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Roundup 11-27-2015

November 26, 2015

Hey, it’s Thanksgiving. Enjoy. We’ll be back next week.

Roundup 11-20-2015

November 20, 2015


Transportation – Of Referendums and Being a Winner

Transportation – TBX, FDOT, and Real Input

Downtown/Channel District – An Update from the Lightning Owner

— And a Note from St. Pete

Downtown/Hyde Park – Tribune Property Project Moves Forward

Transportation – Real Bike Lanes

Coming Out Watch – A Window on Reality

Cuba Flights – A Question

List of the Week


Transportation – Of Referendums and Being a Winner

There was an article in the Times regarding how whether there is a transportation referendum or not really is up to one vote.

The fate of Hillsborough County’s ambitious transportation initiative appears to lie in the hands of one man: Commissioner Victor Crist.

County commissioners will soon decide whether to ask voters for a half-cent sales tax increase that would raise $117 million a year for transportation projects. Six of seven commissioners have staked out positions.

Commissioners Kevin Beckner, Ken Hagan and Les Miller back the sales tax referendum as the county’s best option to improve roads, highways, bridges and transit. Commissioners Al Higginbotham, Sandy Murman and Stacy White oppose it in favor of other solutions that don’t need voter approval but provide less flexibility and fewer dollars.

That leaves Crist — a Republican representing primarily the north county — as the pivotal swing vote on Go Hillsborough, perhaps the most important issue facing the county. A decision could come as soon as next month.

Much of the article is filler, but the real key is this:

“For me, it’s a lose-lose proposition,” Crist said after the vote. “If I vote against it, I’m the guy who killed the plan. If I vote for it, I’m the guy who moved the bad plan forward.”

That formulation shows the inherent flaw in local politics. The fact is that he can kill any plan by voting no.  However, if he votes yes, he simply allows people to have a say – which, as we said last week, is true democracy.  We cannot even speak to the plan, because we haven’t seen it.  (And from what we have seen, we are not very excited. But if it is so bad, fix it.)  However, we still think people should be able to decide.  If opponents of the plan think it is so bad and so unpopular, they should have no fear of a referendum passing.  If people really want the plan, they should be allowed to say so.  Either way, people should be able to vote.  By allowing a referendum, the Commissioner is not approving the plan, he is approving letting people have their say, which is the reasons there is a referendum process for tax increases anyway – that is a conclusive win. So, in reality, it is a lose-win proposition.

Let the people decide.

Transportation – TBX, FDOT, and Real Input

This week, as part of what appears to be a new approach to pushing TBX, FDOT was making nice without actually reconsidering it.

With the huge Tampa Bay Express interstate construction project on a path to move forward, there are few signs neighborhood opponents can stop it dead.

But officials say residents can have a say in how a rebuilt “Malfunction Junction” interchange looks from the ground.

That’s why the Florida Department of Transportation is holding a series of community meetings at the John F. Germany Public Library on the design of the massive project, particularly the part that affects neighborhoods like Tampa Heights.

“We’re looking at ways to mitigate some of those impacts,” FDOT community liaison administrator Lee Beasley told the City Council Thursday.

In other words, public input is welcome as long as it supports TBX, because you have no choice about that. As we have said, the public outreach has nothing to do with the merits of TBX.  FDOT doesn’t care what the public thinks about that, nor do local officials really.  As with so much in this area, that was a done deal before anyone got around to discussing it with the public.

It also will expand and rebuild Tampa’s downtown interchange — a $1.8 billion piece of the larger project that has incensed residents in downtown, V.M. Ybor, Seminole Heights and Tampa Heights.

In response to about six months of vocal opposition to TBX, the FDOT has hired Taryn Sabia, an architect with the University of South Florida’s Center for Community Design, to facilitate the meetings where neighborhood representatives are asked to make suggestions about ways to cushion TBX’s impact.

In play are ideas that include reconnecting city streets separated by the original construction of I-275 in the 1960s, putting dog parks, ball courts or other green spaces under or near the overpasses and trying to enhance interstate walls and supports with brick, ornamental lighting or public art.

Once again, the public can suggest ways to dress it up but can’t decide whether it wants TBX.

Already, Beasley said, “we’ve heard loudly, folks want some transit alternatives.” To address that, FDOT said last week it would work with the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority on a study of transit alternatives including commuter rail.

Which raises the question once again of why it is not all studied comprehensively before TBX is approved.  Is it needed?  Will variable rate lanes do anything useful? Is that the option people really want for this area?  Is there a better way to spend the money?  Can 12 lane wide overpasses really allow for complete streets and connectivity under the highway, even if you put ornamental, precast cladding on it? Yes, we need better roads but only in concert with other options.  And do we really need TBX?

And then there was something that made us wonder about whether the transit study was really a comprehensive look at transit or a way to present more reasons for TBX:

Florida Department of Transportation officials confirmed this week that express bus services and school buses will be allowed to use the toll lanes for free to avoid congestion along sections of the highway through downtown Tampa.

That was something of a shift after state transportation officials earlier this week would only say that the concept of buses using the toll lanes was still “on the table.”

That upset City Councilman Mike Suarez, who serves as board chairman on the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority. Suarez warned state transportation officials that their vague answers about the project were turning more people against it.

Interesting, but these sound like the real motivations:

Opening the lanes to buses would help boost acceptance of the project and give the region another transportation option, Suarez said.


“We could do express bus service on managed lanes from downtown to the airport and get people there very quickly, especially during rush hour traffic,” Suarez said.

In other words, will the study really address the need for real local transit like rail or just present TBX as the great alternative?  It is hard to know. Of course, the whole argument for using variable rate lanes for buses is hurt by these two things:

Kris Carson, spokeswoman for the transportation department’s Tampa district, said later that buses would be allowed access but the state would require HART and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority to run enough buses for a robust express service to take advantage of the express lanes.

In other words, local bus service must really crowd the variable rate lanes to make sure they get more congested (why? Who knows?  What difference does it make to FDOT?) pushing more cars into the normal lanes and raising tolls in the variable rate lanes. And, as we discussed last week:

Pinellas County buses might soon bypass congestion by driving along the shoulder of Interstate 275, a time-saving maneuver not available to every other motorist stuck in traffic.

If the buses can use the shoulder when there is congestion, why do they need to use variable rate lanes? Nevermind.

And that does not even go to this very good point from URBN Tampa Bay:

If, as seems to be the case, access to the variable rate lanes is restricted and traffic forced through the normal lanes at choke points, how is that really going to be good for transit or traffic?  And why aren’t local officials really discussing it and demanding changes?

Nevertheless, some local officials praised FDOT:

“I think they have been far more responsive, far more open, far more willing to look at options,” Buckhorn said, adding he hopes all sides work to find common ground on mitigation strategies for TBX. “FDOT is capable of being creative and being accommodating. That historically hasn’t been the case. … I think FDOT understands that this is not your typical interstate expansion in a rural area. This is an urban expansion in neighborhoods that have come back to life and that are active and engaged and vocal, as they should be, and that they’re going to have to work with them.”

If by “responsive” you mean imposing TBX on the area without discussion and not doing a comprehensive transportation study before deciding if TBX is a good idea (and the best use of resources), then, yes, they are responsive. (Not to mention going out of their way to stop improvements in Tampa Heights, even though TBX is supposedly years away. here and here)   Yes, they are willing to look at “commuter rail,” but they have funded it in other areas already as part of more comprehensive transportation improvement processes that do not exist here.  Moreover, FDOT did not include the streetcar CSX insurance cost in their other deals with CSX and have said that any rail connection over the Howard Frankland would be  for locally – neither of which is very responsive.

We understand that some local politicians feel the need to praise FDOT regardless of what is happening. At any time, FDOT can decide to not do a study about expanding the streetcar or doing the transit study.  They can hold back on redoing streets around town.  We get it. But we are not local politicians; we are taxpaying citizens who vote.  And FDOT does not look very responsive to us.

Then again, as we have said many times, the biggest problem with local transportation is the failure of local officials to make a good plan, of local leaders to come together regionally to pressure FDOT.  Frankly, we expect FDOT to do what it wants as long as local officials are not willing to push for what this area really needs. (Where is the City pushing to protect the “InTown” neighborhoods?)  Inevitably, we get less than we deserve and what we get is poorly executed leaving the same problems. That is just the Tampa way.

Downtown/Channel District – An Update from the Lightning Owner

Once again this week, the Lightning owner gave an update about his project and once again showed why we like his approach so much.  First, what he said about the office portion of the project:

Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik said he and his Cascade Investment partners are “making good progress” on signing a tenant for half of a 650,000-square-foot office building planned for the first phase of their downtown redevelopment project.

Vinik, who hopes to land the headquarters or a regional division of a Fortune 500 company, gave no further details about the prospect’s identity during an hourlong speech Monday as part of the Thought Leaders @ The Centre Club discussion series.

“My sense is once we announce the phase one major tenant, I think dominoes are going to start falling,” he said. “An awful lot of good conversation is going on, and nothing (breeds) success like success.”

Ok.  Nothing to question there.  We look forward to some future lease activity.

The more interesting aspect of the report was about residential development:

Strategic Property Partners, the real estate company controlled by Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investment LLC, is keeping a cautious eye on multifamily development in downtown Tampa.

Vinik, who owns the Tampa Bay Lightning, said Monday that multifamily projects in Tampa’s urban core may be getting ahead of demand.

It makes sense to keep an eye on this, especially if you are planning on building a lot of units.

As of March, there were 1,389 units under construction and another 2,900 in various stages of planning in downtown Tampa and the neighborhoods that ring the urban core, according to data from the Tampa Downtown Partnership.

Those figures included 500 units in the development that SPP is planning between downtown and the Channel district, though Vinik recently said the first phase alone will include 1,000 residential units.

“We worry about that,” Vinik told the Thought Leaders at Centre Club. “We think if all this comes to pass we could be overbuilt for a period of time.”

We worry about it, too, and have been concerned for a while.  While the demand will eventually grow, the pace of announcements is very much like past eras of “boom” that ended up with many unbuilt projects in a “bust” in this area, especially downtown. (In fact, the Martin about which there is a decent amount of speculation and projects in locations where there is now construction or a proposal on Harbour Island were all first proposed before the recession.)

But even if the market is overbuilt and absorption of new units slows, Vinik said he doesn’t foresee major problems with revitalization or his urban development plans.

“Over time, that will get all filled up,” Vinik said, “and you will have thousands and thousands of people living there.”

Other than street-level vibrancy, Vinik said, residential is the most important aspect of SPP’s development.

“I have been asked, what is the most important food group in our district?” Vinik said. “First I joke and say, ‘Anybody who’ll pay us,’ and after that, I say residential. I’d love to have 2,500 or 3,000 units.”

Over time, that is probably true – though it is not clear what that time period will be.  The reality is that the number of units may be large for this area (and this economy) but it is not that large in the greater scheme of things.  Though:

Vinik is not the only one who’s concerned about the development pipeline in downtown Tampa. Developments in the urban core are typically luxury projects, requiring top-of-market rents to be profitable for developers. There’s no surefire way to gauge exactly how much pent-up demand there is from affluent renters.

“There could be a squeeze at the higher end of the marketplace, potentially,” Sean Lance, principal of Vertica Partners LLC, previously told the Tampa Bay Business Journal. “No one is sure how deep that pool is.”

Which is a real point (not to mention that not every unit or every urban unit can or should be “upscale.”  There has to be something for all the other people.)

In any event, the race to get projects out of the ground has been under way for a while.  We will eventually reach a downturn and construction will stop until the downturn relents.  Then we will be back to construction.  It is the Tampa way.  Hopefully, though, the extent of downturn will not be so bad this time around.

Just remember, as we have been saying for quite some time, not every announcement will lead to an actual building.  The press releases may be frothy, but the key is what actually gets built.  Hopefully, the Lightning owner’s project, with deep pockets behind it, will move on schedule. But we are pretty sure that a number of other proposals will never get out of the ground.

— And a Note from St. Pete

Speaking of whether there is overbuilding or not, there was news this week from St. Pete:

Construction of ONE St. Petersburg, a 41-story condo tower in the heart of downtown, will start sooner than expected because of strong sales.

The Kolter Group said Monday that infrastructure and foundation work already have begun on the site at 100 1st Avenue N., which will become St. Petersburg’s tallest building and one of the tallest on Florida’s west coast.

A formal groundbreaking on the 253-unit tower and adjacent Hyatt hotel is scheduled for early next year.

The decision to speed up the timetable was prompted by more than $85 million in confirmed contracts.

From the Times – click on picture for article

Now, there is a difference between condos and rentals and a difference between Tampa and St. Pete.  Moreover, this will be the tallest building in St. Pete so it taps a special market.  Nevertheless, it shows there is potential in the market, especially with a relatively unique project.  We figure that will apply to the Lightning owner’s project, too.

Downtown/Hyde Park – Tribune Property Project Moves Forward

The City approved the first step of the Related project on the Tribune property.

The Tampa City Council gave its initial approval to a rezoning proposed by Related Development LLC of Miami to build an eight-story building on the Tribune property at 202 S Parker St., just north of the W Brorein Street bridge. The project would include a five-story parking garage with 800 spaces.

“I think it would be a wonderful addition from what we have now to what that area could be,” council member Guido Maniscalco said before the 7-0 vote.

Apparently, this Councilman has not looked at a rendering that shows the massive garage as the main face of this project to the neighborhood (and is a main feature in the view corridors).  In any event, we had no doubt that the City Council would settle for this project, particularly because of the developer and because the Council is a follower, not a leader, and, collectively, has no vision, which is made clear in comments like this:

“I like the public access along the river,” said council member Guido Maniscalco. “It’s a wonderful addition … to what this area could be.”

It’s fine to like it because it should be required.  That it is not is a sign of the City’s love of settling.

The fact is that some aspects of this project are positive – especially after changes, like adding the Riverwalk portion, were made.  However, features like putting the garage as the main connection to the neighborhood with a completely dead streetscape are really quite bad.  We know the council is not concerned, but, in a few years, the city will really come to regret allowing it, just like they do with so many projects.

We understand there was no outcry about this project, but it would be nice if the City government actually had an idea of how to build a proper urban area rather than just settling.  It should not take a large number of agitated citizens for the City to say that a dead urban streetscape is unacceptable.

Transportation – Real Bike Lanes

We have noted that the bike lanes in this area are really not very logical. We can do much better.  URBN Tampa Bay has found an article about Indianapolis’s new buffered bike lanes.  The crux:

Instead of bicyclists traveling right next to vehicle traffic, they’re now protected by parked cars.

“I’ll ride on about any road, but I have to be honest with you, it does feel a lot better riding when you know there’s a parked car on one side of you,” said Kevin Whited, the executive director of Indianapolis Bicycle Community Advocacy Group (IndyCOG).

It’s the first time the city is using this type of protected bike lane configuration.

“It’s kind of a joke amongst the bicycle community where we buffer parked cars with our bodies, because of how the bike lanes run on the outside of the parked cars, so they just flip them around and park the cars on the outside and now the parked cars are protecting the bicyclists,” said Whited.

Whited says these lanes reduce risk of injury to bicyclists by up to 90%.

