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Roundup 12-7-2018

December 6, 2018

Contents

Transportation – All Over the Place

— Referendum Lawsuit

— Howard Frankland

— Playing Nice With Others

— Have Your Say

— Ferry

— Brightline

Port – Finally

Airport – Diversifying

Tampa Heights – Not Good Enough

Channel District – Elevé 61

Rays – Money Talk

Downtown – Bank It

Ybor City – Diversifying

Housing – A Follow Up

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

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Transportation – All Over the Place


— Referendum Lawsuit

In what should not surprise anyone, someone has sued over the transportation referendum.

A Hillsborough County commissioner will try to prevent the county from implementing a one-penny transportation sales tax, approved by voters in November, based on a claim the independent citizen committee overseeing the $9 billion investment usurps elected county commissioners and therefore violates state law.

Commissioner Stacy White confirmed to 10Investigates he intends to file the suit Tuesday, seeking a declaration from the courts as to whether the county should proceed with implementing the tax on Jan. 1. Hillsborough voters approved the 30-year, one-cent increase in the county’s sales tax by a 57-43 margin on Nov. 6.

* * *

. . .White said the citizen oversight committee, created by the referendum and appointed by local elected officials, would not be directly accountable to taxpayers and could actually veto funding for certain transportation projects approved by county commissioners. The county commission appoints four of the 15 members.

He says the citizen oversight committee conflicts with state statute Florida state statute 212.055(1), which gives county commissioners the power to allocate sales surcharge tax revenues. He is seeking clarity from the courts as to whether the county would be violating state law by complying with the charter amendment.

The statute can be found here.  You can find the lawsuit by searching here using “Hillsborough County” as the business name and for after December 3, 2018.

We prefer to avoid commenting about the specific substance of lawsuits and, as we have said before, regarding the referendum, we are even more reluctant to comment on legal issues. So we will briefly comment on the politics.

What did the Commissioner say about the suit?

“This is a fundamental governance issue,” said White, the commission’s most conservative member, representing the eastern and southern sides of the county. “This is about the little guy in Hillsborough County, because what we’ve seen with this referendum is perhaps a select few attempting an end-around (past) the people’s duly-elected officials.”

That may be what he thinks (or it may not)  Regardless, it is weak.  First, given that there was a county-wide vote, even if a “select few” came up with the idea (an arguable point, but whatever), the approval of the referendum was not done by a select few.  While it is true that the referendum was not initiated by elected officials, it is only because the elected officials did not do what the majority of voters wanted, and the referendum process is a democratic process created for just such a purpose.  Moreover, regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit, it is not about the “little guy” (kind of like the outgoing Commission did not act for the “little guy” when it ignored what the Commissioner in question said his constituents wanted regarding Mosaic).  It is about the allocation of power among politicians. (If the “little guy” is the concern, supporters of the lawsuit would oppose variable rate express lanes that intentionally price the “little guy” out.)

But setting that aside, in many contexts, the Commissioner in question often makes points we agree with (including the Mosaic issue), for instance this from an article on the need for more fire departments:

It’s one of many ways that the county’s growth isn’t paying for the cost of providing services to new residents and businesses moving and starting here, White said.

The remedy, White said, is finding ways to curb sprawl and encourage more sustainable land use — a frequent plea of his.

White noted that the county meets its goal for response time in rural areas more often than in the suburbs and urban corridors.

“When we grow, it’s supposed to increase our tax base and we’re supposed to be able to do more things, and people argue with growth comes enhanced quality of life,” White said. “But it would almost appear … there’s an adverse quality of life in urban areas.”

While we do not have the figures in front of us, we don’t doubt the possibility that response times are lower in rural areas, especially given the poor planning and lack of proper investment by the County in built up areas.  And we have no argument with his favoring a rural lifestyle.  In fact, we want to preserve that lifestyle, too.  People should have choices in how they want to live.  Of course, up until now, the County has not really provided choices – it has worked to create a specific model of car-centric sprawl and subsidized it.

Proper urban (and suburban) development (including infill) in an enforced urban service area is the best way to avoid sprawl and preserve rural areas.  And a good way to promote proper development in urban (and suburban) areas is to provide proper transportation options and amenities giving people options aside from sprawl.

Of course, if you want something you have to pay for it, including protection from sprawl in a growing metropolitan area.  The referendum is a way to pay for it.  And, as the Commissioner has at least tacitly acknowledged, the urban (and suburban) areas need the investment, so that is where the Commission should focus.

The bottom line is that the Commissioner has a right to file a lawsuit if he wants.  However, that is not the end of the story.  And, while the lawsuit may be filed, the Referendum has passed.  Until we are told otherwise by a competent authority, it is part of the County Charter.  And until told otherwise by a competent authority, the Commission should follow it (as it seems most members want to do.) and take the necessary steps to implement it.

There is a lot more that could be said, but we will leave it at that for now.


— Howard Frankland

The Times had an article about the half-fixes (literally) of the Howard Frankland bottleneck.

The bottleneck driving north on the Howard Frankland Bridge is one of the most frustrating and rage-inducing in Tampa Bay.

The interstate drops from four lanes to two at the West Shore interchange, causing backups that can span the length of the bridge. The traffic leads to missed flights, late work arrivals and profanity-laced rants.

But state officials say it’s about to get better — just give them two years.

The Florida Department of Transportation will start construction in about six months on additional lanes that officials say will bring relief.

More specifically

A third through lane will help those continuing on the interstate toward downtown Tampa, while additional lanes on parts of the exit ramp should improve the ride for drivers getting off at Kennedy Boulevard and those heading left toward the airport or the Veterans Expressway. The lanes should be open to drivers in late 2020, officials said.

“It will help those people immediately once it’s done,” said Richard Moss, the department’s director of transportation development.

The extra lane on the interstate, which will be added in each direction, will increase capacity 50 percent. The change should bring “pretty substantial improvement,” district transportation secretary David Gwynn said.

Setting aside that, as we have noted a number of times, there will still be a bottleneck (4 lanes to 3 is still a bottleneck), it raises an interesting point.  If adding one free lane will bring “pretty substantial improvement,” wouldn’t adding another (4th) free lane bring so much more relief? (They could even add two free lanes, rather than the planned two variable rate toll (“express”) lanes? FDOT says the express lanes may be express lanes, but we have no reason to think that will happen.)

There are a couple of possible answers.  One is “yes,” free lanes would be just fine.  There is no reason to punish residents by forcing most of them to inadequate free lanes while really only focusing on building variable rate toll lanes most drivers really cannot afford.

Another possible answer is that free lanes (or all lanes) induce demand, so that the more lanes you build, the more traffic you create and, after a possible short period of relief, the road will become congested again.  We are not going to get into the large number of studies that have found this.  The entire theory of variable rate toll lanes – to charge people so much that many people will not use them – is tacit acknowledgement of induced demand: if new lanes will not become congested, there is no need to charge excessive tolls to keep people out of them. (Of course, variable rate toll lanes are not a solution to congestion, just a way for those who can afford it to try to buy their way out of it, sometimes.)

