. (And at first blush, even the gas tax makes some sense, though, in our opinion, there is no way the County Commission will go there unless it is a tax on Uber’s gas.) So what is the reasoning? Form the original version of the article which was later changed on the Times website, which does not appear to be available any longer:

“It’s unclear to me, at this point, exactly what the public transit component of this is going to be,” Tampa Bay Sierra Club Chairman Kent Bailey said. “We are not going to support or oppose this referendum until we know exactly what it is.”

Before the county moves forward with any sort of sales tax — whether it’s one the Sierra Club supports or not — Bailey and other members are encouraging leaders to first adopt a five-cent gas tax to fund road maintenance and require developers to pay a higher share of impact fees.

“We consider these items to be elements that would be present in a good faith effort to really meet the transportation needs of Hillsborough County,” Bailey said. “When you’re in a deep, deep hole the first thing you do is put down the shovel. If we don’t bring impact fees and development fees in line with the cost of developing infrastructure, we’re still getting deeper into the hole.”

Once again, we are not sure about the gax tax thing (though it will go nowhere anyway) but before you ask for money, do what you can easily do (and should already have done).  Fix what is easily fixable.  Show you have really changed.

Also notable, though not surprising at all, there is tea party opposition.

Transportation – Behind the Express Lanes

There has been a lot of coverage of variable rate express lanes/Lexus lanes/premium lanes (that’s a nice one – like it is a business, not the government) since Tampa Heights started complaining about them.   This week, the Tribune had an article looking at the Miami experience.  First, the normal spiel:

Adding premium toll lanes alongside regular interstate traffic is an approach that already has reduced congestion on Interstate 95 in Miami, Florida Department of Transportation officials say, and they predict it will do the same at notorious bottlenecks on I-275 and I-4.

Average rush-hour travel speeds on I-95 have indeed improved, but the results aren’t all good: The speed of cars on northbound express lanes has repeatedly failed to meet state targets and accidents on toll lanes have led to gridlock on the freeway.

* * *

Transportation officials say all I-95 drivers have benefitted. State reports show the average northbound speed on regular roads during peak periods has risen from 18 to 35 mph since the lanes were introduced. Southbound drivers do even better, averaging 45 mph.

Drivers willing to pay the tolls, which can reach $10.50, get to their destination even faster with average speeds of 53 mph on northbound toll roads and 62 mph southbound.

But even with an increase in tolls to deter drivers, northbound express lanes have not met the state’s reliability target for speeds to remain above 45 mph at least 90 percent of the time.

So that is all well and good, but there really interesting thing is in the details:

The report also highlights the stark difference in journey times for those who can afford the tolls.

Drivers on regular northbound lanes only exceed 45 mph about 10 percent of the time, down from almost 20 percent in 2013.

“They have sacrificed reliability of general purpose lanes to keep express lanes more reliable,” said Kevin Thurman, director of the pro-transit Connect Tampa Bay group. 

As we keep saying, if you create a limited number of lanes and limit the number of cars in those lanes, additional traffic will be dumped into the regular lanes.  As traffic grows the regular lanes will be slower.  Moreover, eventually land for the variable rate lanes will run out and there will be no more lanes so the regular lanes will get much busier.

That is no long term solution, especially when there is no real transit – no real alternative to roads and limited urban, walkable, transit oriented development at best. (And adding buses to express lanes just means fewer cars can use them, so that is no solution).

Thurman also questions why the transportation department is planning to expand I-275 and I-4 when there is no plan to integrate mass transit into the area’s overall transportation network, as has happened in other cities where tolls have been added or are planned.

South Florida has Tri-Rail, a rail passenger service between West Palm Beach and Miami that runs parallel to I-95. Miami-Dade is also served by Metrorail, an elevated train network with 23 stations over a 24-mile rail network.

Both of those systems receive funding from the state, as does Orlando for its Sun Rail system.

“It’s a completely different night and day approach,” Thurman said. 

Indeed – those rail systems get hundreds of millions of state dollars.

Though we think the roads need to be widened, we are not fans of FDOT’s approach.  But they are not the only ones to blame for all this.  As we have also said, as much as we are not in favor of FDOT’s approach, part of the problem – a big part of the problem – is that locally we have not pushed for a real transit system and proper planning.  And Go Hillsborough does not really address that.

There is a lot of blame to go around.

Downtown/Channel District/Built Environment – More of What the Expert Said

There were more reports on what the Lightning owner’s urban planner had to say.  We highlight this:

“If all goes as planned, in 10 years this will be completely transformed,” Speck told News Channel 8. Signs of change will happen even sooner, with the first phase set to be completed in five or six years, he said.

Speck’s vision for the area includes making the city more walkable based on the premise that it has to be “simultaneously useful, safe, comfortable and interesting,” he said. “If it’s not all four of those things, people won’t walk.”

Speck’s prescription for achieving that includes adding parallel parking along the road to make walkers feel more protected than they do now. “When a car passes you on the sidewalk, you lack that barrier of steel that makes you feel safe and actually protects you from vehicles coming at you,” he said.

Speck also said plans call for creating “continuous deep shade” in the Florida heat. “Every building will likely have either an awning or arcade or something that shadows the sidewalk,” he said. Plans for the area involve adding retail and other destinations to the mix, but Speck said the biggest difference in the future may be “the number of people on the sidewalks.”

We are all for all of that.  The only thing we would add is that, aside from planning, Florida has TWO main issues for walkability – heat (which he addresses) and rain.  It is fine to have shade, but there has to be shelter from the rain.  If you have awnings, they should be continuous, not the broken up kind just in front of stores found in so many strip malls.  People will not walk if they are going to get soaked either from sweat or a downpour.