And with a 90% reduction in injuries likely will come increased numbers of people biking (since they do not fear for their lives).

This all not very hard, requires no extra land, and probably not even extra paint.  Doing it any other way – like on Cleveland and Platt – is just a (dangerous) waste.  Like we have always said – if you are going to do it, do it right.  That goes for bike lanes, too.  There is really no excuse not to do it this way from now on (or to have done it in the past, really).

Coming Out Watch – A Window on Reality

We don’t usually write about store openings (with a few exceptions), but a flurry of articles about the new Restoration Hardware store caught our eye, especially this:

For Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the new store is proof that efforts to transform Tampa from a back-office hub to a knowledge-based economy are paying off. He joined Friedman for the ribbon cutting ceremony at the Tampa store.

“I think it reflects how Tampa has changed,” he said. “It’s high-end retail, high-end restaurants, high-end craft beer, a high-end food scene — it all fits. This is part of that mosaic that’s allowed us to really stand out in this state.”

Which is basically contradicted by this a few lines later:

Retailers like RH (NYSE: RH) carefully study a market before they come in, said Paul Rutledge, a first vice president with CBRE Group Inc.

The new Tampa store validates the city as a place where luxury retailers can succeed, and Rutledge said that type of endorsement is something Tampa needs. The city “doesn’t have the same sizzle” as Miami and Orlando, Rutledge said — but it’s getting there, and RH will help. 

If we do not have the “sizzle” of Orlando or Miami, are we really standing out in this state? We get that the Mayor feels he has to be a cheerleader and that there are political reasons to use a lot of hype.  On the other hand, the real estate professional is discussing actual real estate issues (and even that is probably a bit of exaggeration).  It is just an example of how the rhetoric does not match the reality.  Yes, we are making progress, but we are still behind.  (We will not even get into the average salary in our area and how most people can’t afford more of this “high-end” stuff.)

And, really, should a top 20 metro really get that excited over this?

Cuba Flights – A Question

There was an article in the Miami Herald regarding American Airlines and Cuba flights that had this nugget:

The State Department has been very reluctant to put a timetable on this. How about you? What is American planning for in terms of regular service to Cuba?

We’re highly optimistic that we will be serving Cuba with scheduled service next year sometime.

American has charter flights from Tampa and Miami (and will be adding Los Angeles).  We wonder if, if and when they go to scheduled service, will the Tampa flights remain or will passengers be funneled through Miami?  (This is where the local politics and the needs of the area intersect.  Will all the members of the Aviation Authority board go all in to keep the service?  How about getting a good connection to Cuba at the Port?)

It reminded us of a map we saw in the American Airlines Spanish language in-flight magazine:

From American Airlines – click on map for a larger version

We see those Latin American gateways Spokane and Yakima, but where is Tampa?

List of the Week

There is no list this week.

Roundup 11-13-2015

November 12, 2015

The Roundup is being posted a day early this week.


Transportation – The Wacky Hijinks of Hillsborough County

 More TBX

— FDOT Oddness

— For It Before Being Against it, Cont

— Conclusion

Built Environment – Shaping the Universities

— USF – A Step Towards a Campus

— UT/West River – More Money

Rays – We’ll See

Meanwhile, in the Rest of Florida

Port/Meanwhile, in the Rest of the World

List of the Week


Transportation – The Wacky Hijinks of Hillsborough County

There was more on the continuing transportation mess in Hillsborough County.

— More TBX

There were a few more developments on TBX this week.  First, we noted this in an article on the questionable outreach on TBX:

The express lanes would be free to car poolers and transit buses. However, other motorists wanting to use the lanes would have to pay a fluctuating toll– a fee to be determined by time of day and the congestion or flow of traffic.

We like the HOV aspect, though we are not sure how that would be enforced.  Is FDOT going to be out there checking cars for the number of occupants and not charging your SunPass if there is more than one person or are they going to use what appears to be basically an honor code system like Washington state appears to use (see here and here). We would love to hear how that can be done effectively.

Regardless, URBN Tampa Bay had another interesting graphic on how much money is going into not really helping the average area resident.

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on graphic for Facebook page

That just does not seem logical to us, especially given that any growth in traffic will either be pushed into the free lanes by design or clog the express lanes, ripping off anyone using them (which, if you want to google it, you will find is not unknown).  (And this does not really make much sense to us either ) And it does not make sense to go forward with TBX without even studying all the alternatives needed to get people who express lanes push off the interstate to where they are going.

In any event, there was another public outreach meeting for TBX this week.

More than 100 people showed up Tuesday night to oppose the state’s plan for express toll lanes on local interstates, saying the project is bad urban planning and that the tolls were so high they would result in “a second mortgage payment” for families.

A vast majority of those who spoke before the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization Board adamantly oppose the Tampa Bay Express project for the toll lanes, with many accusing board members of failing to represent the people and their communities.

The board allowed more than 30 people to speak, but did not comment on their remarks. The MPO approved funding in August for the express toll lanes. The MPO board will get another chance to discuss the toll lanes in June when a final public hearing on the Transportation Improvement Plan takes place.

The MPO is supposed to represent the local population, which is hard to do when you do not allow them to speak. On the other hand, TBX is not about what locals want, and the public outreach is not about whether anyone wants TBX, to wit:

Debbie Hunt, FDOT’s director of transportation development, said the agency is holding public meetings in an attempt to find ways to lesson impacts on various communities, including Seminole Heights and Tampa Heights. She said she will come back to the MPO board in the spring – probably March or April – with a report on those public meetings.

In other words, FDOT is not interested if you want TBX, just how to do small tweaks to make opposition disappear. (Given their support for TBX, it seems this complete lack of local planning is apparently fine with the Tea Party regardless of the claim that “local is better.”)  And the MPO is likewise not that interested in your opinion.  The interesting thing is that the MPO is supposedly creating a Transportation Improvement Plan that does not seem in any way connected to the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough process, which is about right for local planning.  Why the highway planning process is detached from everything else is still a mystery.

— FDOT Oddness

At the same time that FDOT is trying to force TBX on the Tampa Bay area (and, as explained here by URBN Tampa Bay – and we have explained before – TBX is spending a lot of money for a number of lanes that will not carry very much traffic by design forcing all the rest of the traffic onto the already inadequate lanes) it is also doing some other odd things.  Last week, we mentioned that FDOT has offered – well mentioned, though not really offered yet – to do a comprehensive transit study of the area (completely detached from TBX, apparently). Bizarrely, even if the study happens, it is not coordinated with the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough process.

Nevertheless, FDOT is also now doing this:

With transit talk heating up throughout the Tampa Bay area, the Florida Department of Transportation said Friday it plans to submit a bid for a prime West Shore Business District parcel that could become a multimodal public transportation center.

Planners have been calling for such a center for years. In June, FDOT identified a string of parcels along Interstate 275 east of West Shore Boulevard as its recommended site. The land is home to a DoubleTree by Hilton hotel and Charley’s Steak House.

FDOT spokeswoman Kris Carson said the department has been trying to buy the land, but the price was too steep. The property recently was acquired by the Blackstone Group, which has solicited new bids, due Tuesday.

A little more detail on this price thing:

The project, known as the Westshore Multimodal Center, gained a lot of traction in 2013. But the idea was killed earlier this year when the landowner, GE Capital, suddenly doubled the price of the land, forcing the FDOT to back off.

The land is currently home to Charley’s Steakhouse and Doubletree hotel at 4500 W Cypress St. But GE recently sold that parcel to the Blackstone Group. Property deed records show a sale went through in August for nearly $37 million.

The FDOT thinks the new owners will be more willing to play ball — and to do so at a more reasonable asking price than when GE doubled the price tag last spring.

“They advertised it,” FDOT spokeswoman Kris Carson said. “So we’re putting a bid on it, and the bids are due Tuesday.”

It is unlikely that the price will go down, but maybe it will.  If it was too expensive before is FDOT going to pay the new full price?  And, of course, why didn’t FDOT just pay for the land as a public purpose like they do with all sorts of homes for highway projects? And how will that tie into the streetcar extension that FDOT is to be studying? And how would that all tie into a transit system, possibly based on the CSX tracks? And, of course, why is there no plan for a transit center downtown?  You really need more than one hub for a proper system. Apparently, it will be a while before we might know:

“Everyone wants to know: How quickly can FDOT provide us with an evaluation of CSX?” asked Clearwater City Council member Doreen Hock-DiPolito.

The answer wasn’t one many wanted to hear. The initial study could take 18 to 24 months, FDOT district director of transportation development Debbie Hunt said. And that’s just the beginning of the process.

Which is probably (though hopefully not) about 10 years before the County Commission will collectively have the political will to do anything about transportation.

In any event, it is an interesting development, especially with no actual plan for any transit.

Another interesting development that coincidentally is happening as opposition to TBX has emerged is this:

Pinellas County buses might soon bypass congestion by driving along the shoulder of Interstate 275, a time-saving maneuver not available to every other motorist stuck in traffic.

* * *

If approved, buses could travel along “breakdown lanes” of a specific route any time traffic dips below 35 mph.

Shoulders need to be at least 10-feet wide. That’s part of what FDOT’s study is evaluating. It also requires approval from state lawmakers for buses to use space that’s now reserved for ambulances, police cars and tow trucks.

This is already done in other places (you can read the article).  And, yes, it might speed up bus times.  It may be a small element of a broader transportation overhaul, but the real problem is that no one in Hillsborough or Pinellas has any idea what the overhaul will be other than building more roads which likely will not really relieve congestion. (see here)

Strange how all this is happening as there is now opposition to the road building program.

— For It Before Being Against it, Cont

Speaking of lacking a plan, even though the TED/PLC folks voted to move forward with a half cent plan for Hillsborough County, that does not mean it is any closer to reality with Commissioners (who are needed to put the referendum on the ballot) running away from it, like this:

As a candidate for the Hillsborough County Commission last year, Republican Al Higginbotham promised to support a sales tax for transportation projects if it was approved by a city-county board called the Policy Leadership Group.

On Thursday, the leadership group voted 8-3 to recommend that the county commission put a half-cent-per-dollar sales tax on the November 2016 ballot. Higginbotham voted against the measure.

So why the flip-flop?

More importantly, Higginbotham said he will vote against holding the referendum when the commission makes a final decision in December — an apparent flip-flop.

“I can’t see where I’m going to vote to send it forward,” Higginbotham said after the PLG meeting.

He was asked if that meant he was a no vote on the referendum.

“You can interpret it that way if you like,” he said.

The turnabout, Higginbotham said, was due to recent controversy swirling around the county’s Go Hillsborough transportation effort. Channel 10 news alleged that insider dealings played a part in the hiring of engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff to lead Go Hillsborough. The allegations spurred County Administrator Mike Merrill to request an investigation by the sheriff’s office.

Higginbotham said he also was miffed when Merrill decided in August to reconsider a 1-cent tax increase after Merrill had recommended a half-cent increase to the Policy Leadership Group. Higginbotham voted in favor of the half-cent at a July PLG meeting.

Which has to be one of the weakest reasons possible – and, according to this guy in July 2015, is not true:

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.

Maybe, maybe not, but if it was back room deal, the Commissioners had nice cushy seats there, and:

Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill said it will be useful to analyze the Pinellas and Polk initiatives but their election results don’t mean a course change for Hillsborough.

“We want to, obviously, at some point understand what some of the dynamics were,” Merrill said Wednesday. “But we’re a different county. We have different needs. And, frankly, we’re approaching this differently.”

Others, including County Commissioner Al Higginbotham and Hillsborough Area Regional Transit chairman Mike Suarez, echoed Merrill’s sentiment, adding that Hillsborough is on the right path and has learned from the failed sales tax initiatives.

And this:

Commissioner Al Higginbotham told The Tampa Tribune last week that he is working on a plan to find $80 million to $100 million for repaving and other road maintenance without raising taxes. He wouldn’t give details but said the plan might meet some resistance because it would require cutbacks to other programs.

“I feel like we can fund a lot of our concerns, especially road issues, within our means,” Higginbotham said. “We’re working on a proposal … that will make a major dent in road repair, (traffic) light synchronization and intersection improvements.”

Higginbotham said his effort to ramp up road repaving does not abrogate his promise to support the final program passed by the county’s Transportation Policy Leadership Group. Formed more than two years ago, the group consists of the seven county commissioners, the mayors of the county’s three cities and the chairman of the HART board.

“I think it will complement (the policy group’s plan),” Higginbotham said. “I think it will take pressure off the financing solutions to fund our transportation plan.”

And it is fine to cut some fat – maybe $15 million for playing fields (or a smaller amount on cricket fields) or paying for Bass Pro Shops – as long as there is the acknowledgement that there is a bigger issue.

We could go on, but the point is made – as it was last week.  There is no reason to trust the County Commission to actually do anything about transportation or planning. (Even with this development regarding the Chairmanship of the County Commission.)  They flap in the wind.  So even if FDOT wants to build a transit center, which is not really clear.  Even if FDOT is willing to study actual transit, which is also not clear.  Nothing will happen as long as elected officials continue lack any political will to actually do anything useful. Maybe the majority can find that will, but it should not even be a question.

— Conclusion

The possible silliness in contracting is all on the County Commission, which approve the contract before running for the hills.  They are also the people who have been in the back rooms dealing with any alleged deal maker.  It is all on them.  But it also has nothing to do with whether a plan is good or bad.  The key is the plan, which is still not clear (especially as the planning process is completely disjointed) – and the right of people to actually vote about whether they are willing to tax themselves to finance that plan – which the opponents of any transportation fix want to take away from the people.  The opponents are not afraid the referendum will fail – they are afraid people will actually want to pay to improve their area and it will pass.

The County Commission is the group that did not have faith in their own understanding of the area.  They are the group that chose to hide behind consultants.  They are the ones who ultimately chose the consultants – for reasons good or ill.  They are the ones who can decide what the plan would be.  And now a number of them are the people who are afraid to let the people decide.  That lack of vision and action is the real reason TBX is being foisted on the area.

We have no idea if a referendum will pass, especially given the lack of competence on show every week and the lack of a plan to judge.  But we are not afraid of giving people a choice.  The people have the right to decide.  The County Commission should let them.  That is the ultimate public outreach. (Though FDOT and the MPO should be doing actual outreach rather than just going through the motions.) And it is the ultimate form of representation regarding taxation.  How can you be more conservative than that?

Built Environment – Shaping the Universities

— USF – A Step Towards a Campus

When originally built on a disused airbase back in the 1950’s, whoever planned USF came up with a unique design – essentially put a bunch of buildings as far away from the surrounding city as possible. Throw in the original commuter aspect of the school and the campus was certainly lacking (we won’t even get into some of the early architecture). That original design has slowly been altered, but still lingers on the campus.  This week, the latest step to making USF a more traditional campus was approved by the Board of Governors:

Marking an important step in the University of South Florida’s plans to build a transformational new housing village on campus, the Florida Board of Governors today approved plans to enter into a public-private partnership (P3), with Capstone-Harrison Street, LLC (partnership of Capstone Development Partners, LLC and Harrison Street Real Estate Capital), kicking off the estimated $133 million development that will eventually be home to more than 2,000 students.