It is not that we don’t think the bottleneck should be fixed.  It should be – really fixed.  There is no excuse for it, especially when FDOT fixed the bottleneck on the other side of the bridge years ago.  But we do not buy that variable rate toll lanes are a solution to congestion. (Frankly, we do not think fixing the bottleneck will eliminate congestion.  It will make it better, at least for a while, but it will not eliminate it.)  What we really need is more options not involving vehicles on the interstate.


— Playing Nice With Others

Speaking of FDOT, it has gotten a lot of bad press in recent years for trying to essentially impose plans without regard for the opinion of local residents.  Much of that is well deserved.  This week, the Times had an article about FDOT’s efforts to address that.

The Florida Department of Transportation has an image problem, and new hires within the agency are trying to fix it.

For years, the department was known for its antagonistic relationship with the public, which peaked with the Tampa Bay Express highway expansion. That project was quashed after a public outcry, and multiple leaders were replaced. Now, the agency is trying to move forward and rebuild trust in the community.

A new district secretary who is viewed as more open helps. So do events like a listening tour the state organized in West Tampa on Friday. Department heads and engineers boarded a bus with community members in hopes of developing relationships and learning more about the neighborhood.

Those steps are positive.

“This was an agency that came to us with a prepackaged solution and no real room for discussion,” said Rick Fernandez, president of the Tampa Heights Civic Association. “We were little more than an afterthought in a grander scheme.”

That’s changed in the past two years, Fernandez said. The state announced a “reset” of Tampa Bay Express and in 2017 rebranded its efforts in the area as “Tampa Bay Next.” The new name came with more than half-dozen staff changes, including the arrival of district secretary David Gwynn, who took over in July 2017.

“They do seem genuinely interested in trying to listen,” said Tampa Bay Express opponent Kimberly Overman, who was recently elected to the Hillsborough County Commission. “Which is light-years away from the FDOT we used to know.”

The article then gets into some details of a bus tour of West Tampa, followed by some comments:

“A lot of the times we’re looking at aerials, but then you get down here and see and hear the history of it,” Gwynn said. “As we get closer with some of these concepts, it might be good for us to come out again and talk a little more.”

Yes, it is good to know the area where you are planning projects.

In 2016, members of the county’s transportation planning group requested the state do more to engage the public. But those meetings, too, had a tone of dismissal. When people made suggestions that didn’t fit the state’s already crafted plan, they were told those ideas would go in “the parking lot.”

We acknowledge that there has been some effort, but

The state agency has made strides since the Tampa Bay Express backlash, but some are worried it could turn at any point.

Fernandez said each morning he wakes up, he’s still afraid a Google Alert will notify him of some change in the department that hurts the community.

“As of late, it seems as though we’ve kind of gone back to, ‘Here are the white boards of what we’re going to do. Take your choice,'” Overman said. “It’s not as much of a conversation.”

Some in the community will always be skeptical of the state’s intentions and willingness to work with the public, Overman said. Still, she believes officials have made a greater effort at transparency. She said she sees less aggression in how the state interacts with the public.

“There was a level of arrogance in the past that I think has either gone away or at least subsided,” she said. “There’s now at least a desire for greater collaboration with the communities.

We are happy that FDOT seems more open to outside input.  Of course, the really important thing is not bus tours or pleasant discussions (though those are important) but what is what actually planned.  So far, most (but not all) of the outreach we have seen is still far more FDOT telling people what is planned (which has not changed that much) and why people should like it rather than making plans people actually want.  That may be changing, and you have to start somewhere. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating, as they say. While style is important, it is trumped by substance. FDOT should be judged on their plans.


— Have Your Say

There is news about the streetcar expansion, from URBN Tampa Bay:

If you know people who may be interested in this, please share… There is a key meeting for the Tampa Streetcar extension coming up at Julian B Lane Park on Dec 12th.

This meeting will show a draft proposal of what the extension could look like when built, going into considerably greater detail than previous public events.

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

The extension ideas really deal with Tampa Heights.  Looking more broadly, while we are willing to consider the streetcar a (not optimal) possibility for extension to Westshore and the airport (mostly because our choices were more limited), we think it would be optimal is if the streetcar were modernized and expanded as a local, central Tampa service that was connected to a CSX track based system (that is extended to Westshore).  That would smoothly move people through the larger city and beyond while having a streetcar as a circulator for local, Central Tampa movement.  That is not to say the streetcar should not be modernized, expanded and sped up, but it would be inefficient to have everyone going through downtown to another destination to have to disembark and switch lines.

Go to the meeting.  Tell them what you think.

And, just so you know, with the streetcar going free, ridership was up 98% year on year in October (see pg 98 here)


— Ferry

The County Commission reversed the previous Commission’s last move on the MacDill-South County Ferry idea.

Less than one month after Hillsborough County commissioners scrapped a proposed MacDill passenger ferry project, the new Democratic majority commission has breathed new life into the project.

Commissioners voted 6-0 Wednesday to reverse a November decision that terminated the county’s public private partnership agreement with ferry company HMS Global Maritime and the South Swell development group.

The vote doesn’t guarantee the proposed service will be built between southern Hillsborough and MacDill Air Force Base, but it restarts the next step in the process: a $774,000 contract with a consultant to conduct a ridership survey and a study on where to build a ferry terminal. 

We are quite neutral on this.  The ferry idea is interesting, but the project has been languishing for years with seemingly no one gaining anything but the consultants and no one explaining why that is.  And it is unclear whether this ferry would ever serve more than just MacDill, which is a problem.  In any event, the past Commission should have left any decisions to the new one, so reversing that aspect makes sense.

Interestingly, this time the vote was unanimous because:

Republican Commissioner Sandy Murman, whose district includes the Schultz property, said she would reverse her November vote but still has substantial doubts the project is viable. The water agency’s demands and rising costs could mean the project will end up costing as much as $50 million, she said.

“I’m trying to look for the light at the end of the tunnel on this project,” she said.

Fellow Republican Commissioner Stacy White also reversed his vote but said he remains opposed to the Schultz preserve being used as a terminal, which would include large parking lots.

“There is a perception that a lame duck board took action and the other party didn’t get a fair hearing,” he said. “That was certainly not my intent.”

That perception exists because a lame duck board did take action without giving the new Commission the chance to discuss it, but the mistake has been corrected.  That does not change any of the issues with the project.  Now, the punting needs to stop, and there should be a full accounting and assessment of this idea.


— Brightline

Brightline is rebranding to Virgin Trains, but for clarity, at least for now, we will call it Brightline. For those who are interested, you can read their proposal document here.