Oddly, buildings from previous eras handled this much better than most modern buildings.  The sidewalks around Park Tower or the old Exchange bank are completely covered by the parking garages, giving shelter from the sun and the rain.  While their designs are not the most elegant, at least it covers pedestrians.  The challenge is to do it in better, more attractive way.

We look forward to seeing the solution.

Downtown/West Side/Hyde Park – Settling Isn’t So Nice When It Is Next Door

It seems that first proposed development around the west bank of the river downtown has drawn some interest from its neighbors:

“What Grand Central is and can be is a really great shopping and retail district,” said Blake Casper, proprietor of Oxford Exchange. “That’s what it originally was, and I think it very well could be that and more.”

Casper and his sister Allison Adams opened Oxford Exchange in 2012, renovating a century-old building into a mixed-use concept that includes a book store, gift boutique, restaurant, coffee and tea bar and a coworking space. The current zoning of the site Altman is targeting is commercial, office and parking.

“We invested a tremendous amount of capital in that neighborhood with the understanding that zoning be adhered to,” Casper said.

Nat Barganier, the Altman executive who oversees Central Florida, declined comment on the proposed development Tuesday. He said he has a meeting with Casper this week.

Casper called the proposed building “essentially an apartment complex you could see anywhere in Florida.”

“There’s nothing unique about what they’re offering,” he said, “and really nothing in tailoring it to the needs and character of that neighborhood.”

We agree with his sentiment, but there is an issue with what he said.  He’s right – he spent a lot of money fixing up the building (and did a good job). However, there is basically nothing in Tampa’s rules that require anything to be nice, urban, useful, contributing to the neighborhood, etc.  His investment has no protections.  Developers can comply with zoning and be completely bland and generic.  That is the Tampa way.

Except for in a very limited number of areas, the city has absolutely no requirements to make anything nice around you – and it has a habit of ignoring those requirements.  If you don’t like it, demand a change.

Westshore/Built Environment – Missed Opportunities

There is an interesting Facebook page for a group called URBN Tampa Bay.  It focuses mostly on the built environment and has some good information and comments.  This week posted something about a Framework project in Westshore that actually is on Spruce.

From URBN Tampa Bay’s facebook page – click on picture for facebook page

They comment “We would’ve liked to of seen mixed-use here but this is good density overall.”  We agree on both points.

The photo led us to find the location of this particular project, which is here.  If you look at Spruce on the linked map, there are a number of multistory apartment projects that actually are built basically to the sidewalk. (And there are a number more being built now.) It is perfectly set up to have normal, urban, walkable residential retail businesses lining the street.  However, there are none.  In fact, as you can see from the map, Spruce is even cut-off from the wide “Boy Scout/Spruce” road and some of the complexes – though it is not clear why.  There is no good way to walk to any real retail.  And there is nothing on Lois but parking lots – a legacy of poor planning.

So even if you live in that pretty good cluster of apartment housing, you are still nowhere without getting in your car.  That is settling in action and why Westshore is likely a long way from being actually walkable, rhetoric notwithstanding.

Transportation – Whither Tampa Bay Exceptionalism?

There was news about the Tampa bike share program this week:

Seven months after its launch, Tampa’s Coast Bike Share is celebrating its 10,000th rider, is breaking even financially and plans to expand to the University of South Florida this fall.

The program expects to put 100 of its sky-blue rental bikes on USF’s Tampa campus in late August or early September. Coast program director Eric Trull said the university will run the program.

“Ultimately, we’re working to build our system to encompass the entire bay area,” he said. That includes not only commuters, but also college students on campus and the bay area’s 14.9 million annual visitors.

Meanwhile, the 10,000th member of the program checked out one of the rental bikes at 4:16 p.m. on the Fourth of July. Considering that the program had 6,500 members at the five-month mark, Trull said usage numbers are encouraging.

“The temperature and weather is not impeding ridership,” he said. “We’re still increasing.”

That is cool, though, we do have to note that the “membership” thing seems slightly misleading unless you know the exact meaning:

Nearly all of the program’s memberships are daily, which cost $5 per hour of riding. About 300 riders have founding or annual memberships, which cost $79.

Visitors tend to ride farther, about 3 miles on average, while annual members average 2 miles per ride, which supports the idea that tourists use the bikes for leisure and locals ride to run errands or shop.

In any event, what this says is that there is a latent market for such things in the bay area that was long ignored, just like there was a latent market for urban apartments that for years we were told was not actually there.  The fact is that there are many latent markets in the bay area that are just not supplied – like real transit and real walkability. But those markets are latent because of settling – they are waiting to be served. We do not have to be behind.  All it takes is caring about it and the political will to see it through.

TIA – One of the Best, Of Course

We are exceptional in one area – the airport, which was noted again this week.

Tampa International Airport ranks second in the nation among domestic airports, according to a survey of readers of the well-known Travel + Leisure magazine.

Airports were ranked among the “World’s Best” from November to March on location and access; check-in and security; restaurants and food; shopping and design; with optional feedback about business and family amenities.

Tampa International’s composite score was just behind that of No. 1 Portland International Airport, which was awarded the top domestic spot for the third year in a row. Local Oregon TV news reports credit the Portland airport’s emphasis on local restaurants and themes, and even its bicycle repair shop on the premises.

Tampa outscored airports serving Minneapolis-St. Paul, Dallas and Austin, Texas.

The airport which has been innovative since its initial design is the one area where we are consistently there with the usual suspects (if not ahead of them).  It is always a reminder of what we can do if we actually focus, plan, and are willing to invest in doing something right instead of settling.

Charter Review Board – Same Old DNA

It turns out that the Commission appointed Charter Review Board in Hillsborough County was considering a proposal to change the structure of the Commission.