* * *

This project will support USF’s relentless efforts to enhance student success, cultivating a culture of on-campus engagement. Studies have shown that active on-campus life has a direct impact on improving students’ academic performance, as well as helping them build stronger connections with their peers.

* * *

Located on the north portion of campus, the village will replace the current Andros housing complex, which has served more than 50,000 students since being built in the early 1960’s. It is expected to feature a combination of suite and traditional style residential beds, a health and wellness facility, an outdoor pool, a dining facility and retail spaces.

The housing project will be built in two phases and construction will meet the standards for LEED Silver certification. Phase I of the project is expected to include the demolition of four existing Andros student residential buildings, adjacent support buildings and outdoor pool. This site preparation will be followed by the construction of a new residential village with about 1,250 beds. Phase II of the project will continue with the anticipated demolition of five remaining Andros residential buildings, adjacent support buildings and construction of approximately 900 beds.

Demolition and site preparation for Phase I could begin in May 2016, with construction beginning in summer 2016. Demolition and site preparation for Phase II could begin in May 2017, with Phase II construction beginning in summer 2017.Completion is expected in June 2018.In total, the project will increase USF’s housing levels by about 1,000 beds, raising the on-campus capacity to nearly 6,500.

This is a rendering:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

That will not solve the issue of USF being quite detached from the surrounding area (and basically walled off from it by very wide roads), but it will definitely make campus nicer, which can only help attract and retain talent.

— UT/West River – More Money

The other major institution of higher learning in Tampa, the University of Tampa, has been working on improving its campus for a while, generally with success (though literally walling it off from Kennedy is, to us, a mistake that lessens its impact in the area.  Nevertheless, it is much better than it used to be.  And more seems to be coming:

The University of Tampa is underway in the second comprehensive capital campaign in its history.

The $150 million fundraising effort seeks to grow the university’s endowment, build new facilities and support academic programs, faculty and student scholarships.

* * *

The campaign seeks funding for many new building plans, including the construction of the new fitness center, which has already begun.

Steel is now coming out of the ground as the first of two phases for a new 60,000-square-foot, $20 million facility is well underway.

“It will be the hub of intramural and recreational activity,” Vaughn said, with more than just machines planned, including facilities related to exercise science and other advanced technologies to be revealed this summer.

An existing residence hall will be knocked down with a $55 million replacement next May. Later in the year, a series of what were temporary facilities to hold old fairground exhibits (the State Fair was held on the UT campus until 1973) will come down.

“The computer science center is where the petting zoo was,” Vaughn said.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

And that is all good.  It is great to have basically a downtown university that is growing and thriving.  And this is better:

The public acknowledgement of the campaign marks the transition from the silent phase in which $135 million has been raised to-date of the University’s goal of $150 million. The last campaign, which was the university’s first and began in the late 1990s and ended in 2005, totaled $84 million.

Since the last campaign, UT’s enrollment has grown by 77 percent, the academic programs have increased from 80 to 200 and UT has upped its institutional aid to students by 139 percent (from $23 million to $55 million). The university has 8,037 students from 50 states and 140 countries.

Pretty impressive.  Both UT and USF are doing a very good job of raising money and seem to have a good idea of how to improve their campuses and programs.  Now, if UT would just make the real mark on the neighborhood around it and help make it into a real college district, that would be even better.  There is still quite a bit of untapped potential.

Rays – We’ll See

With the election in St. Pete it seems that there is now a majority for a deal that allows the Rays to look in Hillsborough or Pinellas.  Probably, though nothing has happened yet.  So, aside from just mentioning that, we are not going to say anything until something actually happens.

Meanwhile, in the Rest of Florida

All Aboard Florida, which is in the process of building their rail system between Miami and Orlando, announced a new name for their service.

All Aboard Florida, the speedy new passenger-train service scheduled to begin operations between Miami and Orlando in 2017, unveiled some of its new trains Monday, and then promised an immediate upgrade — from eight inches long to about 80 feet.

“I promise you the real thing will be a lot bigger than this,” said All Aboard Florida president Michael Reininger at a press conference where the company released some details about the trains, including the tiny, brightly colored model cars and a name for the service: Brightline.

We will withhold comment about that branding, as it is not really relevant.  What is relevant is that it will not connect to Tampa, which was the subject of a WTSP item (one of the first to really focus on Tampa not being connected).

Developers are already scrambling to build around the train stations to secure millions in economic impact, but Tampa wont see a dime because the train won’t come here. Instead, Brightline will connect Miami to Orlando, with stops in West Palm Beach and Ft. Lauderdale.

Indeed.  And we risk being cut off from a major infrastructure system in the state, which is in no way helpful to developing this area or luring an HQ.  Connectivity is key – be it internet or physical. The item basically focuses on comments from the Mayor, which is not that odd.  But some of the comments are a bit odd.

“We are far less competitive for corporate relocations and job growth with those mobility options. And this is what the people of this community need to know. They already do. It affects their quality of life. Studies show we spend forty hours a year stuck in traffic,” said Tampa Mayor, Bob Buckhorn.

Buckhorn says Tampa could score its own rail if voters approve a half-cent initiative on the 2016 ballot. That would extend the downtown trolley and the first leg of light rail that would connect downtown to Westshore to the airport.

We understand that the Mayor wants to build something within the City – and we are good with that (assuming the details make sense), but it is really not helpful to confuse intercity rail and local rail (and we are sure the Mayor understands the difference). That happened in the high speed rail discussion, local referendums, and basically every other day.  Confusing the two creates both unrealistic expectations and allows for misleading opposition. While local rail is generally needed to full maximize the benefit of intercity rail, they are different things.  And the downside of not being connected to a statewide transportation system is not really about people commuting but about not being connected to infrastructure an opening up the area to other areas – just like expanding flights.

“Certainly the Canadians, British and German tourists like the west coast of Florida better, and I think we are well-positioned and All Aboard Florida will get that done, and start on the second leg which would be Orlando Airport to downtown Tampa,” said Buckhorn.

We are not going to speak to the tourists (though the international flight stats might be useful for any fact checking) but there is as yet no evidence that Tampa is the next leg. In fact, what little evidence there is would seem to indicate that Jacksonville is the next planned destination.  Hopefully not, but we shall see.  What is interesting is the complete lack of overt lobbying to get an extension to Tampa.

The bottom line is that we need both local rail and to be connected to any intercity rail system that gets built.

Port/Meanwhile, in the Rest of the World

We have not really discussed the port in a while (except the real estate development master plan) because not that much is going on. Last week, the Economist had an interesting article on the state of the container business.  It is worth a read (see here).  One thing to point out is this:

The move towards ever bigger vessels poses a risk to ports which lack the capacity to handle them. International trade is shifting towards big, centralised hubs. And smaller ports, somewhat like smaller airports when the hub-and-spoke model for long-haul flights became dominant, are losing many of their direct connections. This has already happened at Portland on America’s west coast, which is no longer served by any regular container routes.

To avoid this fate, port authorities in some countries are now investing heavily in upgrading their infrastructure, to handle larger vessels. Recent development projects in Liverpool and London have already brought traffic back to those British ports. In a similar vein, Indonesia announced details of a $3.6 billion project to upgrade its container ports earlier this month, to ensure it does not lose routes to Singapore, the nearest big hub.

Which is interesting in light of this:

During the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, containerized cargo climbed 15 percent to 1,007,800 TEUs, which are the equivalent of a standard 20-foot container. Nearly 4.9 million cruise passengers sailed through the port in fiscal 2015, more than any other cruise port in the world.

The positive performance comes as PortMiami prepares to receive the big ships that will transit an expanded Panama Canal beginning April 2016. Some $1.3 billion has been spent to dredge and widen PortMiami’s shipping channel, complete a port tunnel to speed truck traffic, buy bigger post-Panamax cranes and build an on-port rail link. The port is now big-ship ready, but until the canal expansion is complete it can only receive bigger post-Panamax ships that come from Europe or transit the Suez Canal.

Now, we know that there is the issue of Skyway and the depth of the channel to the port in Tampa.  We know the strategy is to be a spoke in a hub and spoke system and that strategy has some service.  We know that the port is buying bigger cranes for bigger ships.  We know all that.  And that is fine.  But will it last or will the port be just a small side port on the container routes like is apparently planned for the cruise business?  How will that go as bulk cargo becomes less and less lucrative?

It is really worth a discussion, though that does not really seem to be a priority.

List of the Week

This week we sort of have a list.  The Times had a column about Wallethub’s list of best and worst small cities.

A new ranking of 1,268 smaller U.S. cities looking at 22 factors from affordability and economic health to depth of education and health services and overall quality of life finds Pensacola the highest rated city in Florida, yet still trailing 51 higher ranked places in other states.

Pensacola ranks 52nd overall but 8th in quality of life among all U.S. cities with populations between 25,000 and 100,000 surveyed by the financial analysis website WalletHub. In all, 82 Florida cities are ranked in the 1,268 city survey with Fort Pierce on Florida’s east coast rated the weakest, mainly because of its economy, struggling at No. 1,222.

Among the smaller cities in the Tampa Bay region, Valrico ranks high with the nation’s 17th best economic health, followed by up-and coming Wesley Chapel and Bradenton — all locations, it should be noted, that are close to Interstate 75. Dunedin, Pinellas Park, Largo and Riverview also ranked favorably.

First, none of the locations in Hillsborough County is actually a city (they are unincorporated areas), which makes a difference in terms of services and character.  Second, given the sprawling nature of those locations, how can anyone really decide anything about their characteristics? Just note that Valrico was 181st, Wesley Chapel was 186th, Sarasota was 197th, Bradenton was 518th, Dunedin was 576th, Pinellas Park was 579th, Riverview was 597th, and Largo was 649th.

In any event, you can check out the list.

Roundup 11-6-2015

November 6, 2015


Transportation – A Surfeit of Plans

Economic Development – More Fiber Is Healthy

Transportation – Gandy Connector Lives

Transportation – The Tribune on TBX

— On the Road to Nowhere

— A Small Crack or a Feint?

Transportation – Ridesharing Gets the Tallahassee Treatment

How Many Playing Fields Do You Need – Cont

Tourism – A Comment on New Marketing

Downtown/Channel District – Maybe a Grocery Store

Seminole Heights – Maybe  We Are Getting Somewhere

Isolated Pockets or a Real City

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

List of the Week


Transportation – A Surfeit of Plans

It appears that the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough plan will be forthcoming . . . or will it?

After nearly a year of public outreach and planning, Hillsborough County released its long-awaited transportation plan on Monday night — or rather, plans.

Three different options for addressing Hillsborough’s transportation problems were unveiled. One focused entirely on roads. Another offered light rail and other transit options. The third was a balance of the other two, focused mostly on roads while increasing bus service.

The three plans will get their first public airing at a Thursday meeting by the Hillsborough Policy Leadership Group, a gathering of elected county and city officials guiding the effort to build a transportation plan that may go to voters in 2016.

As if three plans weren’t enough for leaders and voters to consider, the final report also presented six funding options that can be combined in various ways to finance each of the three plans.

Generally, presenting options is good.  However, given the inability of elected officials to make any decision about transportation improvements except to stretch the process out interminably, maybe having too many options is not so good.  Anyway, the whole purpose of the outreach was to narrow the list, not make it bigger.  In any event,

“We’ll present some menus that kind of give everyone a starting point and then basically let the policy leadership group ask questions,” County Administrator Mike Merrill said. “We’re not going to ask for any decisions of any kind. But my hope is that after we present this it will begin to show that we’re narrowing down the choices.”

Good luck with that. So these are the options:

This plan would also provide limited transit solutions. It would expand the hours and frequencies of the current bus system, expand the frequency and range of the streetcar downtown, and create a transit system that would connect downtown to Tampa International Airport.

It would also allow for boat dock and golf cart crossings in Temple Terrace, a rail quiet zone in downtown Tampa and invest more in new roads, sidewalks and “complete streets” projects, which are designed for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists.

Which is pretty much 1) do nothing, 2) half cent tax, and 3) full cent tax. (And remember that none of the proposed plans so far has really been the coordinated systematic approach we really need, anyway).  Why this took so long just to tell us what we already knew is a mystery – unless you consider the complete lack of political will.  The really amazing thing is that after years of all this, the TED/PLC/GO Hillsborough process has not created any more confidence in anything it is doing.  As the Times said in an editorial:

This initiative is doomed to fail if local leaders are afraid at the outset to seriously consider raising enough money to pay for a robust transportation plan. The driving force behind this discussion must be the work plan to modernize the transit system — not the potential political fallout from putting a tax on the ballot. Voters need to see a vision and a timetable for improving their commutes, a plan for attracting new residents and a strategy for expanding and diversifying the economy.

Unfortunately, the local officials have given us no reason to think that will actually happen.

And if that was not enough, there was also this:

A 2016 transportation referendum lost a key vote Wednesday night when Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman said she would not support putting a sales tax on next year’s ballot.

Instead, Murman released her own transportation plan on the eve of the long-awaited presentation of the county’s Go Hillsborough initiative — a transportation plan more than a year in the making.

So why go along with the process for all that time and then toss out basically a nonstarter?

Murman, however, wants to take one funding option off the table right now.

“I want to consider an option without a referendum,” she said. “Too many people want to get stuff done now. They don’t want to wait to see if a referendum will pass or not.”

Setting aside that people have long wanted to get something done but there was no proposal to do that until this week, we were going to try to say something clever and then list a group of quotes where she supported Go Hillsborough – before she didn’t – but this is all so silly, we’ll just put the quotes:

GO Hillsborough is about truly understanding our transportation needs and desires at a grassroots level, exploring what makes sense in our residents’ daily lives and then helping them make what we all know will be some important and likely tough choices,” said Sandra Murman, chair of the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners. “In the end, I feel confident that we will have a meaningful, supportable transportation strategy that will serve our families, our businesses and organizations, and our broad community well.”

and also here. And

Director Murman said it was important that BART TDP is meshed into the needs and wants from the list being formulated from the Go Hillsborough outreach sessions.


County Commissioner Sandy Murman, a member of the leadership group, said the decision to go for a half-cent tax increase was based on polling and comments made at Go Hillsborough public meetings, telephone town halls, and other surveys.


Yet Leytham wasn’t the first one to pave the way for Parsons to land the work; a week before she sent Merrill the Aug. 19, 2014 text, Commissioner Murman got the Transportation Economic Development (TED) Policy Group on-board with the idea of hiring an engineer for the now-$1.35 million contract job.

“When you do a branding campaign, (bringing in) someone who is an expert in transportation (will) allow us to do this people-centric proposal,” Murman said, in-between glances at her notes. “Kind of like the people that did the Invision campaign for the mayor.”

And don’t forget reports of the Commissioner trying to get another consultant to do the outreach work.  (And we did not even dig into meeting transcripts)

In any event, that is all in the (very recent) past. Which is fine if it pays for the needs, but it won’t.  (You can read the plan and the critique in the article here.)