Port – Finally

There was big news from the Port.

Port Tampa Bay is pleased to welcome COSCO Shipping’s announcement that it will add Port Tampa Bay to its Gulf of Mexico Express (GME) Transpacific service, with the first vessel M/V COSCO PIRAEUS scheduled to arrive Tampa on January 28, 2019.  COSCO Shipping is one of the world’s largest container carriers with services calling at 267 ports in 85 countries and regions throughout the globe.  A member of the Ocean Alliance, COSCO Shipping is a leader in the transpacific trade.  The new GME service port rotation will be Shanghai-Ningbo-Xiamen-Yantian-Houston-Mobile-Tampa.  Import transit time to Port Tampa Bay from China will be 31 days, and export transit time from Port Tampa Bay to China will be 27 days. Connections on the new service will be provided to/from markets beyond China throughout Asia.

It is important because:

“This will allow us to cut time to get cargo direct from Asia closer by a third to half the time and will allow us to reach out to more customers who are now going to look at our port for further growth,” Anderson told TBBJ. 

That is good for both exporters and importers. The Port’s container business has been growing but it is still quite small.

For the 12 months ending in September, more than 87,500 shipping containers moved through Port Tampa Bay, a 55 percent increase over the year before.

It is not clear how big the weekly ships will be over time (they will be limited by the Skyway height and the channel), but, according to the Port, the first ship will be M/V COSCO PIRAEUS which can handle 4250 TEU, which is the standard 20 foot container. Of course, not all those containers will be coming here (note the multiple stops).  Nevertheless, weekly service to China without having to go through a cargo hub (service on to other points in Asia would go through a Chinese hub) is a major development.  Though there are differences, we view it in a similar way to the airport getting an international flight.  It opens up new possibilities to retain business and develop more.  So, congratulations to the port, and hopefully this is the first of many new services.


Airport – Diversifying

There was also interesting news from the airport:

A simulation training operator that works with Lockheed Martin wants to expand to the Tampa airport.

Tampa-based defense and security firm CAE USA Inc. is currently in a facility just two miles north of Tampa International Airport, but needs more room to expand and increase its sufficiency.

CAE, which is part of CAE Inc. (NYSE: CAE) headquartered in Montreal, operates a training center for Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules aircraft and constructs simulators to look like the cockpit of a C-130.

The Tampa training center was not immediately available for further comment on the expansion, however, CAE was previously seeking incentives from Hillsborough County to create an additional 100 higher-wage jobs and to retain jobs for an expansion of a new, purpose-built facility on Tampa International Airport property.

Where exactly is it going?

CAE is seeking approval of a ground lease for 19.33 acres of the airport’s property in the Drew Park area, according to the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority’s Dec. 6 agenda.

The lease is for the construction, operation and maintenance of flight operation simulators, offices, storage and devices.

The ground lease agreement, if approved on Dec. 6, the first year rent would be roughly $200,000 with monthly payments of roughly $16,419 in addition to taxes.

We are all for diversifying the aerospace business around the airport and redeveloping Drew Park.  Both the Airport and the Port can/should serve as hubs for businesses related to and/or requiring their services, which will help develop and diversify the economy.  It’s a good week for the two entities.


Tampa Heights – Not Good Enough

URBN Tampa Bay reported on a new proposal for Tampa Heights.

A 3-story, 10-unit town house project has been proposed for 2802 North Florida Ave. in Tampa Heights. The project includes 23 parking spaces.

Frankly, we find 10 units on 0.57 acres to be too low of density, and we think there should be commercial uses on Florida. Also, notice how none of the units actually face Florida. Instead, Florida will get the sides of two town homes and a curb cut for the development’s driveway.

In short, this may be a nice project somewhere else nearby, but not on this site fronting Florida Ave in a rapidly transitioning part of town.

You can see the lot here.

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

As you can see from the lot itself, there is a large amount of Florida frontage.  To do what is described in the URBN Tampa Bay blurb above (and the site plan) is really not acceptable. Designing a decent building that addresses a major artery is not that hard.


Channel District – Elevé 61

Elevé 61 is up for an approval.

A 36-story condominium tower proposed in downtown Tampa’s Channel district will be up for a key approval in early December.

Eleve 61, which will include 61 luxury units at 858 Channelside Drive, requires a height variance from the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority because of its proximity to Peter O. Knight Airport.

The variance is recommended for approval, as it isn’t expected to interfere with air traffic.

We have no problem with them getting the height variance.  The big problem with this project is not at the top (though the eastern façade is quite bad), it is at the bottom, where there is no street interaction and that blame for allowing that rests firmly on the City.

Mercury Advisors, the Tampa-based developer of Eleve, secured a development loan for the project in July.

Unfortunately, it appears the present plan is going to move forward, and the City does not really care.


Rays – Money Talk

The Rays stadium issue is now starting to get interesting again.

Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill says the next move in the effort to build a Ybor City ballpark belongs to the Tampa Bay Rays.

Merrill sent a memo to county commissioners late Friday outlining the framework of a possible deal.

On Monday, he said the county needs to know what the Rays think. Do they approve or disapprove? Do they have a counter-proposal? What do they want to change and what do they want to keep?

“We’re kind of at that point,” Merrill said. “Our mission was to build a framework for a deal and this is the best we could come up with. We really need to hear from the Rays.”

URBN Tampa Bay posted a link to a County Commission agenda memo that seems to be the outline of said framework (here).  The main points seem to be these:

The following describes the key elements, but not all of the complicated transaction details, of a feasible framework for the siting and funding of a stadium.

1. The stadium site preferred by the Rays is situated in a census tract within Ybor City that qualifies for private Opportunity Zone funding.
2. The Rays would bear 50% of the cost for the acquisition of land and construction of a stadium.
3. The remaining 50% funding  would come from some, or all, of the following sources:

a. Private investment via an Opportunity Zone Fund,
b. Private investment by Ybor land owners via a Community Development District(s) authorized by the City of Tampa; and,
c. Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) property tax increment revenue generated by new development in the two existing Ybor CRAs established in 1988 and 2004 by the City of Tampa. [NOTE: CRA tax increment revenue is required to be spent only within the boundaries of the CRAs and would not be available for use by the County to fund other government services].

4. Construction cost overruns would be borne by the Rays.
5. Depending on results of future negotiations with private investors, a future guarantee provided jointly by the Rays, City of Tampa and County (estimated to be less than $50 million in total) may be necessary. Such guarantee, if called upon, would be reimbursable to the Rays, City and County.6. The Rays would be required to make annual rent payments.
7. The Rays would be required to fully fund and maintain reserves for stadium repairs and maintenance, as well as for future capital improvements to the Stadium.
8. As is the case with Raymond James Stadium, Amalie Arena, and Steinbrenner Field, it is expected that the Rays stadium would also be immune from property taxes (except for the private portions of the Stadium controlled by the Rays). This immunity can only be accomplished by a vote of the County Commission.