A move to add two Hillsborough County commissioners to the current seven-member commission was soundly defeated by the county’s Charter Review Board on Tuesday night.

The lopsided 11-3 vote once again dashed the hopes many Hispanic voters harbored of creating a district where one of their own could be elected to the commission. The defeated motion, made by Evelio Otero, would have added one single-member district for a total of five and one at-large seat to the current three.

If the charter board had passed the motion, the matter would have gone to voters on the November 2016 ballot. Now, Hispanics’ only chance of getting a so-called “minority access” district is if the county commission itself votes to put a redistricting charter amendment on the ballot.

The chances of that are slim. In November 2013, four of the five Republicans on the commission voted against a ballot measure to add an additional single-member district with a Hispanic population of 35 percent or more. Republicans still hold a 5-2 majority on the commission.

We are not going to get into all that.  But there was this:

But opponents on the board said there was no proof that Hispanics or any other county residents lack for representation under the current structure.

“I didn’t hear anybody say that, ‘I called a commissioner and he didn’t return my call,’” said Juan Capote, a Cuban-born board member.

Jan Platt, a former county commissioner who helped draft the county’s charter, said there have been numerous Hispanics who served on the commission without the aid of a specially configured district. Some of the former commissioners Platt mentioned, such as Nick Nuccio and Ray Campo, have Italian names, but are considered “Latins” in Tampa’s Spanish, Cuban and Italian melting pot.

Which made us think about numbers.  The single member districts are about half the size in population of US Congressional district. The county-wide are about twice the size of a congressional district. And, frankly, people who want real transit, good planning, proper economic development, and no more subsidies to sprawl developers have been underrepresented for years.

Maybe if they had small districts, they would not have to hire consultants to find out what the people wanted.  For instance, let’s look at Go Hillsborough which used “outside” consultants (as well as some locally connected people they hired) for $900,000.  Here and here.   So what did the Commission get for handing that taxpayer money to a few people?  Per the report:

Over the course of the four-month community engagement effort, more than 1,900 people attended 32 open house workshops and almost 24,000 people participated in four telephone town halls.

(pdf pg 23)

So say roughly 26,000 people responded. That is a little more than $34 per opinion (assuming they all gave opinions, which is not really a strong assumption given the telephone town halls would never allow 24,000 opinions.)  The County could have gotten the same results by paying 26000 local taxpayers $34 each to fill out a survey.

Of course, just adding two seats to the Commission would not fix that, but the failure of the idea to get anywhere shows just how entrenched the system really is. The fact remains that having such large districts are not very representative.  Leaving it the way it is will not serve the County better.

Transportation – Exhibit A in distance for Constituents: the PTC

Speaking of being out of touch, there was more on the PTC and ridesharing.

Some may be surprised to see car-hailing app Uber suspend service in Broward County.

After all, the company has frustrated government agencies and taxi companies worldwide as its drivers transport passengers without the regulatory requirements of traditional chauffeured transportation services.

But Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission Executive Director Kyle Cockream said the company will return to Broward.

Yes, they will be back because they have money and a product people want.  The issue there, as here, is the government getting in the way and protecting vested interests.

In Hillsborough, Cockream’s eyes are on July 17. The commission will argue for an injunction to stop Uber from operating countywide. Judge Paul Huey will announce a decision at least two weeks later.

An administrative officer previously ruled the service illegal. But with a circuit court judge ruling, drivers will face at least $5,000 in fines each and possible jail time.

Cockream had a conference call with Uber about three weeks ago, he said. He is still waiting on a temporary operating agreement representatives promised would please the commission.

“We stand ready to amend the rules,” he said. “But the only thing they want is to do it their way.”

Sure, because the PTC’s way (which is not representative of all the people using ridesharing, like these folks) is protectionist, anti-capitalist, anticompetitive, and stifling of innovation.  In any event, that will not change. Local officials, here and in many other locations, are much more comfortable protecting the ways of the past that working to move into the future. Just see the first item.

Rays – Tell Us Something We Don’t Know

There was another article in the Tribune regarding the Rays, this time focusing on stadiums being part of entertainment districts.

It’s still up in the air as to whether a new Tampa Bay Rays ballpark will land in Pinellas County or Hillsborough County.

More certain is that any new stadium will be one part of a much larger and more complex real estate deal.

With the era of standalone, isolated stadiums largely over, sports team owners increasingly are taking on the role of developer and using their stadiums as anchors for entertainment districts or retail and residential developments.

That includes the Detroit Redwings, whose plan for a new $450 million hockey arena is being combined with a $200 million project to build a hotel, office space, stores and restaurants.

Tampa already has one sports franchise that scrutinizes nearby property deals as closely as Draft Day prospects. Strategic Property Partners, the real estate arm of Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and his business empire, is moving ahead with $1 billion in development around Amalie Arena.

Another such project the Rays likely are watching closely is SunTrust Park, a ballpark and entertainment district in Cobb County, Georgia, now under development by the Atlanta Braves that will include up to 1 million square feet of retail, residential and hotel space.

Building a ballpark with surrounding development is thought to be a first for Major League Baseball and is a model that local leaders expect the Rays may follow if they build a ballpark in the Tampa Bay area.

“We are certainly studying the Atlanta model, particularly with respect to creating an entertainment district,” said Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan, a cheerleader for moving the Rays to Tampa. “We’re thinking of a stadium that goes far beyond the traditional model of a ballpark. It will need to be part of a larger entertainment venue that appeals to everyone and is really going to be the place to be.”

Ok, we knew that.  And it should not just be a purpose built “entertainment district;” it should be in an area where development can occur around it.  The article then gives a number of examples and goes back to Tropicana Field.

A combined ballpark and entertainment district would require a site of about 40 or more acres.