This is what we think generally about the last minute proposal: First, we see nothing wrong with looking at alternative sources of revenue.  However, that should have been done long ago and in a more comprehensive way.  Second, it is unlikely that the alternative sources of revenue proposed will actually meet the needs of the area.  Third, it is not even clear what the revenue is supposed to cover.  It seems like it will cover very little and not allow for any upgrades – which is the Tea Party position. (Like we said, you can read the article for details.)  Fourth, why wait until now to propose this, especially when you endorsed the outreach over and over again? It is really hard to have faith in the local officials when they waste years dithering then propose a mess of ideas all in one week while running away from their own process.

In the event, the TED/PLC group did what was entirely predictable (the obvious set up of the “three options” silliness):

A Hillsborough County transportation board voted overwhelmingly Thursday to move forward with a sales tax referendum for transportation projects, but the measure faces an uncertain fate on the county commission.

The county’s transportation Policy Leadership Group voted 11-3 to recommend that the county commission put a half-cent-per-dollar sales tax increase on the November 2016 ballot. The commission is scheduled to make that decision in December.

Which is no slam dunk because, as we have seen, the Commissioners have a habit of flip-flopping all over the place:

Buckhorn’s motion was backed by the mayors of Plant City and Temple Terrace, the chairman of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority and four county commissioners — Democrats Les Miller and Kevin Beckner, and Republicans Ken Hagan and Victor Crist.

The three no votes were Republican Commissioners Sandy Murman, Stacy White and Al Higginbotham.

Still, Crist is holding open his options when the matter comes to a vote again.

“We have transportation issues right now and this is the only plan on the table,” Crist said after the meeting. “We haven’t finished working out the concerns revolving around it. To end it all here would make no sense.”

Actually, to get a plan and then vote on it would make a lot of sense.  To continue the farce of endless discussions would not make any sense.  But, as we all know, the County Commission is the only thing that really counts in this issue – and it has a very hard time making a decision.

In other words, at least regarding transportation, it is business as usual.

Economic Development – More Fiber Is Healthy

As most people probably know by now, Google Fiber is looking at bringing their very fast internet service to Tampa.

Google announced Wednesday it may bring its ultra-fast Internet service, Google Fiber, to Tampa, a prospect that could eventually allow customers of all providers to drink from a fire hose of data after long sipping from a faucet.

If Google Fiber does eventually come to Tampa — the company insists it isn’t a certainty — analysts said it will undoubtedly disrupt the existing Internet and TV marketplace and benefit consumers by pressuring other providers to offer faster, cheaper service.

Google said the service offers Internet speeds of a gigabit per second of data transfer on a fiber optic network — fast enough to download a movie in seconds. That is nearly 100 times faster that the U.S. average for residential customers.

But Google said it will do it at a fraction of the cost. In other markets, Google charges $70 monthly for its Internet-only service and a plan with both gigabit Internet and TV for $130 monthly with channels generally comparable to other companies.

And that is very good – something we have been advocating for a while, though:

Google’s announcement names only Tampa. But in other U.S. cities where Google Fiber is available such as Kansas City, the network extends to a greater metro area that includes some adjoining communities.

Google is silent on the question of whether it might bring service to other parts of Hillsborough, or even Pinellas and the North Suncoast.

Just putting in within the city limits would be odd and not help a lot of the local companies that are not in the city limits (including basically everything on I-75, so we’ll just assume for the purpose of this discussion that they will put it in the county, too. If it isn’t, someone at the County center should be working overtime to rectify that, along with all the other things they do not get done).  So what now?

Does this mean Google Fiber is definitely coming to Tampa? Far from it, said Google. The technology behemoth said it must first work with Tampa officials to see what would need to be done from a technical and engineering perspective to expand the network to Tampa.

It is possible, Google said, that it will ultimately decide Tampa poses knotty hurdles that make the city unfeasible. The company said the exploration process has taken up to a year in other cities.

But since 2012 when Google Fiber was rolled out, the company has yet to cut any of the 15 U.S. cities where it has made similar announcements.

* * *

Google is providing Tampa with a check list that asks for a wide range of information necessary before it starts laying fiber optics. That includes detailed information on permitting and access issues tied to existing Internet and cable TV infrastructure such as underground conduits and utility poles.

Given the size of the network — thousands of miles of fiber optic cable would be laid — Google said advanced planning is necessary so city officials are not overwhelmed and work can be done efficiently and smoothly.

And what was the City’s reaction?

“If we’re going to create an entrepreneurial ecosystem here, we’ve got to have the ability to move data,” Buckhorn said. “And our ability to move data gives us a competitive advantage. … We’re going to compete hard to win this.”

Pretty much the only reaction there could be.  Can you imagine someone getting in the way of this idea (or the Lightning owner’s plan)?

Mayor Bob Buckhorn called the announcement a great day for Tampa and said Google Fiber would give business in the city an edge enjoyed by just a small handful of American cities.

And, yes, as we said, it would be cool.  Let’s look at just how cool.  This is where Google has, plans to or is looking at putting Google fiber:

From Telecompetitor – click on map for article

That would put us with some interesting places.

On their Google Fiber blog, the company says, “These growing tech-hubs have a strong entrepreneurial spirit and commitment to small business growth. Their list of accolades is long—from Jacksonville’s title as a top 10 city for tech jobs, to Tampa Bay’s #2 spot on the list of best cities for young entrepreneurs, to Oklahoma City’s recognition as the #1 city to launch a business. One of our goals is to make sure speed isn’t an accidental ceiling for how people and businesses use the Web, and these cities are the perfect places to show what’s possible with gigabit Internet.”

Wait, Jacksonville is better than us in tech jobs?  Don’t we keep hearing how we lead the state in such things?  Anyway, it would be nice to get on the list with some of the usual suspects.  Surely, faster internet will help our area – as will a bit of Google fiber caché.  Of that we have no doubt.

But, as with other things, there are a few caveats.  First, the deal is not done (though we assume it will be because, as we said, what government official will dare get in the way.)  But there is something else.

Some of the world’s fastest Internet speeds let you download an HD movie within 7 seconds. But next month, Atlanta will get access to Internet service from Comcast that will cut that time in half.

Comcast announced on Thursday that it will soon begin offering a service capable of delivering Internet speeds of up to 2 gigabits per second — that’s twice as fast as Google Fiber’s top speeds and 200 times what the average U.S. household currently gets. And, the company claims, it will soon be available to 1.5 million Atlanta residents.

Wait.  What?  Yes, you read that right.  And

But one potential competitor need not worry – Verizon. Google has methodically avoided any Verizon territory, FiOS or otherwise, with these Google Fiber moves. The same can’t be said for AT&T, who has their own gigabit fiber plans  underway in multiple markets, again, due in large part to countering Google’s move into the service provider business. Google and AT&T are already going head-to-head in a few markets, with many more to come.

Google is now studying Tampa – a current Verizon territory, but only temporarily. If and when Google begins overbuilding Tampa, Verizon will probably have long since left Tampa, assuming their network sale to Frontier goes through. Tampa will continue to be a FiOS territory – just a Frontier FiOS one.

A quick look at the market (and we mean quick, using Google, of course) makes it pretty clear that, while Google is driving competition in internet service, which is good, the future belongs to higher internet speeds in most major areas.

The point is this: we are all for Google fiber coming here.  Who wouldn’t want much better internet speeds? And, obviously, that will help business.  But, this is less about putting us so far ahead of the usual suspects and more about keeping us up with them.  Of course, for this area, that is an achievement in and of itself.  (And if the local officials will not create the other amenities necessary to take advantage of the draw – like a real transit system and proper planning to encourage those Millennials to want to settle here with their businesses, it will not really achieve its potential).

So, once again, be happy but be realistic.

Transportation – Gandy Connector Lives

There was a WTSP piece about the Gandy Connector.

Every day, more calls come into the City of Tampa from people begging planners to fix the morning and evening mess along a one-mile stretch of Gandy Boulevard in South Tampa.

And — get this — four out of every 10 cars stuck on that road don’t want to be there. They don’t need to shop and they don’t want to stop. They’re just using it to get between the Gandy Bridge and the Selmon Expressway, moving between Tampa and St. Petersburg.

So the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority is reviving a study from 2010 to look at extending the west end of the Selmon Expressway.

The new expressway would be an elevated toll road, with the surface 30 feet up and supported by narrow columns placed in the median of Gandy Boulevard. With one lane in each direction, the road would connect directly to the Gandy Bridge.

“The commuter traffic, the traffic that has no destination on Gandy Boulevard, would go up on this express lane and leave Gandy Boulevard for the residents and the businesses,” spokeswoman Sue Chrzan told me.

Chrzan said her agency’s previous study of the idea in 2010 indicated it would end the local South Tampa traffic mess, create a much faster regional route between Tampa and St. Pete, and even relieve some traffic on the Howard Frankland Bridge.

And all this has been obvious for years – decades.  Much of the traffic on Gandy has no interest in patronizing any business there – it is just forced on the road.  (Actually, getting those people off of Gandy would actually help people who actually want to shop get to their destination, which is why the decades’ long opposition to a connector has been so silly.) The reason the connector is not built has nothing to do with need or knowledge of the issue.  It has everything to do with the weakness of political leadership caving to a small number of very loud people – typical Tampa planning.  But don’t get too excited:

Right now, they’re in the very early stages — just dusting off the plans they put on hold five years ago, and looking at what’s changed since then.

And then they will get public comment, where the same voices will come out and complain.  The City Council will then have to decide whether they are going to actually help solve the problem or just cave again.

Transportation – The Tribune on TBX

The Tribune had an interesting editorial on TBX.

The ongoing debate over the proposed express toll lanes leading into and out of Tampa is a healthy exercise for ensuring the Florida Department of Transportation does everything it can to minimize the impact on the affected neighborhoods.

But the argument by hard-core opponents that the express lanes are unnecessary is misguided.

The lanes will add capacity to the major interstate system feeding the Tampa Bay area’s busiest commercial center. Interstate 275 delivers passengers to Tampa International Airport, freight to Port Tampa Bay, tourists to the beaches and workers to and from their jobs each day.

Even if this area had a high-functioning mass transit system in place, the added road capacity would be needed. Traffic around Malfunction Junction and the Howard Frankland Bridge is already stressed and can be expected to get worse as the area’s population grows and tourism continues its record-setting pace. Additionally, the project will be designed to accommodate future mass transit corridors.

Express lanes charge a toll for the convenience of ducking off the free lanes to drive in less congested lanes. The toll amount varies depending on the traffic piling up in the free lanes.

First, yes, we still need some highway lanes – and a lot of transit.  But, once again, variable rate toll lanes are designed to have lower capacity than normal lanes. (For instance, see “Transportation – More on TBX”)  The lanes’ express purpose is to raise tolls to get people to not drive in them.  They whole program seems much more ideological than practical. (Which is further evidenced by this URBN Tampa Bay post that explains how the TBX public outreach works.)

Also of note is this map from URBN Tampa Bay shows just how much land TBX will eat up near downtown (including part of an apartment complex that was touted as part of the downtown renewal when it was first built.)

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on map for Facebook page

Needless to say that, if true, that will not help “intown Tampa.”

Regardless of any of that, the Tribune makes this point:

Express lanes are working in the Miami-Dade area and planned for Orlando and Jacksonville.

So how are they working in South Florida?

The cost of using the Interstate 95 express lanes in Miami-Dade County is soaring for some drivers.

In September, commuters on 19 days paid the maximum $10.50 toll to use the northbound express lanes during the afternoon rush hour. It set a single month record since March 2014, when rates on the seven-mile stretch of road rose from $1 to $1.50 per mile.

The rates went up because the old maximum toll of $7 wasn’t moving traffic fast enough. Now it appears the new rates are not having the desired impact either, especially since traffic is expected to worsen as snowbirds and vacationers arrive.

Officials would not say if the state planned to raise tolls again.

But drivers who use the express lanes for a faster trip home to Broward or Palm Beach counties are feeling the impact on their wallets.

“Unless you have wealth to spend $7 to $10 every night to go home, that adds up too high for my budget,” said David Woodward, who commutes from Pembroke Pines to Coconut Grove. “We all have to use this one road north and south. I would love to take some sort of mass transit if the system really was efficient. My work hours dictate the hours I need to use the highway.”

Without actual options (and even with some limited options like Tri-Rail), the express lanes do not function properly – getting people off the road – because what choice do they have? South Florida even has some options (though they are limited between Miami and Broward), but the lanes still do not work.

The state’s goal is to maintain travel speeds of at least 45 mph 90 percent of the time. But that has only happened in the northbound lanes two months since the toll was increased.

Which, among other things, sort of renders this a poor argument:

Concerns this would be the first of many expansion projects are unfounded. The DOT says this will be designed as the final widening for that stretch of interstate. And complaints about the express lanes being unfair to motorists who can’t afford the tolls fail to acknowledge that cars taken off the free lanes eases congestion on those lanes.

But not as many cars as if the variable rate lanes were not designed to keep cars out.  And those cars forced out of the variable rate lanes by the tolls which exist specifically to push them out of the variable rate lanes will add to congestion on the normal lanes which are already overburdened.  How that will actually help most people get around or solve transportation issues is unclear – and not addressed by the Tribune.  And that is a real problem (as well as the lack of coordination with the any countywide transportation system that may be proposed). Of course, as long as local officials are not willing to have a real vision, a real plan, and the political will to really push it, we will have to rely on FDOT and be stuck with what they offer. (And it is definitely easier – and the path of least resistance – for local officials to just rubber stamp whatever FDOT says than to actually think the whole problem through.)

— On the Road to Nowhere

Given FDOT’s non-coordinated, $6-9 billion TBX plan, it should not be surprising that there are some other oddities around the state.

Known for its raunchy spring breaks and nearby military base, Panama City has barely grown in nearly 15 years.

From 2000 to 2013, the city itself added only 416 people. Its current metro population is one-fifteenth the size of Tampa Bay.

And yet it’s there that the Florida Department of Transportation is planning to build 55 miles of new highway.

State officials say the Gulf Coast and West Bay parkways are needed to ease congestion on the stretch of U.S. 98 that cuts directly into Panama City. But the two routes are curious alternatives for motorists because they wind far outside city limits and drift into another county with the motto “Uncrowded. Unspoiled. Untouched.”

The combined cost to taxpayers? Nearly $1 billion.

Both parkways epitomize Gov. Rick Scott’s investment strategy for Florida’s transportation network. In a state where people are driving less than they were 10 years ago, Scott is steering billions into new highways geared to help developers transform rural lands into sprawling suburban communities.

In the case of West Bay Parkway, one beneficiary will be the St. Joe Co., one of the state’s largest private landowners with holdings nearby planned for development. 

Needless to say, this expenditure is questionable unless you are a road builder or a large landowner near the proposed road – or just ideologically predisposed to building roads everywhere, even if they are not needed.  We are not going to get into a lot of detail (you can do that at this article.). The point is that the priorities seem to be a bit out of whack with the needs, especially if we want to attract Millennials, as noted by the new head of the EDC. And $1 billion would go a long way to building the beginning of real transit here – where millions of Floridians actually live.

— A Small Crack or a Feint?

Which is why this little crack (probably due to the organized opposition to TBX) in the road obsession is welcome, if cautiously:

The Florida Department of Transportation on Thursday offered to work with the Hillsborough Regional Transit Authority and to pay for a feasibility study of options for expanding mass transit such as light rail or commuter rail.