The foregoing summary of a stadium financing framework (some aspects of which had been discussed with Commissioners in previous one – on -one briefings) is not intended to be comprehensive or final. There are many aspects which have yet to be worked out, and many of the foregoing framework elements are subject to other conditions being met. However, this framework forms a basis for possible future negotiations of a Term Sheet that would be presented to The County Commission, City of Tampa and Tampa Sports Authority no later than April 30, 2019. Such Term Sheet, if approved by all parties, would be binding and would trigger the drafting of detailed transaction documents that would be approved by the parties.

As noted, the Rays have not responded.  Whether they will pay $450 million or so is an open question.  Until we know, it is not even worth getting into the details, though it is interesting that the only tax money involved is CRA money, which would have to be spent in the area of the CRA. (The CRA’s in Ybor are a little confusing, but we’ll cross that bridge if we ever get to it.)

“The first step is for the Rays to tell us that they’re willing to work within the framework outlined … as a basis for negotiating,” Merrill said.

In advance of those talks, Hillsborough leaders plan to create a negotiating team that will include: County Commissioner Ken Hagan, the county’s designated point person on a new stadium deal; Tampa Sports Authority President and CEO Eric Hart; a representative from the city of Tampa; and New York attorney Irwin Raij, who specializes in stadium deals.

Raij had been working with the county as a go-between between the county and Rays. Now Merrill said Raij will report to the Sports Authority, which has been the conduit for past Tampa stadium deals including Amalie Arena, Raymond James Stadium and the Yankees’ spring training facility.

“They’ve all been done through TSA,” Merrill said.

The new arrangement with Raij means that the city will help pay his legal bills, Merrill said. Most of the authority’s funding comes from the county and city.

Hart could not be reached for comment. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn presumably would be his city’s representative on the negotiating team.

Merrill’s memo listed April 30 as the tentative date to finish hammering out a stadium deal. Buckhorn leaves office the next day, May 1.

Though, later he said:

“If we can’t come up with term sheet by March of next year we’re basically done anyway,” said County Administrator Mike Merrill during a report to county commissioners.

Of course, arguably

For negotiations to begin, perhaps as soon as early next year, the Rays would likely have to negotiate with St. Petersburg to extend the expiring agreement that allowed the team to seek a Hillsborough stadium site. That extension would have to be approved by the St. Petersburg City Council in 2019 and could cost the team a substantial amount of money.

We’ll see what happens.


Downtown – Bank It

There was a land deal downtown.

One of the largest landowners in downtown Tampa has added a full city block to its portfolio.

John and Jason Accardi, the twin brothers who own Seven One Seven Parking Services Inc., paid $5 million for the vacant lot at 602 E. Cass St., according to Hillsborough County property records.

The 1-acre site is directly across Cass Street from the Le Meridien parking garage, which the Accardis acquired in October. The brothers said in a statement that the property was once home to Coca-Cola Bottling Co. and has operated as the Cass Street Parking Facility for several decades.

Interestingly,

It’s also a prime future development site. The approved site plan includes the following entitlements, according to the Accardis: up to 369 residential units; 7,566 square feet retail; 11,642 square feet of office within a gross building area of 503,631 square feet within a 36-story structure with eight stories of a 588-space parking structure.

“We are very excited about this acquisition as it accelerates the growth of our downtown Tampa real estate portfolio and is the ideal addition to our recently acquired Le Meridien Parking Garage directly across Cass Street,” John Accardi said in a statement. “Its strategic location is positioned to immediately serve downtown’s growing parking demand and its entitlements provide for unique long-term development possibilities.”

We do not really care who owns land downtown, but we do care if good use is made of that land.  Unfortunately, there is a lot of land banking downtown (made even easier by the local tax system). And this particular land seems destined to be a surface parking lot for the foreseeable future.   We hope the City does not inexplicably eliminate even more street parking spaces around surface lots, like it did on Tampa Street (see here).


Ybor City – Diversifying

There was Ybor news other than the Rays stadium.

Masonite International Corp. is sticking close to its Ybor City roots.

The designer and manufacturer of interior and exterior doors had an existing office in the city that housed many of its corporate employees and will soon have a headquarters campus for the employees to work more closely together.

The groundbreaking for the 56,000-square-foot building was held Thursday morning at 1309 E. 6th Ave. Its previous building is 47,000 square feet at 201 N. Franklin Street. The new headquarters will be ready for move-in roughly by late December 2019.

* * *

The new space will house about 400 employees. The company, which has been around since 1925, moved its headquarters from Toronto to Tampa in 2004. It serves more than 7,000 customers in 65 countries.

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

It is an ok, if not exciting, design, though it is really on the edge of Ybor.  It would be nicer if it did something on the street, especially since it may end up right next to the Rays stadium.  Nevertheless, it is nice to get more offices in Ybor.


Housing – A Follow Up

A few weeks ago, we discussed a report about the problems with getting affordable housing built in this area.  (“Economic Development/Politics/Built Environment – Someone Has to Pay” ) One of the issues raised in the report were “fees.” (But just for this area).  So we were interested when we read this discussion about trends in home building.

Since the housing collapse 10 years ago, home builders have been largely focused on serving the high end of the market, building larger homes for deep-pocketed buyers who are more likely to qualify for a mortgage, if they need to get a mortgage at all.

The lack of entry-level construction has often been cited as one of the causes of the current housing affordability crisis, but recent construction data from the U.S. Census suggests that things may be changing.

According to analysis by the National Association of Home Builders, the average and median home sizes have been steadily falling for the last few years, indicating that builders are turning their focus to more entry-level home production.

With that background, this is the main point:

But these numbers may say more about who is buying houses than individual home size preferences. In the aftermath of the housing collapse in 2008, many homeowners lost their homes, their jobs, and had their credit wrecked in the process. With the economy in tatters, the only reliable homebuyers were the wealthy.

Homebuilders responded in kind by producing housing for this demographic, and it shows in the home size data. By the summer of 2011, the one-year moving average and median home size had matched pre-crisis peaks, and the next four years saw home sizes reach new all-time highs.

Mortgage lenders have been historically cautious since the financial crisis. More than 95 percent of mortgage originations are sold to government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Ginnie Mae, and those entities have strict guidelines for what they’ll buy. This means people with even a slight credit problem may not qualify for a mortgage.

At the same time, the cost of home construction has risen rapidly, as have the prices of lumber, gypsum, construction labor, and land. Shortages of lumber have been a common complaint among homebuilders thanks to a years-long trade dispute with Canada over softwood lumber. Although it’s dropped in recent months, lumber prices have been steadily rising for years.