That would keep in play some of the sites touted as potential locations for a ballpark, such as Derby Lane on Gandy Boulevard, Toytown in Pinellas County and Tampa Park Apartments between Channelside Bay Plaza and Ybor City. But it would rule out the ConAgra Foods flour plant on Finley Street, Hagan said.

In St. Petersburg, Mayor Rick Kriseman is still touting the 85-acre Tropicana Field site as offering the best development potential, although it’s unclear how the city might partner with the Rays to redevelop publicly owned land.

“Downtown is booming, and new businesses and restaurants are opening along the Central Avenue corridor all the time,” Kriseman said. “The possibilities around the current Tropicana Field site are nearly endless.”

Derby Lane is not accessible, nor can it really be made into a district.  And one of the main reasons the Braves want to move is to get closer to their fan base, which the Rays would not be doing if the stayed in downtown St. Pete (and probably why St. Pete has created so many road blocks in the process).

There really is not much more to say until St. Pete lets the Rays look in the whole area, which probably won’t happen as long as you have this silliness going on in the City Council.

Council member Jim Kennedy plans to ask his colleagues to bring in the Urban Land Institute to provide a detailed analysis of the stadium impasse with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Trouble is, ULI says it doesn’t really do that kind of work. The organization, which assembles teams of out-of-town experts to offer fresh-eyed, wide-pan ideas for specific challenges and issues has offered proposals to transform downtown Clearwater and St. Petersburg’s waterfront. But a panel of experts usually spends about a week on an issue, which isn’t enough time to deliver the data that Kennedy wants. And the group says it’s reluctant to wade into a political fight.

Why even propose that?

“In my mind, it’s a way to get the Rays to evaluate the Trop without evaluating other areas,” Kennedy said. He voted against Mayor Rick Kriseman’s proposed deal with the team last year that would have allowed the Rays to look at possible sites in Hillsborough County.

Yea, that isn’t completely transparent and guaranteed to fail.  Someday this process will end.  Unfortunately, St. Pete City Council acts like it wants that end to be when the Rays leave the area.

International Trade – Enter Miami

For those who thought that Miami will not dominate any opening to Cuba, here’s some news:

The world’s largest cruise company could be heading to Cuba.

Starting in May, Carnival Corp. plans to offer trips from Miami to the Caribbean island nation, the company announced Tuesday. Carnival says it would become the first American cruise company to visit Cuba since the 1960 trade embargo. The trips will be through its new brand, fathom, which focuses on trips where passengers sail to a destination in order to volunteer there.

“This is an important first step for our company and the cruise industry,” CEO Arnold Donald told The Associated Press in an email. “It begins our efforts to shape a long sustained industry experience in Cuba.”

The weeklong cruises will be aboard the Adonia, which carries 710 passengers. The ship is relatively small for the industry; ships sailing under the company’s namesake line carry nearly 3,000 passengers.

Carnival is expecting high demand for the voyages and has priced them accordingly. Prices start at $2,990 per person plus taxes and port fees. A similar service-oriented trip on the same ship to the Dominican Republic starts at $1,540 per person.

The itinerary is still being finalized as Carnival waits for approval from the Cuban government. The ship is expected to visit several ports and passengers will sleep onboard each night.

And the reaction in Tampa:

Port Tampa Bay released a statement saying it is ready to serve the Cuban market.

“Today’s news bodes well for future opportunities for Port Tampa Bay, which is well positioned as one of the closest cruise ports to Havana, to one day serve this new cruise destination,” the statement said. “Port Tampa Bay has the facilities and key partnerships in place for the cruise and ferry business to grow and thrive and is ‘Cuba-ready.’ ”

As much as some in Miami will complain about Cuba, the moment there is any opening (like flights), the Miami area jumps through it and takes it over.  Anyone who thinks otherwise and thinks Tampa can just sit back and have all this Cuba trade and business will fall into our laps is kidding themselves (though it would not be the first time Tampa did that).

It serves no purpose (at least not for the area) to not promote this area in all Cuba trade openings.  It will not stop the openings. All it does is cede the business to others.

List of the Week

Our list this week is Wallethub’s best cities for recreation.

The top 10 was thus: Cincinnati, Omaha, Scottsdale, Tampa, Boise, Orlando, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Reno, and Denver.

So we made the top 10, which is great.

As this list was covered in the Times, we’ll tell you what they said:

In securing fourth place overall, Tampa was buoyed by its rank for entertainment and recreational facilities (9th) and climate (13th); which offset its slightly lower status in costs (28th) and quality of parks (45th).

As a result, Tampa even wound up with bragging rights over Interstate 4 rival Orlando, that theme park global mecca. 

What the Times did not tell you is that the climate rank, which is one of the things that brought us way up was basically a means of just padding the numbers.  For instance, Tampa’s climate was ranked 13th, while St. Pete’s was 40th.  Orlando’s was 28th. San Diego’s, which basically no one complains about ever, was 34th.  In other words, that is completely meaningless.

Then there was the “entertainment and recreational facilities” which just counted numbers per 100,000 – where we did well.  On the other hand, in terms of quality of facilities, we were quite poor.

So celebrate the 4th place ranking (it is nice to get in the top 10 for something), then realize it is BS and move on.

Roundup 7-3-2015

July 3, 2015

Transportation – More on the Future

As would be expected, there were more articles on the proposal for a transportation referendum this week.  First, from the Times:

If county officials have their way, a successful half-cent sales tax referendum in 2016 will bring in $117 million annually for transportation improvements.

But for those with much grander transportation ambitions, that revenue is only the beginning.

If the experiences of other cities are any indication, this potential referendum could be the kick-start needed to slowly build and fund a full-fledged transportation network over the coming decades.

Could be (in decades).  Then again, it could not.  So make the case for something new.