“We’ve got a lot of different people who have done pieces of things,” FDOT District 7 Paul Steinman told the Tampa City Council, but no one has ever looked at all the options.

The offer, which has not been formally made to HART, came as a surprise to council member Lisa Montelione, who had asked for Steinman to report to the council on FDOT’s project plans for the area.

* * *

Steinman said the idea for an overall transit feasibility study came out of the community meetings that the FDOT has started holding on its controversial Tampa Bay Express interstate expansion project.

In those meetings, one of the things FDOT officials have heard is that people want alternatives to TBX.

FDOT is not backing off its plans for TBX, a multi-billion-dollar project to expand the downtown “Malfunction Junction” interchange, rebuild Interstate 275’s interchange at State Road 60 and add tolled express lanes to interstates 4, 75 and 275 in Pinellas and Hillsborough county.

“I think those pieces are very much necessary,” Steinman said. But “I don’t think it’s an either/or situation.”

First, this is not a formal plan yet.  Second, if you are going to do a comprehensive study 1) why did it not take place with the County as it was trying to plan, 2) why is it not comprehensive and include roads and transit, and 3) it needs to be a serious study and should not serve as just a Band-Aid to quiet those who oppose TBX.  (And why shouldn’t TBX be on the table given how expensive it is and how unpopular it is in some areas) Hey, maybe even FDOT realizes that without alternatives variable rate lanes are really ineffective.

But setting that aside, it is about time that there was a move to examine transit by FDOT in coordination with local officials.  The big questions we have are 1) is FDOT serious and 2) can local officials collectively (not each individual) be trusted to do anything other than mess it all up due to their collective (not individual) lack of vision and political will.  After all, over the decades it is the local officials collectively who have really let us down.

The transportation department helped fund Tri-Rail in Miami and SunRail in the Orlando area before embarking on major widening of interstates there, said Kevin Thurman, director of the pro-transit Connect Tampa Bay group. Thurman said he would like Tampa area residents get the same choices.

“Before they do a single bit of work on I-275, they need to treat us as well as they treated those other areas,” Thurman said.

That is true, but, without local leadership, that will not happen.

Once again, this is not even really an offer yet.  All one can really say is that we shall see.

Transportation – Ridesharing Gets the Tallahassee Treatment

A few things happened with ridesharing in the last few weeks.  First,

Uber is one step closer to operating here legally now that the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles has filed a document saying the company’s insurance policies meet state requirements.

Another strike against the PTC.  And then this happened

A bill filed by Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz would pre-empt any local governments from attempting to regulate transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft.

His bill is similar to one that died in the 2015 session when the State House of Representatives ended early.

Instead of local regulations, Gaetz’s bill would require any representative of a TNC to get an annual permit from the state for $5,000, according to a report in Florida Politics.

We are ok with statewide regulation, and we are ok with an annual fee.  However, considering that many drivers are just doing it part time and that doctors and lawyers pay under $400 a year for their license, a $5,000 annual permit seems a bit excessive. In fact, it seems like one more attempt by supposedly free market, private enterprise loving elected officials to just protect specific industries and owners.

EDIT: A reader made clear that we misread the report.  Apparently, the $5000/year is for Uber or Lyft – or another rideshare company – not the drivers.  As such, that would be reasonable and we would have no problem with it, provided all the other regulations made sense.  Sorry for the mistake.

How Many Playing Fields Do You Need – Cont

While the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough process is foundering and there is no money for transportation infrastructure, the County Commission is busy at work, still trying to spend money on playing fields.

Hillsborough County leaders are close to choosing a 65-acre tract on the Columbus Drive extension as the future home of an amateur sports complex.

The site, between U.S. 301 and Falkenburg Road, is already owned by the county government — a major factor in its selection by a three-person evaluation team. Plus, it is surrounded by a network of roads and highways capable of handling the thousands of fans that county leaders hope will be drawn to tournaments at the complex.

County Commissioner Ken Hagan secured $15 million for a sports complex nearly three years ago. A top-flight center with tournament-quality fields can generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in increased sales and hotel bed taxes, Hagan said.

“It’s a challenge finding enough acreage to build a tournament-sized facility,” Hagan said after reviewing the evaluation committee report.

“With this parcel, we’re very fortunate to have county-owned land right in the middle of development,” he said, “so we don’t have to worry about building it and waiting for development to follow. It’s already there.”

Here is a map of the site:

From the Tribune – click on map for article

Nothing like a fun day a bunch of kids playing in the shadow of the jail.

“There’s a lot of interest in youth sports; families follow them around,” said Rodney Paul, professor of sports management at Syracuse University. “It’s something that generates overnight stays, which are an important component if you want to generate the multiplier effect on other businesses.”

Paul added one cautionary element, however. As more counties or cities in a region add their own sports meccas for soccer moms and dads, the economic pie gets sliced into more and smaller pieces.

“The negative view is if the market becomes saturated, then you are competing with other markets and those advantages go away,” he said. 

Exactly, so why should public money be used for a speculative business proposition?  This is not merely building a park where local kids can play.  This is a big investment in an area where everyone else is trying to build as well (the Bass Pro Shops of youth sports, if you will) – literally almost everyone else.   This is not a major need for the area. And, as anyone who has any knowledge of travel sports knows, most of the tournaments played there will just draw mostly people within a 1-1 ½ hours drive anyway (and people coming from farther away will likely spend one night in a relatively cheap hotel, buy some chicken wings or pizza, and leave).  This will not be Disney Wide World of Sports. It is not major economic development, and there is no clamor to spend taxpayer money on this. It is just not a priority.

Maybe the County Commission should focus on things that matter.

Tourism – A Comment on New Marketing

It appears that Visit Tampa Bay is going to launch its biggest marketing effort ever:

Visit Tampa Bay will launch its most ambitious tourism marketing campaign on Sunday, targeting travelers in Chicago, Boston, Detroit and Dallas, as well as in Canada, England and Germany.

The new $1.7 million “Florida’s Most” campaign, which comes on the heels of Hillsborough County’s strongest tourism year on record, lays claim to Tampa Bay’s bragging rights as a place that combines all the greatest Florida experiences in a single destination, according to Visit Tampa Bay, the county’s tourism arm.

And that is fine, if it brings a return.  Given the growth in tourism overall in the US, tourism will probably grow.  Frankly, this is pretty routine stuff and we would not comment on it except we noticed this:

“Visitors come to the state looking for lots of different things — thrill rides, outdoor recreation, exciting history, creative cuisine, Cuban culture and craft beer. They find them all here in Tampa Bay,” said Visit Tampa Bay President and CEO Santiago Corrada. “On top of that, our unique set of attractions — including the Tampa Riverwalk and Gasparilla season — guarantees that visitors go home with memories they can’t make anywhere else.”

And Gasparilla is definitely different from elsewhere.  But the Riverwalk?  Really.  There are riverwalks in Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, and Jacksonville, not to mention the park around Lake Eola and all manners of cities elsewhere (including Europe).  Now we like the Riverwalk.  We think it is really nice, but it is not unique.  We get that Visit Tampa Bay’s is to sell the area, so it gets a little leeway on the hype, but we prefer our hype be based in fact.

Downtown/Channel District – Maybe a Grocery Store

Downtown may finally be getting a grocery store (other than Duckweed, of course).  You can read the speculation here.  Probable location is the Martin.  Given all the past false starts of both the grocery store and the Martin, we are not going to say anything more until something actually happens. Hopefully, that will be soon.

Seminole Heights – Maybe  We Are Getting Somewhere

We have long noted that Seminole Heights is really the epicenter for interesting things going on, partially because it costs less than downtown and South Tampa allowing more chance taking and being freeform.  It is also really ready to take off, despite the City’s focus being very much elsewhere. Anyway, hot on the heels of one loft development on Florida Avenue, there is news of another.

The developer behind the Warehouse Lofts in Seminole Heights is zeroing in on a nearby site for his next project — a mixed-use building at the corner of North Florida and East Wilder avenues.

Wesley Burdette said Tuesday he is under contract to acquire the .87-acre site at 5023 N. Florida Ave., where he’ll demolish the old warehouse on the site and build a five-story apartment building with ground-level retail and a rooftop lounge. Like the Warehouse Lofts, it will include an on-site dog park.

While it could change in the coming months, Burdette said the building should include about 50 loft-style apartments and 2,800 square feet of retail space. If all goes as planned — and pending approval of his plans by the city’s architectural review commission — he’ll close on the land in December, break ground in early 2016 and residents will move in by summer 2016.

Here is a rendering:

From SkycraperCity – click on picture for website

And here is the location.

All we can say is great.  Great new construction.  Great location.  Great to have Florida get some projects that really fit with what it should be, especially since for years the City has allowed all sorts of silliness for decades.  We hope to see more of this and less of the used car dealerships.  And let’s get a real transit connection.

Isolated Pockets or a Real City

URBN Tampa Bay highlighted a very interesting item from ATL Urbanist about what they call “drive-to urbanism.”

The Atlanta region is famous for its car-centric sprawl, which separates houses and destinations from each other in ways that demand car trips. We often think of this type of built environment as being exclusive to the outer suburbs, but that isn’t true.

When it comes to mobility options, there’s good and bad to be found in both the burbs and the city. Just as there are wonderfully walkable places in the outskirts of the region (check out lovely downtown Woodstock, GA for an example), elements of car-dependency can can end up marring our best intown efforts at walkable urban development.

A mixed-use, compact place like Atlantic Station (below) can be a pleasure to walk through once you’re inside. But approaching it on foot or bike from another neighborhood can be a challenge – and the streets themselves are at fault.

Indeed.  It is notable that the example used above – Atlantic Station – while formerly a rail yard has no rail transit connection to the rest of the Atlanta and is cut off from Midtown by the interstate.  The point is that having some walkable activity centers is nice, but it does not make a real city nor does it alleviate traffic.  It just redirects traffic to the parking garages of the walkable areas.  If Tampa is not careful, that is what will happen here – even with a little streetcar extension (which is by no means assured).  Transit serves to connect the walkable areas so that you do not need to drive – even to get to the walkable areas.  Or, as we recently saw eloquently put about LA:

Christopher Hawthorne, who writes about architecture for the Los Angeles Times, has characterized this new era as “the Third Los Angeles,” arguing that, having moved beyond the compact, civic-minded municipality of the first half of the 20th century and the familiar freeway sprawl of the postwar years, the metropolis is now becoming a collection of more integrated, livable, post-suburban villages that retain their own character even as they’re connected by public spaces (like the L.A. River) and public transit (like the expanded Metro system).

With the major activity nodes obviously the focus of connections.

You can read the whole Atlanta article for yourself.  Just remember, the point of transit is not for tourists.  It is to weave together the various districts of a city to make them a cohesive whole – which tourists can obviously use.   Otherwise, you just have isolated nodes divided by a sea of traffic that never really melds together.

Which brings us to an interesting idea that came up last week.

Revelers from across the region converge on the SoHo district in South Tampa every weekend, boosting trade for bars and restaurants but also bringing late night noise and trash and creating a major parking headache.

Not to mention drunk drivers.

Particularly problematic is bar hoppers clogging South Howard Avenue blasting loud music from their cars as they flit between bars and restaurants.

Soon, there could be quieter alternatives.

Tampa and Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority officials are collaborating on a plan to run a trolley service between downtown Tampa and Howard Avenue on weekend evenings and nights. The service would run between Fort Brooke parking garage and Howard Avenue from early evening to about 3:30 a.m.

Meanwhile, a local business owner is poised to launch a free shuttle program, perhaps as soon as next month, that would run along South Howard Avenue.

HART has already agreed to fund a 90-day pilot it hopes to start before the end of the year, said Councilman Mike Suarez, who also serves as chairman of HART’s governing board and who came up with the idea. The service could begin before the end of the year.

It would mean visitors could get to SoHo without the hassle of finding a parking spot, Suarez said. Those who drink too much could use the service to avoid drinking and driving and use taxis or ride-sharing services to complete their trip home, he said.

They could, and should, but will they (especially if they have to pay to leave their car downtown)? In any event, we think this is a good idea.  Not only does it help parking and maybe keep the SoHo area a bit more civilized.  It helps get people used to the idea they do not need to drive to every location.  They can walk a little.

Among the details still to be finalized are whether the city would contribute toward the service, which, if popular, would boost its parking revenue. The cost for the pilot would be about $30,000.

The city would also have to decide if the garage needed a parking attendant to take payments and assist people exiting the garage as it does at the William F. Poe Garage when events are held at the nearby David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.

Um, yea, the City should contribute, not just for parking revenue, but because it provides a useful service and could help stop SoHo from choking on its own success (and bring people downtown).

It will be interesting to see how many people actually use it (and if it spins off more of a scene downtown).  Yet, how much better would it be if SoHo were not some isolated, sort of walkable (at least on some blocks) area in a sea of what is basically sprawl forcing so many people to drive?  And how much easier (and better for the neighbors) would it be if there was a real transit service that connected SoHo to the rest of the city and area – an idea that has been around for at least 20 years?

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Here is a video of Richard Branson “bragging on Virgin America,” as the Business Journal put it.  Virgin America is a good airline with a big presence on the West Coast.  It also flies to Orlando and South Florida, as well as a number of other usual suspects.  What it does not do is fly to Tampa – especially Tampa to San Francisco.  We really need that flight.

List of the Week

Most weeks, we present a list about who has the best quail and arugula filled scones or which city’s parks have the most splash pad jets.  This week we get serious and present a pre-list, aka a poll: VH1+’s Most Metal Cities in America.

Not coincidentally, the nominees include many of the usual suspects on development (is the EDC paying attention?): Atlanta, Baltimore, Brooklyn, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Portland (OR), Richmond, San Francisco, Seattle, and Tampa.

Now, you have the chance to really show your Tampa swagger.  Go vote.

Roundup 10-30-2015

October 29, 2015

There will be no Roundup this week.  We will return next week.

Roundup 10-23-2015

October 23, 2015


Transportation – TBX Listening Tour

Economy – Employment, More of the Same

Economic Development – Searching for STEM

Economic Development – More on Bass Pro Shops

Economy/Economic Development – The Titan That Is MacDill

Downtown – Trump Tower Lot, Step One

Transportation – Another Ferry Idea

International Trade/Economic Development – The County Leads Tampa

Rays – A Little Bit of Truth

How to Really Do Bike Lanes

A Look at Real Transit Oriented Development

List of the Week


Transportation – TBX Listening Tour

This week, FDOT had a public meeting regarding the TBX variable rate toll lane project – well actually just part of it – and the results were entirely predictable.

The latest public meeting on a proposal to add toll lanes to area interstates drew a less heated crowd than past gatherings that pitted road expansion against neighborhood preservation.

Though of the dozen or so speakers Tuesday night — out of a crowd of about 50 — only one spoke favorably of the Florida Department of Transportation’s Tampa Bay Express plan.

From the Times – click on map for article

Some of the public comments:

The few dozen people who stuck around for the formal public hearing at the TPepin Hospitality Centre called the express toll lane project an over-priced, outdated plan for managing traffic. Instead, they said, state transportation leaders should be focusing on alternative forms of transportation, including rail and mass transit.