These issues have contributed to home builders focusing on the high end of the market, and the precious few entry-level homes that were often bid up because they were so scarce. This has fueled to the housing affordability crisis that’s kept many would-be homeowners out of the market.

When you add in that our area has low incomes and was badly hit in the housing crisis of the 2008 recession, it all fits together.  Complaining about fees will not change any of the real factors.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Among planners (and other interested people) there is a lot of talk about reducing or removing parking minimums, like this from Ottawa (thanks to URBN Tampa Bay):

Interestingly, cities in the US are starting to look at this seriously.

San Francisco is poised to become the first big U.S. city to no longer require developers to include at least some parking in their housing developments.

Legislation introduced by Supervisor Jane Kim strips the planning code of a minimum parking requirement that is already largely circumvented in practice by providing other alternatives like bicycle parking. San Francisco’s minimum parking requirements date back to the 1950s.

“It would not prohibit parking in any redevelopment. It would merely remove the requirement that a developer would have to build a minimum number of parking spaces,” Kim said during Monday’s Land Use and Transportation Committee hearing.

* * *

She noted that it would make San Francisco the second city in the United States after Hartford, Conn. to eliminate minimum parking requirements and the first big city to do so.

The proposal was seen as being beneficial to the environment, but it could also help reduce construction costs.

“There is no good reason for the city to force the private market to produce parking spaces for every housing unit built,” said Arielle Fleisher, a representative for public policy think tank SPUR. “Eliminating minimum parking requirements reduces the cost of producing new housing and enables us to use our land more efficiently by replacing spaces for cars with spaces for people.” 

You can read more about San Francisco here.

Another city looking at it is Minneapolis.

Minneapolis 2040 believes the solution is simply more: more construction, more high-rises, and more triplexes. The comprehensive plan update would create new zoning categories across the city. In addition to allowing triplexes, the new rules would allow developers in most residential areas to build four stories high. It would also eliminate off-street parking requirements, which add to the cost of a new project without increasing density.

As you can tell, the Minneapolis idea is part of a larger planning rethink. If you are interested, you can read more here.

We do not think that parking will somehow magically not be needed in this area.  However, the entire issue needs to be revisited, especially in urban areas and as we move forward developing transit.  What we really don’t need is vast parking lots surrounding developments (or surface lots like for the Midtown Whole Foods).

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Roundup 11-30-2018

November 29, 2018

Contents

Transportation – Moving Forward

— Living in the Past

— HART Looking Forward

— Oversight Committee

— Brightline

Westshore-ish – Midtown

Downtown/Channel District – 1001 Water Street

Tampa Heights – What’s Next

USF – Med School Money

Downtown – Riverwalk Place

St. Pete – About Those Bike Lanes

Howard Frankland Trail

Airport – Odds and Ends

Rays – News-ish

Pasco – Imagine That

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

_____________________________________________


Transportation – Moving Forward


– Living in the Past

As most will know, the situation in Hillsborough County has changed greatly in the last month. Hillsborough County just passed a transportation funding referendum.  The County Commission has also changed. So, in a perfect illustration of why we said the referendum was just step one in the process of getting proper transit,

At its regularly scheduled November meeting, the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority (TBARTA) Governing Board voted to accept and approve the Regional Transit Feasibility Plan (RTFP) and advance the recommended 41-mile Rubber Tire Rapid Transit Catalyst Project into its next phase, where the details of its design will be developed and environmental impacts evaluated. In May of this year, TBARTA executed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART), as well as its transit agency and Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) partners, to become the primary recipient of the RTFP and responsible for its implementation.

Yes,

The Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority approved the Regional Transit Feasibility Plan by a majority vote with only member, commissioner Pat Kemp, voting no.

The plan was created to look at the feasibility of more than 20 regional transit options, including premium transit, to see what the most competitive alternatives would be for federal funding.

The focus is on establishing a 41-mile, bus-rapid transit option that would connect Wesley Chapel to St. Petersburg via Interstate 275. The project would be a catalyst project as the area would look at other solutions to help relieve congestion on the roads.

The next step is to proceed with the Florida Department of Transportation project development and environment phase, where the impacts, benefits, design options and costs are examined. 

Indeed.  The circumstances have completely changed, so, immediately thereafter, the TBARTA board approved the “BRT” plan.

This is the meeting video.

Let’s get back to the “BRT” plan itself.  It mostly does not have dedicated lanes.  It does not serve this area’s real transit needs (it is just the cheapest “premium” transit option). It is stuck on the interstate. It does not promote transit oriented development.  Moreover, there is little demonstrated public support for the plan (and there has been little to no real public outreach regarding it).  The “BRT” plan was very flawed when first proposed, and it has not gotten any better.  (Yes, the PD&E can work out some details, but it does not change the essence of the plan, which is the biggest flaw.  And even the purported timing is off: see the video @1:20:10 about the rebuild of the interstate through Westshore – which would be key to having it work – not even having a known completion date.)

“We’re excited about the needed and enhanced connectivity this project could provide to Tampa Bay residents, workers and visitors to our region,” said David Green, TBARTA Executive Director. “For an interstate like I-275, where approximately 200,000 vehicles travel daily, a robust transit service could have a significant and almost immediate impact, reducing congestion by up 20,000 vehicles, and eventually more as connections are made to the system.” Last month, the TBARTA Board selected Green, former CEO of the Greater Richmond Transit Company (GRTC), to lead the agency. During his time with GRTC, the agency completed construction of Pulse, a 7.6-mile Bus Rapid Transit line. Green was also key in securing a $24.9 million US Department of Transportation TIGER Grant for the project.

First, the “BRT” plan is not robust transit.  It is just the cheapest option.  Second, as we have noted before, the Richmond BRT-ish line is on arterial roads.  The “BRT” plan is not. But, anyway.

The Mayor of St. Pete made this argument:

“I love light rail and I want light rail,” St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman said, describing his experience of using light rail in Denver. “But I think an investment in BRT right now paves the way for light rail.

In addition, he made the point that with Brightline, which several board members said would come by 2024, that people will still want last-mile and first-mile solutions in getting to St. Pete.

“When people are going from Orlando to Tampa, I want people to have a way of getting to downtown St. Pete outside of getting into a car or having to rent a car,” Kriseman said.

He means the last 30 miles.  And a normal, real express bus would work just fine (not the overly expensive express bus pretending to be BRT in the “BRT” plan).  There is no need to spend $500 million on bus service just for Brightline to connect to downtown St. Pete, and no need to spend $500 million on such a poor plan. If the main goal is to get from downtown Tampa to downtown St. Pete, especially as there is no timetable for the Westshore interstate rebuild, it makes far more sense to have an express bus take the Selmon to the Gandy Bridge using the under construction Connector. (Oh, yea, and the “BRT” plan does not actually go to the discussed Brightline station locations, though it gets close to the old jail site.  Plus that would leave more Pinellas money for the St.Pete Beach BRT line to get done.).