In the past five years, Hillsborough, Pinellas and Polk counties have all failed to pass a 1-cent sales tax for transportation. These defeats, coupled with feedback gathered from months of public outreach, showed that the appetite for a 1-cent tax doesn’t exist here, said Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill.

But while the $3.5 billion earned over the 30-year half-cent tax falls short of some people’s expectations, it could be the catalyst needed to trigger other investments.

“We have about a thousand different options after this,” said Kevin Thurman of Connect Tampa Bay, an advocacy group focused on maximizing the plan’s investment in transit.

“Every community that has spent money on transit and started shifting their priorities has wanted to continue to shift their priorities.” 

That may be true, but many of the thousand options are not very good options.  And does this plan really shift the priorities?

Cities such as Charlotte, Denver, Phoenix and Salt Lake City started with an initial sales tax that allowed them to get projects started.

Then, when support for those projects swelled and trust was built, the communities were able to increase funding — whether through additional taxes, private sector investment, or state and federal funding.

County leaders hope an initial investment will have the same impact here.

“I don’t want to get too far ahead and start getting people concerned that the real motive here is to extract more tax money,” Merrill said. “But I think the thing that everyone agrees on with this recommended plan — regardless of where they stand — is it’s not enough to take care of all the needs.”

The question, Merrill said, then becomes: “What’s the next step?”

Ok, but is there a shift in priorities here?  Roads and some buses are clearly the focus of the proposal.  There is talk of possibly having rail but there is no actual plan, no route, no technology.   Just talk.  The City has put forward no actual plan. The County Commission can’t even bring themselves to really say they are changing priorities.  And, as noted last week, there is no clarity on who would own/control any system.  This is not exactly how other cities did it. (see Phoenix’s 2003 Regional Transportation Plan referencing an existing 57 mile rail plan with a delineated starter line among a whole lot of other stuff, pg 112 of the pdf here, in anticipation of a 2004 referendum)

And, then there is the fact that this is a proposal for a 30 year plan.  Assuming there is a starter line of rail, how long do we have to wait to get anything more?

Shifting gears a bit, there was also a Tribune editorial that focused on planning:

But after decades of allowing development to hopscotch across the county, it appears the Hillsborough County Commission is getting serious about changing the dynamic for managing growth.

Well, the Administrator may be serious.  As for the Commission, that remains to be seen.

Changing land-use codes and imposing mobility fees on development are part of the conversation about putting a transportation referendum on the 2016 ballot, an effort known as Go Hillsborough.

This part of the plan won’t get as much attention as the promised road improvements, but in many respects it is far more consequential. Indeed, unless the county adopts responsible growth policies, spending more on transportation won’t achieve much — at least not for long.

* * *

Of course, without the necessary changes to growth planning, land-use codes and development fees, a successful ballot initiative would represent nothing more than a temporary fix, and an expensive one at that. Only by bringing an end to policies that promote sprawl can the county expect to manage its long-term transportation needs.

Mobility fees are a variation on the impact fees assessed to developers and are meant to encourage growth in areas where county services already exist or can be extended at minimal cost. Pasco County adopted them and Merrill says Hillsborough is studying that model. Hillsborough is already planning to link major commercial hubs with future transportation corridors, an essential part of planning for future transit options.

The public should hear plenty about Go Hillsborough in the coming months. Commissioners are expected to decide before the end of the year whether to put the plan before the voters in 2016. With 500,000 people projected to move into the county by 2040, and perhaps $3.5 billion to spend on transportation if the plan is approved by voters, the discussion about preventing sprawl is key to the long-term success of Hillsborough’s transportation planning.

That is all basically what we said last week.  The one thing missing another thing we said last week – the planning/mobility fees change does not need to wait for a referendum.  The change can, and should, be made now.

It makes little sense to approve billions in spending without changing the policies that got us into this mess in the first place.

In fact, it makes no sense to keep the poor planning and other policies that created the problem and are a failure regardless of any referendum?  If the Commission is really on board with changing priorities and fixing transportation, it should be working on the change now.  Why are they allowing the cause of the problem to continue?  If there is no referendum are they going to keep the old failed planning policies?  Is that approach really a change of priorities?

In any event, it is not enough to say “pass this plan and in 30 years maybe things might be better.”  The proposal is something, but it is not nearly enough.  It is up to the Commission to prove that they really have changed.

Remember that hanging over all this is the ever-present question: why should a Millennial bet on this proposal will ever get done rather than just go where priorities have already clearly changed?  Every day of delay is another day falling behind.

Economic Development – Startup Culture

Speaking of Millennials, there was this about startup cultures in the Business Journal:

The first episode of the month for “Startup School Radio,” a Sirius (Nasdaq: SIRI) satellite radio program, featured a startup CEO talking about the reason why he left Tampa Bay.

Frederick Hutson, founder of technology startup Pigeonly, told the University of Pennsylvania-run program that the investors in Tampa Bay were more comfortable with traditional investments, such as real estate.

“The invstment community there, they just didn’t understand technology,” he said.

* * *

Hutson isn’t the first executive to point out the dry capital spring for startups — everyone from the CEO of startup KiteDesk to members of the Florida Venture Forum investor network have acknowledged the region deserves more attention for its innovations.

Pigeonly isn’t the first technology company to leave the Bay area, either. The region has said goodbye to Banyan, Draper Lab, Wikipedia and more.

(You can find the podcast listing here) This is not news to those who are interested, but, given the hype in this area about anything vaguely related to startups, it is good to have it be said by someone involved.

Of course, there are those who disagree:

Some technology leaders, like ConnectWise CEO Arnie Bellini, say it’s only time until the area builds a reputation as an innovation economy.