The meeting was called specifically to get comment on the preliminary design for express toll lanes on a 22-mile span of Interstate 4 between 50th Street and the Polk County line. The project would include adding one toll lane in each direction at some future date with the first segment running between 50th and Mango Road.

“This plan encourages more vehicles on the roads instead of fewer,” said Liz Johnson of Seminole Heights, a neighborhood that has risen up against the plan. She called for an end to any funding for the Tampa Bay Express project and said FDOT should instead focus on developing a comprehensive plan for bikes, mass transit and other alternatives instead of creating more road lanes.

Annie Hipson, also of Seminole Heights, cited statistics showing that millennials drive less as a generation and likely will continue to do so.

“This is what was needed in the 1990s” and it’s not something that will solve 2025 transportation problems, she said. “Yes, we do need mass transit, but for what this is going to cost we could do rail and have a much nicer place to live.”

But for Tim Smith of Tampa, the express toll lanes make sense. He said he has seen them in Texas and Georgia.

“I’m going with anything that helps with transportation here,” Smith said. “There are too many no-new-taxes people who don’t know what it is costing them to sit in traffic every day.”

That is what some of the public said. This comment does not seem to indicate that FDOT is really considering any changes to their plan:

“We consider every comment that’s made,” said Kirk Bogen, FDOT District 7 environmental engineer. “We will not reduce the number of free lanes that are out there. We’re just giving people some options.”

We have made no secret of our position that variable rate lanes will not really solve any problem, especially because they are designed specifically to not have people drive in them.  Moreover, the entire TBX plan is not coordinated with the as-of-yet nonexistent Go Hillsborough plan – and costs many times more than that idea.  To solve our transportation issues we need to actually identify the needs and create comprehensive, coordinated solutions.  The TBX is not doing that.  Finally, as many commented, if FDOT spent the money it plans to spend on TBX on the actual needs in Hillsborough County, it could fix most, if not all, of them with billions to spare for widening the interstate a reasonable amount – because, yes, the interstates are still not adequate.

And there is one more thing.  If FDOT really wants to relieve some traffic in Hillsborough County it needs to connect the Veterans/Suncoast to I-75 in Pasco so that people do not have to drive through Tampa (clogging traffic to downtown and Westshore) to get to Pinellas. The failure to build that road over the decades is one of the biggest transportation failures in this area.  Then again, as with so much, that failure really lies at the feet of local officials who killed the connection through Hillsborough and who have not been able to get it done in elsewhere. Unfortunately, those failures leave this area stuck with take-it-or-leave-it ideas from Tallahassee that are rubber stamped by local officials who lack the political will to do what is needed and choose to hide behind FDOT.  At least road construction industry will prosper.

Economy – Employment, More of the Same

It is time to check in with employment numbers.

Florida’s jobless rate fell from 5.4 percent to a seven-year low of 5.2 percent in September, according to figures released Friday. In Tampa Bay, unemployment dropped from 5.3 percent to 5 percent, a level last seen more than a year before George W. Bush turned over the Oval Office to Barack Obama.

Economists used to say once unemployment tumbled to 5 percent or lower, it would signal full recovery, or close to it.

While the raw employment numbers look good, there is a continuing problem.

Times have changed. An unemployment stat is no longer the over-arching barometer. Rather, economists now are trying to gauge the quality of jobs created and related wages, the number of part-timers unable to find full-time work and how many discouraged jobless have given up looking so they’re no longer counted in the broadly used unemployment rate.

We are not going to quote the whole article, but, needless to say, most of the jobs are lower wage jobs.

An article from the Business Journal points out why this is such a problem.

When considering income levels in a local area, it is important to consider more than just the raw numbers, but to take into account the cost of living. For instance, in order to have the same purchasing power as a person earning $50,000 in the Tampa Bay area, a resident of Honolulu would need to make $61,820, whereas someone in Akron, Ohio would only need to earn $44,470.

While the Tampa Bay area ranks right around the national average for cost of living, the average income and relative income are significantly lower than in other parts of the country. Of the 106 markets included in the data, the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metro area ranked No. 69 in local average pay for all jobs. The ranking is even more dire when you take into consideration the cost of living. Using this metric, the Tampa Bay area ranks No. 92 for adjusted pay.

92nd out of 106 is quite bad. Low salaries negate many – really all – of the benefits of low costs unless you are one of small number of higher income individuals (like the people who tend to vote to approve TBX).

So, yes, more people are working, which is good.  But our economy is nowhere near where it should be – it is not a boom.  And the argument that everything in Florida is cheap just doesn’t seem as appealing when so many still struggle to afford it.

Economic Development – Searching for STEM

Speaking of higher paying jobs, there was column in the Times discussing a study by Bloomberg (see here) regarding STEM jobs.

If becoming a 21st century metro area means having lots of better paying technology-related job opportunities, then Tampa Bay should give itself a pat on the back — and keeping pushing for more.

A creative analysis by Bloomberg News recently ranked the nation’s 100 top metro areas for STEM jobs — meaning jobs that required education in science, technology, engineering or math. In the process, the analysis revealed a number of lesser known cities that are STEM magnets, defined as places having higher percentages of the kind of tech-related employment that not only offers better pay but will likely assure these metro areas as more competitive players in the future.

The good news is that Tampa Bay fared better in this STEM analysis than any other metro area in Florida. The analysis, based on U.S. Department of Labor statistics, shows Tampa Bay has 64,290 STEM-related jobs equal to 5.5 percent of its workforce. No other larger metro area in Florida matches either of these measures, though smaller Palm Bay on the east coast claims 9.9 percent of its tinier workforce are STEM jobs.

Orlando closely followed Tampa Bay’s strong showing with 55,350 STEM jobs making up 5.1 percent of its workforce — a signal that the west-to-east Central Florida swath of technology growth is the state’s most promising STEM region. South Florida metro areas, as well as Jacksonville, trailed Tampa Bay and Orlando with lower percentages of STEM-related jobs.

That is good.  But just how good?  First, how do we compare with other areas in other states, which are, after all, most of our competition?

Looking beyond Florida, the outlook is far more challenging. Among larger population states, Florida sadly trails well behind California, Texas and New York (though it is reassuring to see Tampa Bay slightly outranks New York City in its percentage of STEM jobs).

No surprise, the SanJose/SiliconValley area tops the nation with 209,330 STEM-related jobs equaling a whopping 21.5 percent of its workforce. Nearby San Francisco boasts 12.1 percent of its workforce in STEM jobs. In Texas, Austin leads with 11.1 percent, while both Dallas and Houston top 8 percent.

Seattle, home to Microsoft, Amazon and lots of Boeing workers, enjoys 13.2 percent of its jobs in the STEM field, while Boston dominates New England with 11.2 percent. And the Washington, D.C., area tops the country in its sheer number of STEM jobs — 285,470 — representing a respectable 12 percent of the workforce.

The top 20 metropolitan areas by STEM employment account for half the STEM jobs in Bloomberg‘s analysis.

What’s most interesting, perhaps, are some of the smaller metros that are so rich in STEM jobs. They include Boulder, Colo., with 16 percent; Huntsville, Ala., with 16.7 percent; and Durham, N.C. — home to the Research Triangle — 13.9 percent. Huntsville was kick-started with government funding for rocket development there during World War II and, later, with work for NASA. Now it is far more tech-diversified.

Cities including Denver; Minneapolis; Portland, Ore.; Detroit and Warren, Mich. (both presumably full of auto engineers), Oakland and San Diego, Calif.; and Albuquerque, N.M., all ranked in the high single digits for STEM jobs in their workforces.

And that’s not all.  Let’s look at some other areas you would not think had much STEM: Charlotte (6.8%); OKC (6.2%); Kansas City (6.6%); St. Louis (6.3%); Buffalo ( 5.1%); Rochester, NY (6.9%); Indianapolis (6.8%); Pittsburgh (6.5%); Birmingham (5.2%).  If we are doing well, they are doing just as well or better. In other words, our percentage of STEM jobs numbers are nothing great – good for Florida, but not that good (though not awful either).

Now, let’s drill down a little deeper.  Not all STEM jobs are the same. STEM can include a number of things from high level programming and research to basically customer service for software companies.  Those things obviously have different salaries.  They also create different clusters of expertise that lead to different levels of economic development.  The higher the level jobs, the more likely they are to generate more high level jobs.

So what kind of jobs forms the biggest group of STEM jobs in the Tampa Bay area? According to the Bloomberg piece (see here) the largest group is computer user support specialist at about 10% of our STEM jobs, with a median salary of $43,430.  By contrast, a bit over 10% of Charlotte’s jobs are computer systems analysts with average salary of $88,370.  Denver’s biggest group, also around 10%, is software developers with an average salary around $100,000.  Kansas City’s biggest group (also around 10%) is also software developers with average incomes around $90,000, though St. Louis, like the Tampa Bay area, has a big group of support specialist with average incomes of $49,610. As you can see, just saying we have STEM jobs does not really say anything.

So the point is this: yes, we are doing well in number of STEM jobs for Florida, but we are not doing that well – certainly not as well as the hype would have you believe.  We have to both improve in quantity and quality of STEM jobs.  Customer support jobs will not create a high wage economy or a tech cluster. We have made some progress, but there is a very long way to go.

Economic Development – More on Bass Pro Shops

And speaking of economic development and low paying jobs, this week the Times gave us one more reason why the Bass Pro Shops subsidy was a waste of taxpayer money.

This morning, an engineering firm that frequently represents Nebraska-based Cabela’s — a leading specialty retailer of hunting, fishing, camping and related outdoor merchandise — is scheduled to meet with the Pasco County planning staff to discuss a proposal for commercial space within the Cypress Creek Town Center.

County documents described the proposed development, across the street from the about-to-open Tampa Premium Outlets mall, as a 105,712-square-foot retail store with adjoining parking field and boat storage space.

Representatives for Cabela’s, a chain in the midst of a multiyear expansion, and the project manager from Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc., the engineering firm that has represented Cabela’s in other locales, did not return telephone messages for comment.

The size of the proposed store in Wesley Chapel matches the dimensions of a Cabela’s store that opened in April in North Carolina. At 105,000 square feet, it would be about 19 percent smaller than the Bass Pro Shops store in Brandon that opened in July. 

Not only is Bass Pro building a store in Sarasota, but now Cabela’s might go into Pasco.  Sure, people love Bass Pro Shops, and we hope the Brandon store does well.  And it is good to have some more jobs. But holding it out as some sort of tourist destination or major economic development project that deserves taxpayers’ money is silly.  And if roads needed to be widened because of the Bass Pro development, there should have been impact fees (really, mobility fees) that covered it.  It should not be on the taxpayer.

The fact is that the Bass Pro deal was a mistake.  It is indicative of so many mistaken (seemingly back room) policies in this area. There really are no excuses for it or the arguments made in favor of it – which were obviously wrong.

What is really amazing is that the same thing is being said about Cabela’s that was said about Bass Pro:

A Cabela’s outdoor store is a natural next step for the retail growth in Wesley Chapel along Interstate 75, said Steve Kirn, executive director of the David F. Miller Center for Retailing Education and Research at the University of Florida, who added that the retailer tends to open stores in bustling suburban communities.

“They’re a destination store. So, by putting one in Wesley Chapel, they’ll attract people from the Orlando market as well as all of Tampa Bay,” Kirn said. 

Of course, Orlando has a Bass Pro and there is a Bass Pro in Orlando on the way to Wesley Chapel, so it is doubtful that anyone would come from Orlando except to get a special deal they cannot get at the Cabela’s website.  Not to mention that, if Cabela’s enters the Florida market, it is highly unlikely that they will ignore the Orlando market.

We have nothing against getting Cabela’s – especially if they do not get a subsidy.  The real questions, though, is will this area ever learn – can we break the cycle of BS?

Economy/Economic Development – The Titan That Is MacDill

There was a new report on the economic impact of MacDill on the Tampa Bay area.

The economic impact of MacDill Air Force Base, including military retirees and spouses living within 50 miles, was $4.7 billion in fiscal 2014, a jump of $1.3 billion in two years, according to the 6th Air Mobility Wing, the base host unit.

On Wednesday, the base released a fiscal 2014 financial impact statement showing it pumped $2.94 billion into the local economy in fiscal 2014, compared to $2.3 billion in fiscal 2012. These direct economic impact numbers include total payroll, local expenditures and local job creation.

But the biggest reason for the overall jump was the payroll of military retirees and their spouses, which is not included in the direct economic impact numbers. This category increased by $660 million over the period.

Retirees or not, that is a huge impact – every year.

The biggest change in the direct economic impact of the base was a $320 million boost in the value of jobs it created, according to the report.

In fiscal 2014, the base said it created more than 24,000 jobs, with an average annual salary of $46,748. That represents an impact of $1.14 billion.

In fiscal 2012, the base said it created more than 18,000 jobs, with an average annual salary of $44,876. That represents an impact of $820 billion.

The next biggest change came in the total payroll of the base, which grew to $1.07 billion in fiscal 2014 from $853 million in 2012, an increase of $217 million.

And total local expenditures — including military construction, service contracts, the commissary, education and other line items — grew to $729 million in fiscal 2014 from $587 million in fiscal 2012, an increase of $142 million.

The 2014 report says there were more than 73,000 military retirees and spouses living in the area. The 2012 report does not list a comparable figure.

We all know that MacDill is very important to our area (and the country), and we are very lucky to have it. Sometimes it is good to have a detailed reminder.  And the fact is that, if the previously discussed SOCOM program to develop local industry really gets going, the impact will be far greater, including a lot of those truly STEM jobs.  We know that there is consensus on protecting MacDill, but this is just one more reminder of why it is so important.

Downtown – Trump Tower Lot, Step One

The unnamed project for the old Trump Tower lot moved slightly forward this week.

Plans for a 52-story mixed-use tower on downtown Tampa’s waterfront are one step closer to reality.

The city’s Development Review and Compliance staff has decided that the plans developers proposed in July are not a substantial change from the plans originally approved for the site, which is at the intersection of South Ashley Drive and Brorein Street.

With that decision, the plans aren’t subject to city council approval, and the project is ready for permitting — which means developers are likely to move forward and close on the 1.47-acre site. It’s currently owned by Brownstone Tampa Group LLC, which picked up the site and the adjacent CapTrust office building for $5 million in 2011.

We are not sure how likely this project is to actually get built, but this step removes one hurdle.   Another question still over this proposal is whether the FAA will allow the proposed height, which is about 30 feet higher than the approved height for the Trump Tower project.  In any event, it will be interesting to see.

One thing we did notice was the renderings in the Business Journal article were a little less than inspiring, like this:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

Sure, it is basically a line drawing with a very limited palette, but we would like to see a bit more.  In any event, we are sure more will be forthcoming if the project moves forward. And maybe some news about whether the height will be allowed.

Transportation – Another Ferry Idea

The last few weeks, the Mayor of St. Pete has been proposing to use some of the money that St. Pete received in the BP settlement for a ferry between downtown St. Pete and downtown Tampa.

Mayor Rick Kriseman’s proposal for a ferry service between St. Petersburg and Tampa has won praise in some circles.

That he plans to put $350,000 from the city’s $6.5 million in BP oil spill settlement money toward his vision has also brought harsh criticism.