The bigger point is that, setting aside the “BRT” plan’s lack of catalyzing potential, now that the transportation referendum passed, we do not need a catalyst project any more, at least not in Hillsborough County. Hillsborough has already answered the question of whether it wants transit with (real) dedicated lanes (and other transit).  It does not need a poorly conceived “BRT” plan to convince it to have transit. And Hillsborough’s coming transit network, including bus improvements, should not focus on feeding the interstate.) Hillsborough can go straight to actually useful projects that will spend the money it will have effectively and efficiently.  The “BRT” plan does neither. (As we have said over and over, normal express buses can do pretty much everything the “BRT” plan does for far less cost.)

The environment in Hillsborough is different from when the flawed “BRT” plan was first proposed. And Hillsborough County is at the geographic center of this area and has a population (1,408,864) almost equal to Pasco (515,077) and Pinellas (970,532) combined (1,485,609) .  The “BRT” plan does not serve Hillsborough’s needs. And it really does not serve the area’s needs either, especially in a cost-effective and efficient way. TBARTA can approve the “BRT” plan if they want, but that does not mean anyone actually has to (or should) pay for it.

We could go on and on about the failings of the “BRT” plan, but there is really only one point right now: it has no funding.  And it should not be funded.  We are all for connecting the area, but the “BRT” plan is a very weak.  This area deserves much better, and Hillsborough has taken the first step.   Instead of settling for poor plans executed badly, the Pinellas and Pasco should be working to join Hillsborough truly moving forward on real regional transportation (and go with the normal express buses in the meantime).


— HART Looking Forward

Speaking of HART, there was an article in the Times regarding what HART might do with its new funding:

Even before he arrived at the office the morning after election night, Jeff Seward was calling in instructions to the bus agency he heads.

Voters had just approved a new transportation sales tax that will boost the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit authority’s yearly operating budget from about $80 million to $200 million. Suddenly, the agency that was cutting routes in 2017 is now eyeing dozens of projects and bus service improvements that have languished on the drawing board for years.

“You all need to take a look at how we can more buses here and get them fast,” Seward, interim chief executive, told his operations team.

The changes will begin in 2019 with the expansion of the University area connector and the frequency of four major bus routes to every 15 minutes. In all, the agency hopes to add 900,000 miles of new service in 2019, which will require 30 new buses and a hiring blitz to find more than 60 new drivers.

And that is just the start.

New routes will be added in the next three years, Seward said, and the agency will begin planning for a new mass transit system linking the University area, downtown Tampa and Westshore as required by the county charter change that voters approved.

Setting aside that the referendum did not actually require any specific routes or connections, those are potentially good ideas, contingent on a number of factors, provided those connections are not the “BRT” plan.

The expansion of bus service planned for 2019 must still be approved by the full HART governing board next week. These are among dozens of proposed enhancements that were identified in the agency’s Transit Development Plan, which was developed with input from the public.

But with new funding now available, it makes sense for HART to go back to the public and the business community to make sure these still are the projects it should develop, Seward said.

It does make sense to ask again.  TBARTA are you listening?


— Oversight Committee

The first members of the transportation referendum oversight committee have been picked:

The first two appointments to the 13-member committee were announced in recent days. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn selected former Tampa state Sen. Arthenia Joyner, and Hillsborough County Clerk of Court Pat Frank named retired Hillsborough County Chief Circuit Judge Manuel Menendez Jr. These are both strong appointments. Joyner was Tampa’s first black female attorney and a pioneering civil rights activist. Menendez, a former federal prosecutor, rose to the top court post in his 31 years on the local judiciary. Both are serious and have demonstrated their commitment to public service. Their legal and government experience, knowledge of the community and professional integrity reflect the ideal of this appointment process.

And

Hillsborough County Tax Collector Doug Belden has named CPA Dan Raulerson of Raulerson Castillo & Co. to serve on the county’s the All for Transportation oversight committee.

Raulerson, who is a CPA and a former legislator, also served as the mayor and city commissioner in Plant City.

It will be interesting to see who else is appointed.

More importantly, the Oversight Committee is the body that is going to have to decide questions like whether, if it gets funding (which it shouldn’t), the “BRT” plan’s use of shoulders is actually “dedicated lanes” for the purpose of the referendum. (hint: they aren’t)

In related news, there was an article in the Times about how much money the referendum might actually generate:

The Florida Department of Revenue estimates that the one percent tax for transportation will bring in $302 million in 2019, $26 million more than the estimate county officials used when they approved ballot language for the initiative.

In addition, the half-percent tax that voters approved for school repairs and construction is now expected to raise $151 million in 2019, about $13 million more than first projected by the school district.

The increases reflect Florida’s booming economy. Statewide, sales tax revenues in September —the most recent compiled — were almost $180 million more than in the same month last year. Similar increases earlier in the year led Department of Revenue officials to increase the revenue projections that it provides to help local governments budget for the upcoming year.

That may happen, and, if it does, great.  However, there could also be a recession or worse and revenues come in under projections.  We suspect that over 30 years, both will happen.  We prefer to stay conservative in our predictions and deal with surplus when it happens.  And whatever the case, the money should not be wasted on poor ideas.


— Brightline

There was Brightline news.  First, in what should be no surprise:

Brightline is moving on to the next step to establish an intercity passenger rail system connecting Tampa to Orlando as it received a key approval on Wednesday. The Florida Department of Transportation’s Selection Committee agreed to move forward in negotiating the lease agreement with Brightline.

Brightline would lease FDOT and Central Florida Expressway Authority rights of way for the rail line. FDOT has 90 days to negotiate the lease agreement.  

Who thinks they won’t get a lease?

Now, to the interesting news.  First, about their proposal:

From its station at the Orlando International Airport Intermodal Terminal Facility, which will also connect to South Florida by the end of 2020 or beginning of 2021, Brightline will then exit the OIA property onto the Orlando Utilities Commission corridor, then join the Central Florida Rail Corridor, where it proposes to provide a cross-platform connection to SunRail’s Meadow Woods Station.

Finally, we know how Brightline intends people to actually get to and from Orlando.  The connection to SunRail is positive, assuming SunRail runs at greater frequency than it now does (which is not nearly enough).  But there is a downside: more stops means Brightline is slower and riders would need to pay for using SunRail (unless there is a package deal).  Nevertheless, at least Brightline recognizes the connectivity issue to getting to Orlando.

Brightline is also considering stops around Disney (for obvious reasons) and Lakeland.   Both ideas have usefulness and make sense, though, once again, the more stops, the slower the train.

The ticket price for the Orlando-to-Tampa route will be $35 per passenger for one way.

The projected ticket prices seem relatively reasonable, though how much it will cost to get to South Florida is what really interests us.