One solution may be a proper marketing organization that talks the community up, said Bellini, whose company tops the list of software developers by the number of local employees with 650 total.

“Tampa Bay is perfect as it is,” Bellini said. “There is lots of technology here in Tampa Bay, but nothing bonds us or binds us. There is no stamp to put on it to say here are our efforts and successes.”

Ok, we agree that there is more going on here than meets the eye – which is why there seems to be a constant supply of people who take their ideas and move somewhere else to succeed.  However, we do not agree that the area’s lack of tech cachet it is just a matter of lack of press, and one would be hard pressed to say the area is “perfect.” Just because some are doing very well does not mean the area is doing very well. And it does not mean that startups can find the cash they need to develop here.

Clearly, we could use much more in quantity and quality of tech businesses.  We could use more venture capital.  We could use angel investors.  We could use startups that actually mature and stay to make a full-fledged tech scene.  We could use transit, better planning, and better projects to attract talent.

Our measure of success is when the tech scene is big enough that it does not need marketing to get noticed and no one has to go looking for it.

One final note: this is just another area that this area has failed to invest – just another problem created by obsession with a real estate economy.

Downtown/Channel District/Transportation – The Expert Gives Some Thoughts

Speaking of better projects, the Lightning owner’s urban planner gave a talk this week.  A lot of what he said made sense, including this:

To be walkable, city streets need to achieve a balance of “mixed use” spaces like housing, retail, business offices and recreation activities, Speck said. To have a vibrant street of restaurants and gyms, there has to be a lunchtime and nighttime crowd that is willing to populate those businesses, and has the public transportation structure to get from one walkable area to another. The Channel District is just the first step, Speck said.

This is true, though hardly an epiphany.

“You don’t have an area like that in many cities where there’s so much going on and yet very little walking happens,” Speck said. “The foundation is there to really do something fantastic in this district.”

Yes, the foundation is there except we need a number of walkable areas (we have a few walkable blocks but almost no walkable neighborhoods/areas – mostly because the City settles) and good transit to connect them.  And the City needs to actually have proper planning, a proper code, and to not settle.  Other than that, we’re fine.

He also mentioned narrowing streets and slowing down traffic.  If you do that downtown without proper transit, you will either get gridlock or a place many people will not go because it is too hard to get in and out.  Neither is a good outcome. The Lightning owner’s project will not thrive just on the residents downtown.  So, we are back to proper transit. And, of course, proper building.

We are glad the planner has a good reputation and what seem to be generally sound ideas (aside from choking traffic without a useful alternative). That gives us hope. But the thing we really care about is not what he says, his reputation or his other projects.  We care about what actually happens here.  This area is full of far too much talk. We care about results.

Downtown/West Bank – Goings On

The first project proposed for the West side of the river (not the Related project) near downtown has undergone some changes:

A South Florida developer who wants to build near Oxford Exchange has proposed a taller, mixed-use building for the site in response to requests from the surrounding neighborhood and city planners.

Altman Development Corp., based in Boca Raton, submitted a new site plan and updated documents to the city last week that now show Altis Grand Central as a nine-story building with 274 residential units and 2,614 square feet of specialty retail — two 1,300-square-foot spaces that front Grand Central Avenue.

The building will be built around an eight-story parking garage with 579 spaces, “387 of which will be behind a gate and 192 that will be accessible by the public,” according to city filings. The development now includes 16,449 square feet of green space, and an eighth-floor pool deck.

While that is technically true (and at least they listened to their neighbors), what really happened was that they added a couple of small stores on two corners and then added a couple of stories on top of part of the parking garage in the middle of the project. (Like we said last week, mixed use can mean a lot of things) While the amenities added sound good, the renderings look very odd with a little box jutting out of the top of an oversized parking garage that bears no relation in design or decoration to the building below it.

From the City of Tampa public records

It will be interesting to see if the City is ok with that.

Meanwhile, there were comments from Related about their proposed 8-story project on the old Tribune property.

In a talk to journalists attending the National Association of Real Estate Editors annual conference, held this year in Miami, Perez was asked about his company’s plans for the Tribune site.

“We could have put up a spectacular high-rise there,” he said, “but we decided to go mid-rise. Wait until you see it. I love that site.”

Really? Can we revisit that decision? We love the site, too.  But we would much rather a spectacular high rise than a stumpy mid-rise.  Then there was this:

“We love Tampa as a rental market,” he said. “There’s a strong rental demand there, like in Atlanta.”

Currently, he added, condo development is less attractive because “Tampa is pretty much a local market” and does not attract foreign buyers like those fueling Miami’s current condo boom.

Ok.

Related built the Pierhouse at Channelside apartments with 356 units and also plans a 21-story apartment tower on Harbour Island. And “there are four more pieces (in the Tampa area) we will be building on,” he said.

Maybe those future sites could have a spectacular high rise on them rather than more squat and boring development, especially since Related is known for building high rises, like this in New York.

Frankly, we would rather they wait and build something really good than build more mediocre projects like Pier House that eat up good lots for the next 40 years.  Whatever the case, don’t expect the City to do anything to make sure there is something good on the land.

Economy – Incomes

The Times told us this:

A report issued Wednesday by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis finds “real personal income” across the country rose by an average of 0.8 percent in 2013, while rising even more (1.1 percent) in Florida. The numbers are the latest available. Examined more closely, though, the figures are less flattering. Measure by “real per capita personal income” — which measures per person income growth based on constant 2009 dollars — and the United States still reported positive gains. Florida and the bulk of its major metro areas saw a decline in income by this measure between 2008 and 2013.