And that sum is just seed money for a plan that could require as much as $1 million before the first ferry pushes off from the docks.

“It is a contingent investment, and it represents the city’s contribution to a pilot program,” Kriseman said in a memo. “If the other participants do not provide their share of the investment, the city will not either.”

First, note that he is just saying that St. Pete will put up some money if others do to, which is a big if (especially given how long it is taking for Hillsborough County to decide about the previously proposed ferry there).  Nevertheless, it is an interesting idea.

Former Hillsborough County Commissioner Ed Turanchik said he has talked with Kriseman about how a ferry service could work. Turanchik recently proposed a ferry project to Hillsborough County officials that would link MacDill Air Force Base and south Hillsborough County, and also include a Tampa-to-St. Petersburg leg.

The service proposed by Kriseman is “entirely feasible, but it will take a certain amount of regional corporation from a facilities and funding perspective,” Turanchik said. He estimated that it would cost at least $1 million to get the service running and to operate it for the first six months.

“But that’s total costs before revenues come in and the revenue would offset those costs,” he said. “It is unlikely to be profitable, but it will be a pretty cool tool for our tourism and a fun thing for our residents.”

We understand it will not be profitable, just like roads (if they were profitable, we would not need impact fees or referenda to fix them).  There is a question of just how unprofitable it would be and what development it would create.  That is not known, but is important.

And then there is this:

Others, like David Downing, executive director of Visit St. Pete-Clearwater, said the ferry service is just what the area needs. Such a plan is simply good for business, he said.

“Two of the fastest-growing segments of our tourism demographics are international visitors and millennials. They consider it a failure if a destination doesn’t offer robust transit options,” he said.

“So anything a city can do to offer transportation alternatives on any front — by rail or sea, even a bike-share program — would provide them with a marketing advantage, if their objective is to draw visitors.”

We like transit.  We have nothing against a ferry.  However, the one thing that the streetcar in Tampa has shown is that if tourism is the planned basis for the project, you probably should not do it.  That is not to say that tourism would not benefit from it.  It would, and that is fine.  However, if your real motivation for a transit project is tourism rather than serving residents (and business travelers), do not do it.  To succeed, transit needs to serve residents and workers.  That is really the only way to get enough people to use it on a consistent basis.

So it is an interesting idea, but definitely needs more study. Not to mention actual discussion in Tampa, where there has been silence.

International Trade/Economic Development – The County Leads Tampa

While the Tampa administration has been decidedly lukewarm on the idea of a Cuban consulate in Tampa, apparently the County is not.

During Wednesday’s meeting, County Commissioner Les Miller said Hillsborough is the most logical home, even more than heavily Cuban Miami.

“Miami is a Johnny-come-lately to Tampa and Hillsborough County,” Miller said.

He talked about the strong Cuban influences he grew up with in Ybor City.

“I remember the heyday when people from Tampa and Hillsborough County went to Cuba on the weekends to have a good time,” Miller said.

The board acknowledged that the island nation still has issues to resolve, but was receptive to the argument made by Bob Rohrlack, president and CEO of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, that the county should get ahead of what is happening in Washington, D.C.

“We need to be proactive about what is coming down the road,” Rohrlack said. “We have the infrastructure already in place — a top-ranked airport and a top-ranked seaport.”

* * *

The board voted 5-0 to draft a resolution in support of the consulate. Commissioners Al Higginbotham and Ken Hagan were in Toronto on a business trip. Commission chairwoman Sandy Murman said the board has been anticipating this issue and the resolution should be ready soon.

It is rare that the County Commission gets out ahead on an issue, but this is apparently one of those cases.  And apparently they did not need permission from anyone to actually promote Tampa and Hillsborough County.

Rays – A Little Bit of Truth

Three was an excellent column in the Tribune regarding the whole Rays saga.

We’ve been talking about this issue for five years or so, and the only progress so far has been … um, none. Last December, council members voted down the only solid proposal in front of them to let the Rays look around the entire market for a new home. Since then, crickets.

So why the rush now?

There’s an election on Nov. 3, that’s why.

Chairman Charlie Gerdes started the party with an idea he said could break the impasse between the Rays and the city. It’s probably a coincidence (wink-wink) that Gerdes is running for re-election. Then Councilman Jim Kennedy chimed in with his version, even though he isn’t running for a couple of more years.

Both plans involve the Rays paying a lot more money than they will ever agree to if they want to move out of Tropicana Field in downtown St. Pete.

In other words, the plans are not really serious, which is not surprising.

So let’s just skip the theatrics. We’ve waited this long for consensus on a stadium solution. Everyone can wait a couple of weeks until after the elections so we will know who is on the council and what the chances are of actual serious negotiations.

When that hour comes, hopefully the city is finally prepared to accept an uncomfortable truth. Major League Baseball doesn’t work in downtown St. Petersburg, and it never will.

Council members can talk about exorbitant exit fees all they want. They can wave the lease that binds the team to the Trop until 2027, too. A better strategy would be to deal in reality.

The Rays were last in attendance out of MLB’s 30 franchises for the last four seasons. They were next-to-last in 2011.

This season, they averaged nearly 2,500 fewer fans per game than Cleveland, the 29th-place team.

Normally you get those kind of numbers when a franchise is dreadful, but the Rays put a good product on the field. Over the last five years, their record was 430-381, with two playoff appearances. Their television ratings have been strong throughout.

So what’s the problem?

The location in St. Petersburg is the problem. It always has been.

Which is something that St. Pete has just not been willing to accept, but facts are facts.

The council, however, continues to insist the Rays belong solely to St. Pete. That’s no way to treat a partner who helped pay for the stadium.

You expect a large amount of posturing in any deal of this size, of course. What St. Pete doesn’t understand is how its grip on the Rays loosens every time a year passes without a deal. It’s time to get serious.

Actually, it’s way past that time.

Based on what we’ve seen so far, though, we can wait a couple of more weeks.

That is true.  The last mayor wasted his term playing games.  The present mayor tried to get a deal only to have the City council play games, like approving a more expensive deal than the Mayor’s and one which the Rays have basically already rejected – as though somehow St. Pete’s leverage is increases rather than decreasing every day.   Maybe a new City Council will do something.  Maybe not.  Only time, hopefully a short amount of time, will tell.

How to Really Do Bike Lanes

URBN Tampa Bay found a really interesting piece about how to actually do a bike lane, so we thought we would also reference it, especially since the bike lanes in the area are either just a bike painted in the middle of a road with a “share the road” sign, just a stripe on a road that no one in their right mind would ever bike on (because traffic is too fast and people cut into the lanes all the time) or are the slightly better but still not very good lanes like on Platt or Cleveland, which are not protected (in fact they invite cars into the lane to get to parking spaces or turn left).

Riding through a city on a bike lane that’s separated from cars feels great. But when you roll up to a light, the infrastructure often vanishes, leaving you feeling vulnerable as you cross busy lanes of traffic. Now a new type of intersection might keep cyclists safer and more visible. And it was created by a designer who used to make video games.

The US’s first “protected intersection” opened this month on a busy corner in Salt Lake City. With only a few modifications to the traditional car-centered intersection, it keeps cyclists completely separated from vehicular traffic, makes them easier to see, and even gives them a head start at the light.

Here is a video showing the plan.

You can go to the article here for a fuller discussion.  If we are going to spend the money to actually help people bike, let’s do it right.

A Look at Real Transit Oriented Development

In almost every article regarding MetroRapid there is a comment on transit oriented development.  Needless to say, because it is just a better bus, MetroRapid has created basically none.  For real transit oriented development to occur, you need a commitment to a specific transit line over a long period of time to get people to commit their money to a development (makes sense).  Proponents of most almost-BRT or things like Metro Rapid say their idea is better specifically because it does just the opposite – it can be moved easily. (Some, actually pretty much all, BRT proponents use the example of Cleveland’s Healthline BRT, but anyone who has ridden the Healthline knows that much of the development counted in studies is either downtown or  Cleveland Clinic and University Circle development that has pretty much nothing to do with the Healthline – and note that there is a rail stop near University Circle.) But what does transit oriented development really look like?

Well, here are a few examples.  First, from Bethesda, MD (see article here)


From Bethesda Magazine – click on picture for article


From Bethesda Magazine – click on picture for article

And for even more detail, a couple or article from LA showing how areas have been transformed by TID.  See here  and here.

When you look at all these pictures, what you see is that there is nothing magical about the areas.  They were very much like most of our area.  It was the investment in proper transit that led to private investment that improved the areas greatly (and raised tax revenue).  It could easily happen here, even in suburban areas of Hillsborough. What you need is a commitment to real transit (not just a better bus) and proper planning.  There is no mystery.

List of the Week

This week, the lists are embedded in the items above.

Roundup 10-16-2015

October 16, 2015


Transportation – How to Please No One

West Tampa – Forwards and Backwards

Economic Development – New and Old

Transportation – Road Work

Ybor City – The City Tries Again

Transportation – A Little More PTC

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

— Latin American Gateway

— Destination Retail

List of the Week


Transportation – How to Please No One

There was an interesting article in the Times about how no one is happy with the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough affair.

Looks like advocates and opponents of Hillsborough County’s stalled transportation plan have finally found common ground:

They’re all furious. 

We are not really surprised.  The entire affair has been a process of equivocation rather than an expression of a vision.  But let’s look at the complaints.

Critics have questioned the Go Hillsborough initiative since Parsons Brinckerhoff was first brought on as a consulting firm last fall. While the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office investigates the selection of the firm, the opposition keeps hurling allegations that the process has been riddled with cronyism and back-door dealings.

Members of the Hillsborough County Tea Party say that even if the sheriff clears the county of any wrongdoing, that probably won’t assuage their growing list of concerns.

“I won’t be satisfied if that’s what happens,” said tea party activist Ken Roberts. “I don’t question (the sheriff’s) personal integrity … but these people all work for the county, and I think it calls into question their ability to render an unbiased opinion.”

The reality is that, regardless of the process of the awarding the contract, some people just do not want any improvement to transportation and will not be happy until any move to do so (other than maybe do a little road paving) just goes away – and they are not really hiding that fact.

Criticism levied at Go Hillsborough started almost immediately after the initiative was announced last fall. The plan was to conduct public outreach meetings to measure support for a sales tax that could fund transportation improvements and identify specific projects.

Tea party members and anti-rail activists, many of whom worked to defeat similar referendums in Hillsborough in 2010 and in Pinellas in 2014, called into question the legality of the Parsons contract and the integrity of the procurement process.

Hillsborough County Tea Party co-founder Sharon Calvert said the sheriff’s investigation is “a year too late.” Calvert and her allies have not been content with previous attempts by the county to answer their questions.

“I went to the county clerk and I got no satisfaction,” Roberts said. “Same with the county attorney. I got a self-serving investigation. What other recourse do I have?”

Calvert wants to see an investigation that goes back to at least 2011 and that examines all forms of communications, including texts; that scrutinizes the entire Competitive Consultants Negotiations Act, the Florida statute used to select Parsons; that reviews the decision to have the sheriff lead the inquiry instead of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement; and that accounts for every cent of spending during the process.

Even then, Calvert said, she isn’t sure if an independent investigation would satisfy her. “I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t know what would be enough.”

There is reason to criticize the outreach because the County should be able to do it and should have done it at the beginning of the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough process, but that is not what they are complaining about.  While they may talk about the process of awarding the consulting contract, no matter how good the investigation, it won’t matter because the issue for some is not the contract – that is an excuse – but rather the entire idea of fixing transportation.  Of course, those people are entirely within their rights to hold that position, but the awarding of the contract – right or wrong – is not the issue.  They just want to kill any changes, and the fact that no investigation will satisfy them is an indication of that. The County Commissioners who try to satisfy these critics are on a fool’s errand.  You cannot really do anything about transportation (especially a synchronized, coordinated system involving rail and proper planning) and satisfy these critics.  They are never going to support it.

Then there is the other side:

Supporters of a transportation sales tax focused their ire on the Hillsborough County Commission itself. Connect Tampa Bay executive director Kevin Thurman, a transit advocate, said it’s time for commissioners to stop playing defense and to show some leadership in addressing the county’s transportation needs.

“Commissioners need to take responsibility for going out to the public and explaining that nothing has gone wrong,” Thurman said, “and this plan will make their lives better.”

Well, the Commissioners do need to show leadership, though it is hard to say nothing has gone wrong.  The process has been too drawn out.  There has been more equivocation and fear than progress.  The proposals for proposals keep changing.  The Commissioners keep changing their mind about whether to do anything real or not. Different agencies seem to keep moving on their own rather than coordinating through a central process. Half cent?  Full cent? And, on top of that, the Commissioners walked right into the main strategy of opponents of fixing transportation – namely making everything look like insider politics.  Frankly, it would be hard to have a more ham-fisted process.


Others, like Tampa Bay Sierra Club chairman Kent Bailey, aren’t concerned with the allegations that have dominated the transportation conversation. Instead, the environmental activist would like to see the focus return to the plan itself.

That’s because after three years of planning and four weeks of controversy, Hillsborough County has yet to finalize a transportation plan to show voters. That plan is due to be made public on Nov. 5.

“It’s really disappointing to see Go Hillsborough running into such extreme difficulty,” Bailey said. “Our primary concern is with the product of the process.”

Exactly, which is the real point.  No matter how sloppy the process, it is still possible to have a good proposal. Unfortunately, as of now, the potential plan does not seem very good.  What has been put out publicly, though not the final plan, does not look like a real plan to fix transportation nor saving money.  You cannot really split the baby.  Either you ask for money for a real fix or do not ask for money.

County Administrator Mike Merrill said part of the problem stems from the ease with which opponents can organize, while backers — who range from homeowner associations to chambers of commerce to concerned citizens — lack a unified voice.

“What they really need to do is let commissioners know that this is very important to them,” Merrill said. “Because, mostly, all the board is hearing from mostly is this small band of folks that have been hammering away.”

First, it is unclear what a unified voice would be supporting.  The Commissioners themselves seem to have no political will to really fix anything and have not really presented a vision.  Second, there are many voices calling for fixes.  There is a small group that just wants to say no.  It is disingenuous to say that a lack of voice is the reason for the Commissioners’ equivocation.  (Unfortunately, the appearance is that many Commissioners are more concerned about a primary challenge than fixing transportation and moving this area forward.  Maybe, that is not accurate, but it is certainly how it appears.)

The bottom line is that if they want to rally support, the Commissioners have to give people something to rally around.  Right now, there is a giant muddle made worse by a bad decision (not necessarily illegal but politically problematic) on the consulting contract.  The Commission has to provide clarity, vision, and will.  Without out that, they will get little support.  And that has been the problem from the beginning.

And it is just another reason to look at the CSX lines.

West Tampa – Forwards and Backwards

This week the City rolled out a revised master plan for West Tampa/West River/North Boulevard Homes – it is really hard to know what to call places with all the rebranding, but so be it.  Here is the focus of the news coverage:

After a three-year partnership, The Tampa Housing Authority quietly parted ways with the lead consultant for its signature West River development and hired another firm to radically overhaul the design.