Next, about the business:

Brightline, the Miami-based train and real estate development company that wants to expand to Tampa, has a new partner: the Virgin Group, run by swashbuckling British tycoon Sir Richard Branson.

Brightline announced the partnership Friday and said it would change its name to Virgin Trains USA this month. Virgin Group will make a minority investment in Brightline, which will be managed and operated by Brightline executives and affiliates of its parent company, Fortress Investment Group.

“Virgin has built a respected and trusted brand in travel and hospitality,” Brightline chairman and co-founder of Fortress Investment Group Wes Edens said in an announcement about the partnership. “With our shared focus on customer experience, powered by a culture of innovation and disruption, we are well-positioned to build on our success.”

Virgin Group has more than 60 companies in travel, leisure, telecommunications, media, music, entertainment, financial services, health and wellness. In the United Kingdom, those interests include Virgin Trains, a high-speed intercity passenger rail system that it has run for 21 years. Last year, Virgin Trains carried more than 38 million passengers on the UK’s West Coast Main Line.

It is an interesting development, though what it means going forward is not entirely clear. A first thing is this:

Virgin Trains USA LLC quietly filed for an initial public offering to raise up to $100 million.

And this:

In a 200-plus page regulatory filing, the Coral Gables-based Brightline — which will be rebranded Virgin Trains USA in 2019 — provides insight on its financial standing and future plans, including what’s to come with the Tampa route.

The filing dated Nov. 16 states that Brightline anticipates commencing passenger rail operations for the Tampa expansion in 2021 and that the Tampa route, being served with Virgin trains, would only be an hour-long travel time period for passengers.

* * *

The Tampa expansion is expected to cost $1.7 billion, according to the filing. Brightline is roughly $625 million in debt and that figure is expected to increase substantially with the construction of the Tampa expansion and others in the works, according to the filing.

“Our ability to expand, including the Tampa expansion and the Vegas expansion, is dependent on our ability to raise funds through various potential sources, including equity and/or debt financing. We will need substantial additional funds to meet our expansion plans, including construction of the Tampa expansion and the Vegas expansion, and we have not yet secured such funds,” according to the filing.

The Vegas reference is a proposal for an LA to Las Vegas train. (They are also considering Atlanta to Charlotte, Dallas to Houston and LA to San Diego. )

Moreover,

When the Florida passenger rail systems are fully built out and operational between Miami and Orlando, Brightline said it expects to carry approximately 6.6 million passengers annually and that a fully built out and operational service between Orlando and Tampa would carry an additional 2.9 million passengers annually, which would result in fully operational annual stabilized ridership of approximately 9.5 million passengers.

The company anticipates the Florida passenger rail service to stabilize by the fourth quarter of 2023 or the first quarter of 2024 following an estimated two-year ramp up period during which ridership is expected to increase as travelers become acquainted with the new rail service and adjust their trip-making habits.

The consultant estimated the service between Miami, Orlando and Tampa to generate approximately $810 million of total revenue in its first stabilized year.

They certainly have ambitious plans.  Time will tell how it all works out.


Westshore-ish – Midtown

Midtown released more information regarding the Whole Foods and connected portions of the development.  Per URBN Tampa Bay:

Midtown Tampa is moving forward with its proposal for Whole Foods, apartments, and retail space at the northeast corner of Cypress and Dale Mabry. This particular block includes the 53,000 square foot Whole Foods store, 18,100 square feet of additional retail space, and 178 residential units.

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

Our opinion on this portion of the project has not changed. First, there is no need for the surface parking lot for the Whole Foods because there is a parking garage right above it.  Second, there is a ramp to said garage that apparently runs along Cypress, which is hardly conducive to activating that street.

While, from all indications, the Midtown project is internally nice, it still fails to interact with the surrounding area in an effective and positive way.  To be a true Midtown, the project should not be an urban island.  We are not opposed to the project, but it could be (and should be) better.


Downtown/Channel District – 1001 Water Street

There is more information about the proposed building at 1001 Water Street.  From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity:

Height – 304 feet
Office – 294,893 square feet
Retail – 10,108 square feet
Amenity Deck – 15,380 square feet
Parking – 295 spaces (provided off-site)

Here are some more renderings:

Southwest:

From Florida Future at Skyscraper City – click on picture for post

Southeast:

 

From Florida Future at Skyscraper City – click on picture for post

Northwest:

 

From Florida Future at Skyscraper City – click on picture for post

Site Plan (with the Med School):

From Florida Future at Skyscraper City – click on picture for post

It is a nice building (not really our favorite style but still nice) with some nice features (lie the balconies and street treatment).  And, as we have said before, we like that Water Street is using a variety of styles to make the area seem more organic.  No word on when exactly it will begin.

In further news (we would be shocked if you had not seen it yet) Sparkman Wharf, the redo of the Channelside Complex, will open on Friday, Nov. 30. You can get all the information you need at their website here.


Tampa Heights – What’s Next

The Heights project has received approval for the next two buildings: the office building and parking garage/hotel/grocery store/retail (Our previous discussion of each can be found at “Tampa Heights – Offices” and “Tampa Heights – Could Be Better” respectively). We expected approval, but we still think they can do better on the garage.


USF – Med School Money

USF is looking for the last bit of Med School funding.

The University of South Florida is still bullish on securing the funding it needs for its new $173 million Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute.

The Board of Governors Facilities Committee approved a Public Education Capital Outlay request recently that may help the school receive the $14.65 million in state funding it stillneeds for the new college.

The approval comes after a Florida Board of Governors workshop meeting the committee had on Oct. 16 when schools within the State University System presented their projects that administrators need PECO dollars.

So far, USF has received $97.89 million through PECO funds to reach its goal of $112.55 million, the maximum amount of PECO funding.

Through philanthropy and auxiliary funds, the school collected just over $40 million.

Given that the building is already topped out, we would be quite surprised if they don’t get it.


Downtown – Riverwalk Place

There was more background on Riverwalk Place’s switch to being all condos.

“We’ve had way better demand for the residential units than we expected,” Feldman says. “And we’re convinced that Tampa is greatly underserved in the luxury market.

Boren acknowledged that melding the office space and residential space together in a single building appeared to be somewhat difficult for consumers to become accustomed to in Tampa.

“Being the first is always difficult,” he says. “But it was a great offering to the market before and it will be a great offering with this change.”

* * *

Larry Feldman says the decision to eliminate the office space should not be viewed as an assessment of downtown’s market.

“This is no comment on the downtown office market, it’s very strong,” Feldman says. “It’s just that the condo market, we feel, is even stronger.”

Here are some more renderings floating around:

From Adache.com – click on picture for website

 

From Adache.com – click on picture for website

Like we said before, for most people the change to all condos (and the retail) will not make any difference. It still is an attractive building (while we don’t love it, we have even come to accept the garage), and if the change gets it built faster, fine with us. We look forward to it.