Some numbers from the Times article

Metro area Income2008 Income2013
Tampa Bay $38,780 $37,987
Orlando $35,475 $35,329
Miami/Ft. Lauderdale $41,419 $40,318
Jacksonville $41,694 $41,990
Atlanta $40,410 $40,557
Charlotte, N.C. $40,895 $41,676
Florida $39,470 $39,159
United States $36,883 $38,536

We don’t think that is very good, but you can conclude what you like.

Ybor City – Well, That Is Odd

We saw this from the Business Journal:

Days after the City of Tampa sold a local developer a parcel of land in Ybor, the group flipped it to a South Florida company that will build apartments on the site.

Intown/Framework Group LLC, an entity controlled by Greg Minder and Phillip Smith, sold 3.2 acres on East 12th Avenue, just south of Interstate 4, to Bainbridge Cos. for $4.25 million, according to Hillsborough County property records.

That deal closed June 22 — six days after the city sold one of the parcels that make up the site to Intown/Framework Group. Intown/Framework paid the city $660,000 for it on June 16, according to county property records.

The other parcel was owned by the Diocese of St. Petersburg. A deed for that transaction has not been filed, and Smith declined comment on what his partnership paid for that land. Its market value, according to Hillsborough County, is $355,538.

Did the City know that this flipping would happen or did the city just sell for far too little?  In either case, the whole thing is looks quite odd, especially when the profiting party submitted the only proposal and City had no real reason to sell now.

“News to me,” said Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who has worked with Intown/Framework on several high-profile projects, including a planned high-rise apartment tower near the Riverwalk.

* * *

“We did our due diligence,” Buckhorn said. He did not feel the buyers took advantage of City Hall and noted that the new owner plans to build the same apartment project Intown/Framework had proposed.

“We’re going to get the same product we wanted,” he said.

Buckhorn said he couldn’t imagine the city’s appraisal would be that far off, adding, “I can’t help it if someone pays silly money for a piece of property.”

No, but the City should know the market and get a better deal for the real owners – the taxpayers.  It is not just about the product, which could be gotten somewhere else on private land anyway.  It is about getting the best deal for the taxpayers.  We are sure the city could have used an extra couple of million dollars.

It is all just another example of why the City should not be rushing to sell public land.  There is enough demand to leave development in the private sector and save public land for public purposes.  And it is an another example of the kind of thing that makes taxpayers wonder if they should trust elected officials with any more money.

International Trade – Cuba

Among all the reporting about reestablished relations between the US and Cuba was an article in the Tribune which had two interesting nuggets:

“We are the leading carrier in the Caribbean and have been in the Cuban market since 1991 as part of the charter flight industry out of Miami and then Tampa,” said Matt Miller, an American Airlines spokesman.

American Airlines leases its planes to ABC Charters to operate flights from Tampa to Cuba.

“When legally allowed to do so we will offer our customers steady service to Cuba,” Miller said.

It would be very nice to have regular nonstop service to Cuba.

And this:

Now that the embassy question is settled, choosing a city for a Cuban consulate is likely to be high on the list of priorities for both governments, said Dan Zabludowski, an international business attorney in Miami with law firm of Hinshaw & Culbertson.

“There is going to be a need for a business agency for the Cuban government in this country,” Zabludowski said. “It cannot be done between the embassy and Washington.”

Zabludowski recently travelled to Cuba as part of a Florida Bar Association fact finding mission and returned to the U.S. with the understanding that Tampa is the favorite to land the consulate.

“I would be surprised and disappointed if it wasn’t in Tampa,” he said. 

We are sure there will be a number of cities trying to get the consulate (and our Mayor is decidedly cool on the prospect), so we shall see.

Port – Adding Some Possible Capacity

There was more news from the port.

A project now in the works off the 22nd Street Causeway will help remedy that by deepening an industrial finger of Tampa Bay and creating new acreage with fill dirt to serve as an offloading site for big ships.

It will be the fifth deep-water berth at the port.

Marine construction crews will dredge a portion of East Bay, taking it from 20 feet in depth to 41 feet. A steel bulkhead will be installed to accommodate big ships bringing in vehicles, containers or bulk cargo that can be offloaded at the new berth, said project manager Patrick Blair.

The $18.6 million Eastport Development project sits south of the port’s shrimp docks, stretching for about half a mile. It is expected to be complete in about a year, Blair said.

Port Tampa Bay received a 50-50 matching grant from the Florida Department of Transportation’s seaport bond program to help pay for the project, said Bruce Laurion, vice president of engineering for the port. The port has received similar Department of Transportation bond money recently to create a refrigerated warehouse center on Hookers Point and a new berth at Port Redwing in Apollo Beach, along with a rail spur, a new roadway and utilities.

Well, it will allow bigger ships, but not really big ships.  In any event, we have nothing against such work.  Maybe they can actually ship something to Cuba now.

Rays – More Proposed Locations

There was an odd article in the Tribune about maybe putting a Rays stadium on the site of a dog track.

Sitting on the Pinellas County side of the Gandy Bridge, with 130 acres and plenty of parking, the Derby Lane greyhound track just might be an ideal spot for a new baseball stadium the Tampa Bay Rays are seeking.

At least that’s what Richard Winning, incoming president of the family-owned track, said he has read in newspaper stories on a few occasions. And he said he might agree — should anyone actually ask him.

Ok.  Stop right there.  It is in no way ideal.  There is only one road in and out.  There is no highway access (Pinellas’ lack political will made sure Gandy is not made a full limited access road with frontage roads while Tampa’s lack of political will made sure there is no connector).  There is no, and probably never will be, any real transit connection. In other words, it is not a good location at all.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist has been pushing the Tampa Greyhound Track as a prime location for a stadium, which also would energize efforts to revitalize the long-struggling Sulphur Springs neighborhood where it sits.