The authority hired St. Louis firm McCormack Baron Salazar in 2012 on a $350,000 contract to do initial planning for the $300 million commercial and residential development, viewed by city of Tampa leaders as the lynchpin for the revitalization of the area west of the Hillsborough River.

But after unveiling the plan in draft form last year, housing authority officials decided the firm’s ideas for the 120-acre site are too suburban and not suited for the urban boom in Tampa’s downtown.

The authority is now paying an additional $280,000 for a new consultant team to redo much of the master plan. Residents this week got a first look at a new plan that includes the addition of 800 more residential units above the 1,600 originally planned. The new plan will feature larger multi-family homes with built-in parking. 

We are all for making the development denser (though it is still not dense enough, see “Master Planning – Something in the West River” ).  We are glad they are moving away from a suburban design for the housing authority land.  That is good.

On the other hand the Housing Authority could easily have known (should have known) in 2012 that the consultant they hired was not probably not going to deliver a good plan. (See “West Tampa – A Cause for Concern”).  It is one more example of how local government wastes time and money on consultants – not because the cause is bad but because local officials seem to need a consultant report to validate every idea and often chase consultant’s reputations or local connections rather than quality.  And, while more units and urban are better, but we hope they do not look as horrible as this (with its awful surface parking) which is not urban at all:

From WTSP – click on picture for article

Moving on to the bigger picture, we looked at the nice maps in the revised plan, which you can find here.   Some of you may remember that the City is spending millions to redo the streets in the southern part of downtown to create a real grid for the Lightning owner’s project (see here and here) – partially because grids promote walkability and proper urban development, which you would think would be part of the goal for the “West River.”

Well, this was the revised plan map for the “West River” area:

From Revised West River Plan – click on picture for document

and this is the old one:

From the InVision Tampa document – click on picture for website

If you notice down at the bottom, the grid is maintained.  However, toward the north end the streets become wavy roads which terminate oddly.  It is bad design.  It does not draw people to the river.  It does not create a neighborhood, smooth flow of people and traffic, interaction or basically anything else but bad roads.  It also cuts much of the neighborhood to the west off from the river – or at least the houses on the river since the City allowed private development up the river (especially because almost no roads line up to get to the river). And the market on the river, which used to be around a plaza at the end of a road which opened up the river to the neighborhood, is off center, for no apparent reason, and blocking view corridors.

We are not really sure how that change happened (maybe just to appeal more to developers with big lots; while you need developers, let them design for the neighborhood we want not the other way around). It is just bad – as though the City learned nothing. Frankly, it is just bizarre and, hopefully, like the Housing Authority idea, will be made better.

Economic Development – New and Old

There was much coverage last week about the Tampa Bay Partnership picking a new CEO.

After an 11-month national search to find a new economic development leader to run the Tampa Bay Partnership, the best choice turns out to be right here.

Rick Homans, who has led the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. for nearly four years, on Monday was named the new CEO of the Tampa Bay Partnership, this metro area’s sole regional business economic development group.

Well, the choice is right here.  Whether it pans out in the best choice will be seen by results not anything said now.

His mission: to rejuvenate a 20-plus year organization with a strong history, but one that over time may have spread itself too wide and too thin. Homans wants to elevate the group’s role as a primary engine in efforts to raise this area’s regional economic bar.

Homans arrived in 2012 in Tampa after a six-plus-year stint in New Mexico as the state’s economic development director and, briefly, head of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority. He excelled as CEO of the Tampa Hillsborough EDC, which helped recruit to the city and county a formidable string of corporate and job expansions from the likes of Johnson & Johnson, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Amazon and Ashley Furniture, among others. Plenty more apparently are expected to soon be announced.

Hopefully, there are more forthcoming (and, once again, an Amazon warehouse, while providing jobs – which is good – is not really that big a deal for really changing the economy.  The fact it keeps popping up is not a reflection of the new CEO but it is a reflection of how economic development is considered here.)

In an interview, Homans, 59, said he is excited about his new role as head of the Tampa Bay Partnership because its regional emphasis offers broader opportunities to help unite the bay area. The group’s plan to become more politically active, with a political action committee and by working closely with the so-called Bay Area Legislative Delegation, presents a fresh challenge to bring together area business and elected leaders, Homans said.

Why shift from one economic development group to another in the same metro area?

Homans said he was struck by an Oct. 4 Tampa Bay Times editorial headlined “Failure to lead in Tampa Bay” that was critical of an overall weakness in regional political leadership in solving problems in area schools, police tactics and even dealing with the future of the Tampa Bay Rays.

“In many ways, Tampa Bay is on a roll in spite of the political leadership rather than because of it,” the Times editorial stated.

“That was very profound and very much on target,” Homans said. “There is a giant vacuum in Tampa Bay when it comes to uniting the business and political leadership in an effective way. I think that is the calling of the partnership.”

And that is definitely true.  Of course, the first step is to get the political officials on the same page with each other, which was an issue at the EDC just over a year ago. (see here and here)

Finding Tampa Bay’s one voice has proved elusive over the decades. But clearly there is a growing appreciation here — at least in theory — that metro areas able to speak as one, and sometimes also with one larger checkbook, can promote a common purpose and compete more effectively than individual counties or cities that try to go it alone.

Indeed, in theory.  In fact, what is appreciated is usually quite different – even within counties.  Hopefully, that can change.  While it is rare that simply rearranging the chairs causes real change, it can happen.  We hope it does.  As for political advocacy:

“Pasco, Hillsborough, Pinellas individually cannot compete with the Charlotte, Raleigh, New York, Boston and Chicago areas but as a region we can compete and win,” Sen. John Legg told the TBBJ last month.

The move to advocacy has raised questions from other economic development leaders about whether the efforts would be redundant or even competitive with organizations like the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce or the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Florida, among others. Those organizations have been honing political action chops for several years now. There are issues large enough to support eight counties coming together, Lamb said, and it’s naive to suggest the partnership’s pivot to advocacy is redundant with established efforts by organizations like the Tampa Chamber.

The partnership formed a political action committee to support the initiative but has yet to fund it.

Acting regionally would sure help – though it does not seem that even the legislative delegation can really get together on anything other than maybe TBX, which has never been vetted for any popular support.  But, as we said, maybe that can change and maybe things will actually improve.


Homans believes the Partnership can combine forces with Orlando as regional partners or collaborate with the Florida Chamber of Commerce to bring the Tampa Bay business community to the table as part of larger efforts in Tallahassee or Washington, D.C.

First, we suggest studying Orlando which, in terms of regional power and unity, is eating our lunch.  We have nothing against partnering with Orlando as long as we make sure they do not lead and we follow on everything, which is how it usually works.  Consequently, we should probably get our act together before we partner with them.

So, as with many other things, there is hope (but not really excitement).  Once again, the real proof comes long after all the announcements and nice articles when we actually get results.  We shall see.

Transportation – Road Work

There was an interesting article in the Tribune this week on Tampa’s roads.

Many of the city’s roads are in poor condition, not inspected often enough and the city lacks a fair way of ensuring that urgent repairs are done in neighborhoods that need them most.

That was the conclusion of a new internal audit of the city’s pavement management program, which also found that an asphalt paving machine that cost taxpayers about $541,000 was in use less than half of available work hours.

The report gave the city’s roads a rating of 47 out of 100 and finds that only 9 percent of the city’s 2,800 paved miles of street had been inspected in the past three years, a frequency regarded as the best practice. Most road sections have not been inspected for six to nine years, the audit says.

Lax record keeping also led auditors to conclude they could not verify that officials had followed city rules in choosing which roads got fixed.

“Without an objective pavement management plan, roads needing rehabilitation may deteriorate to a point where full reconstruction is required,” the audit stated.

The report covers a 12-month period through the end of September 2014. That is just one month after Mayor Bob Buckhorn announced he was merging transportation and stormwater departments to improve service and coordination between the city offices doing the most street work.

Anecdotally, yes, the roads, especially outside South Tampa, are not very good. What is the City’s response?

Since then, many of the issues identified in the report have been addressed, said Jean Duncan, director of transportation and stormwater services.

Duncan said the audit’s rating of road conditions was inaccurately low because of the lack of inspections. In the past year, all city roads have been inspected and an inspection schedule was adopted that takes account of how much traffic each road carries. Practices have been put in place to improve record keeping too, Duncan said.

“It’s obvious we didn’t have the best documentation, which the audit clearly showed,” Duncan said. “We certainly have it in place now. We have a better explanation for how we’re spending our dollars.”

* * *

Road resurfacing is likely to take a back seat to work on intersection safety in 2016.

After allocating $12.4 million for road repairs in 2015, the city has allocated just $5 million for 2016. The money comes from about $10 million the city collects in gas taxes.

So everything has been fixed, except maybe the roads.  If the process is fixed, fine.  It will take times to fix the roads.  There is a lot of work going on in South Tampa.  Maybe some day that will get to other parts of the City where most of the people actually live.

Ybor City – The City Tries Again

It was reported that the City is trying once again to off load property in Ybor.

After nearly two years of trying, City Hall appears to have a buyer with a big plan for a high-profile corner in Ybor City.

The City Council next week is expected to consider a contract to sell a third of a block at E Seventh Avenue and Nick Nuccio Parkway for $792,000.

The buyer is a partnership between homebuilder Ariel Quintela and Darryl Shaw, the CEO of BluePearl Veterinary, a Tampa-based company with emergency animal hospitals and specialty veterinary clinics in 17 states.

Quintela and Shaw plan a $19.6 million project with 100 apartments, 8,000 square feet of retail space and an underground parking garage with about 100 spaces.

* * *

That won’t be possible with the new project, McDonaugh said. The sales contract includes a no-assignment clause that would prevent the buyers from flipping the property after they buy it from the city, he said.

The contract also includes a provision that if the buyers don’t start construction within a year, then the city can buy the property back for the negotiated purchase price.

From the Times – click on picture for article

First, one of these investors has a number of investments in Ybor (a sign that the City does not need to sell the land), which is good.  Second, the initial roll out of the project presents something that looks pretty good. (though we reserve judgment). We also like the buy back provision.

There are just a couple of odd things: 1) the council vote is just a week after the potential sale is announced which provides almost no time to think about it (and once again gives the impression that everything happens in a black box) and 2) there still is no explanation of why the City should sell the land.  (As URBN Tampa Bay notes, there are other large projects slated for the west side of Ybor.   Clearly, there is a demand to develop private property.)

In the event, after all the excitement over the Altis Grand Central, normal service was resumed at City Hall:

Without discussion, the City Council approved the sale of a third of a block at the western gateway to the historic district for $792,000 — a price that’s midway between two appraisals commissioned by the city.

If it is such a good lot, maybe they should have asked for more

So, yes, it looks like a decent project that will add to the west side of Ybor.  Our major reservation at this point is that there are other sites on 7th Avenue on the west side of Ybor (the old Blue Ribbon site) that could be developed while leaving City land for a future public use.  We still do not understand the rush to get rid of public land (and avoid any discussion of it), especially when there is no need to do so.

Transportation – A Little More PTC

There was a rather amusing article about the PTC this week in the Times.   We are not going to cover it extensively but will note this.  The article discusses how some cab companies are not happy that the PTC is no longer ticketing rideshare drivers and various other silly things the PTC did.  This is a PTC board member’s explanation:

Taking a step back from legal fights and issuing citations could build more support for the agency in Tallahassee, said Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham.

“This was heading toward a public relations nightmare,” he said. “We then run a greater risk of failing in Tallahassee and possibly this agency being dissolved, and that puts this industry and public in even greater peril.”

Yes, it was a public relations disaster because it is horrible policy.  On the other hand, no one is in greater peril without the PTC.  Everywhere else survives fine without an added, silly layer of bureaucracy.  It is just old Florida at its worst.  It really needs to go.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

— Latin American Gateway

This week, Delta announced some flight changes at Orlando:

DELTA from 21FEB16 is increasing operational frequencies on Orlando – Sao Paulo route, as it plans to operate this route on daily basis, instead of 4 times a week. Reservation for the new flights opened this past weekend.

Orlando already has flights to Brazil, as well as flights to a number of other Latin American cities. Meanwhile, we noticed that the Copa flights to Tampa are now using an Embraer jet rather than a 737.  The new jet is smaller.  We are not sure why.

We know the airport staff is working hard (and that passenger counts are going up, especially international passengers), so it is not a question there.  However, regardless of the rhetoric, the quest to be “the” gateway to Latin America does not seem to be where it should be.

— Destination Retail

Speaking of hype, time to revisit Bass Pro Shops and the money the County gave for “destination retail.” (We are not going to replay the entire debate and all the silly things about what great economic development it would be.) The Brandon store, right off I-75 recently opened, which is fine.  What was not really covered was this, far down in an article about the new mall in Sarasota from the Times last week:

Benderson owns a slew of retail power centers all around the mall. With anchoring brands like Home Depot, Fresh Market, SuperTarget and BJ’s Wholesale, the retail corridor there looks a lot like the bustling Mall at Millennia community and tourist shopping destination in Orlando.

And more retail is coming, Chait said. Benderson hopes to add more shopping centers and a movie theater soon. Bass Pro Shops says it’s going to open a store near the highway one exit away.

More specifically:

SARASOTA, Fla. –  Bass Pro Shops, an outdoor retailer specializing in hunting, fishing, camping and other related outdoor gear, is proud to announce plans for a new store in Sarasota County, Florida.  The Bass Pro Shops retail attraction will be located on the northeast quadrant of Interstate 75 and Fruitville Road.  The new 80,000-square-foot Bass Pro Shops Outpost store will be the primary anchor for the new 260,000-square-foot, planned mixed-use Fruitville Commons development.

Ok, so it is smaller than the one in Brandon, but it is only 45 minutes away (per google maps).  This was entirely predictable when the Bass Pro vote was taken.  Once again, we have nothing against bass Pro Shops.  We do have something against giving them limited County funds.  Now, as with the “West River” swerve-fest, the real question is whether anyone has learned anything?

List of the Week

Our list this week was already noted in the Business Journal.  It is Wallethub’s 2015’s Best and Worst Foodie Cities for Your Wallet (though we are not completely sure what that means).  You can see the methodology here.

The Business Journal covered the list like this:The food scene in the Tampa Bay area has been growing and evolving for years, and according to a recent WalletHub analysis, Tampa is one of the most affordable “foodie” scenes in the country.

Factoring in 18 metrics including cost of groceries, number of restaurants per capita, craft breweries and more, Tampa ranked No. 8 on the WalletHub list.

Ok.  So the other cities in the top 10 must be other smaller foodie markets, right? The top 10 are: Portland, Orlando, San Francisco, Oakland, Seattle, Cincinnati, Santa Rosa (CA), Tampa, Rochester (NY), and Miami.

That is a number of Florida cities in the top 10.  Why is that?  Looking at the methodology, first, prices are probably lower in Florida.  Second, there are a lot of restaurants (especially with the tourists to serve), which is a heavily weighted category.  Strangely, the methodology for a “foodie” list that does not distinguish between chains and unique, interesting restaurants, but there it is.  The same is true for coffee shops, ice cream/yogurt shops, grocery stores, etc.

In any event, it is nice that we have a growing foodie scene – especially what has developed organically in Seminole Heights.  It may be very decently priced.  We look forward to it developing into a real destination.


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