The 25-acre track at Nebraska Avenue and Bird Street, easily accessible from Interstate 275, opened in 1933 and suspended dog racing in 2007. It was bought by the Tampa Bay Downs horse track owners in January and holds daily poker games and simulcast wagering on horse and dog racing and jai alai.

The Tampa site is a little better.  There are a few more roads to the site plus some highway access.  Whether it would work or anything around it would be fixed up and made better is a question.  Frankly, we are not sold.

Really, there is not much more to say.

CTP et le Gouvernement Socialiste de la France – Essentiellement la Même Chose

There was news about Uber from France:

The Paris prosecutor’s office said Tuesday that two senior Uber executives in France had been ordered to stand trial on behalf of the company on charges including “deceptive commercial practices” and illegally organizing taxi services through its low-cost UberPop ride-hailing option.

* * *

Last week, thousands of taxi drivers staged large-scale demonstrations against the UberPop service, which they say is unfair competition. Legislation from last October has made the service illegal, but Uber has challenged the law and has encouraged its drivers to continue working.

Kind of funny when the PTC’s attitude is more like the socialist government of France than Portland or Seattle, but that is what we have as far as ridesharing goes.

Westshore – Avion Park as a Case Study

Recently, ground was broken on a Hampton Inn in Avion Park in Westshore (sort of).

Tampa-based McKibbon Hotel Group broke ground Monday on the 178-room hotel in Avion Park not far from Tampa International Airport. The business park is already home to three other hotels, the BioSpine Institute, A1 Express airport remote parking services and some retail operations. In addition to the fourth hotel, two freestanding restaurants are expected to open in the park next year. The first is a 4,800-square-foot World of Beer tavern.

And that’s fine.  We have stayed at Hampton Inns. Nothing wrong with them.

From the Times – click on picture for article

(Yes, the Times had a big rendering of a Hampton Inn. We have no idea where the people are walking, and the apparent Rolls Royce to their right may be a bit ambitious.)

But here’s the next paragraph:

“We won’t recognize Westshore in next 10 years. This is Tampa’s time,” Mayor Bob Buckhorn said at a ground breaking ceremony on Monday.

Huh? Even with the apartment buildings on the periphery, Westshore looks very much like it did ten years ago.  There is no indication that the car-centric pattern is going to change any time soon, especially at Avion Park which could not be less urban. Unless there is real change to planning (doubtful – but one can always hope the people who bought the Austin Center will come through on their own), the City stops settling (ditto), and there is real transit (an open question – lots of talk, not may specifics), there is no reason Westshore won’t look essentially the same for the foreseeable future.  (And is a Hampton Inn, nice as they are, really the harbinger of huge changes?)

Like we said last week:

. . . does every announcement have accompanied with overblown proclamations like small town celebrating how the new Wal-Mart will make everything so much better[?]

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

— What Does a Billion Dollars Buy?

In our ongoing look at what a billion dollars gets you these days:

A Houston developer wants to bring a bit of urban sensibility to the Energy Corridor, a section of west Houston known for its suburban office campuses, chain-filled strip malls and outsized apartment buildings.

The developer, PM Realty Group, is committing $1 billion to building a bustling mixed-use community of upscale apartments, outdoor restaurants, hotels and high-rise office towers housing companies seeking to recruit a younger generation of workers who value the outdoors, collaboration with colleagues and an abundance of amenities.

Construction is scheduled to begin next year, and the first office building could break ground before the company finds a tenant to occupy it. 

From the Houston Chronicle – click on picture for article

From the Houston Chronicle – click on picture for article

Of course, they need tenants.  We get that.  But this is also not downtown Houston.  Imagine the hype if this were coming to even downtown Tampa or Westshore, even with those parking garages (actually, don’t imagine, just read the discussions of the Lightning owner’s project).  Compare and contrast to the Avion Park item.

List of the Week

Our list this week is Thrillist’s rankings of all the states, which was covered by the Tribune here  (though we saw it before that was posted).

Turns out, they say Florida sucks.

Enjoy the Fourth.

Roundup 6-26-2015

June 26, 2015

Transportation – Where Are They Going With This?

— No Plan Yet

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

And

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

— The Fudge

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

We will give credit to the idea being creative politically.

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

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

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

And this:

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

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

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

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

— You Will Get What We Give You and Like It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Promises Promises

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

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

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

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

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

Nevertheless, we are cool with this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— And Yet

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s our vulnerability.”

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

— Bottom Line

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

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

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

Downtown/Channel District – USF Med School

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

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

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

Fine.  But this is not:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Downtown/West Side – Something, But . . .

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

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

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

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

In any event:

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it is definitely not redefining our skyline.

Downtown – Not So Fast on Kress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Port – Machinations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Economy

– Housing

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

Tribune: “Tampa area housing selling at a quicker pace

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

Ok.

— The High Cost of Living

Then, we saw this:

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

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

* * *

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

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

— And How Are We really Doing?

And finally there was this:

1,446

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

1,402

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

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

International Trade – Really?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

University Mall – A Lost Opportunity

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

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

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

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

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

Bro Bowl – Tampa Does What Tampa Does Best

The Bro Bowl is now being demolished:

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

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

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

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

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

List of the Week

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

Roundup 2015-6-19

June 18, 2015

There will be no Roundup this week.

Roundup 6-12-2015

June 12, 2015

Transportation – Definitively Ambivalent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also last week there was an article about this:

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

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

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

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

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

Transportation – Building A Road for Fewer People To Use

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

It is all very odd.

Transportation – The Corridors

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Channel District/USF – Destination Unknown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

Channel District/Ybor City – Please Restrain You Enthusiasm

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

Good comment.  But then there was this:

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

West Tampa – North Boulevard Homes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

Economy – Housing

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

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

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

List of the Week

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

By percentage increase

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

 

By number of jobs

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

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

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