St. Pete – About Those Bike Lanes

The bike lanes on Martin Luther king in St. Pete are open.  The Times had an article on how they are doing:

The city spent about $1 million on a project that included adding extra-wide bike lanes on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street N, but some riders are ignoring the investment and choosing to ride on the sidewalk instead.

“Oh yeah, I see it every day,” said Benjamin Wiley, who works at Banyan Cafe and Catering on King Street near Seventh Avenue N.

Wiley has a front-row seat to cars, bikes and people traveling the popular corridor between Fourth and 30th Avenues N. He said he sees more “athletic or serious” bikers in the new lanes, while many others continue to use the sidewalks like they did before.

“People use the bike lanes,” Wiley said, “but it hasn’t really made a difference. The sidewalks are so wide here, it’s just what people are used to.”

Some planners chalk this up to the newness of the project, which also included resurfacing, restriping and crosswalk improvements. People are creatures of habit, and it takes time to adapt.

But there’s another factor at play: No matter how safe or accessible you make something, some people insist on choosing their own path.

That does not surprise us at all:

It’s a phenomenon that stretches beyond one street or even St. Petersburg. Despite cities investing in wider bike lanes, including some with physical barriers from traffic or green paint to draw attention, transportation experts say there will always be riders who feel more comfortable on the sidewalk, as far away from moving cars as they can get.

“I think people generally have a fear of traffic, whether it’s the unpredictability or that people are distracted while driving,” Forward Pinellas executive director Whit Blanton said. “So they want to be up on a curb where they feel like they’re safer and it makes it less likely that a car is going to overtake them from behind.”

While a true physical barrier provides a measure of security, simply painting the road, even if you paint it green, does nothing to stop cars from driving (and swerving) into the bike lanes (not to mention the issue of intersections where bike lanes often magically disappear).

Though the lanes on King Street don’t have a physical divider between cars and bikes, like along First avenues N and S, they are more substantial than the four-foot lanes that are sometimes tacked on at the end of road projects. For a majority of the King Street corridor, the lanes are 6 feet wide and have an additional 2-foot striped buffer separating them from traffic.

“They’re wide enough that two people can ride abreast very comfortably,” Blanton said. “I don’t know why anybody would want to be on a sidewalk in that situation.”

If you ride a bike around this area, you know why people would rather not ride right next to cars, regardless of this:

The irony is that bicyclists are more at risk on the sidewalk than in the street, according to Bond, Blanton and Keri Caffrey, co-founder of CyclingSavvy, a nonprofit bicycling education program. All of them cited data kept by state and local agencies showing a higher rate of bicycle crashes on sidewalks. It’s a trend that’s true both nationwide and specifically in Pinellas County, Blanton said.

The sidewalk is “inherently a less safe place to ride because you’re out of the (line of sight) of most motorists,” Blanton said.

Drivers will scan for people walking before making a turn or pulling into traffic, but a person on a bike is moving more quickly and is more likely to catch drivers by surprise.

That may be true in some circumstances, but it does not change the fact – a fact we have observed over and over – that cars drive into bike lanes at seemingly random times (like when someone is not paying attention to the road).  Riding in a protected lane or on the sidewalk protects bikers from that. It may not be optimal, but it is true.

We are all for bike infrastructure and bike lanes are better than sharrows, which are basically nothing.  But protected lanes are infinitely better than just painted lanes. Separation from traffic is key, at least to perceptions of safety. It is just not surprising at all that many, if not most, people prefer sidewalks to painted lanes, no matter what the studies say.


Howard Frankland Trail

And that brings us to the Howard Frankland Bridge, from the Times:

You’ve likely heard that the Howard Frankland Bridge is about to undergo a major makeover.

The plan includes a bike and pedestrian path attached to a new eight-lane span. Think of it as a ninth lane, 12 to 14 feet wide, separated from traffic by a concrete wall and some fencing.

Walkers, runners and riders could get some exercise, enjoy the sea breeze and watch dolphins rise from the bay. Diehards could use it to commute.Sounds fantastic, a great way to capitalize on one of our natural assets. It sells itself, as the saying goes. At least until you see the price tag:

$35 million.

We are actually in favor of the lane, at least in theory.  While it will likely not be the busiest trail in the area, it still would be a good complement to the Courtney Campbell trail. You can be sure that if it is not done now, it is doubtful it would be done for a long time.

We understand the criticism that being right next to all the car travel lanes is not optimal.  That is definitely not the best place for bike/walk lane. Such a lane would be much better placed next to a transit lane.  On the other hand, in the other Bay area you can walk/bike across the Golden Gate Bridge (and a large number of people do it)   and the Bay Bridge. Those also have a lot of traffic.

The Howard Frankland is not the Golden Gate Bridge by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a connection that should be made for the future and this is the opportunity to make it.


Airport – Odds and Ends

There were a couple of airport related items in the last few weeks.  First,

Tampa International Airport is wrapping up the design phase for its $57.8 million project for a new taxiway and bridge.

The new elevated Taxiway A and Bridge at the Tampa International Airport will be located at the north end of the airport within a 57.49- area.

* * *

The project includes the realignment of an existing roadway that crosses under the new Taxiway A Bridge and the existing parallel Taxiway B Bridge, and the construction of an associated storm sewer system, according to an Environmental Resource Permit application from URS Corp. to the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

This is basically a step to allow other steps in the master plan to go forward.

In additional news, we ran across this:

Tampa Airport Marriott is now offering guests a flexible and affordable way to make the most of their travel plans when flying in or out of Tampa International Airport. The Tampa airport hotel, conveniently located inside the airport, proudly unveils its day use rooms which are available to book between 10am-7pm any day for guests and business travelers who need to take advantage of the hotel’s ease of access to the terminal.

From long layovers to flight changes and cancellations, Marriott is aware of how unpredictable travel can be. These rooms offer a flexible solution for business travelers or guests who need to change their flight plans at the last minute. With amenities like high-speed internet, work desks, signature Marriott beds and custom furnishings, day use rooms offer all the extensive features of the hotel’s standard rooms.

Interesting.


Rays – News-ish

While there has been news, sort of, about the Rays stadium issue, most of it is speculative or incomplete.  We are not going to get into it in depth until there is something substantive.  However, if you are interested, there have recently been some articles on potential naming rights to the stadium (here), general business views (here), and hints at something odd (here and here).


Pasco – Imagine That

There was more news from Pasco this week:

A portion of nearly 7,000 acres of ranch land abutting the Suncoast Parkway is targeted for a proposed corporate business park that could include as much as 24 million square feet of office and industrial space.

Corporate entities tied to the Bexley family and Lennar, the nation’s largest home builder, are seeking county approval to begin the process of developing what is now agricultural land. A requested change in the county’s comprehensive land use plan would allow the property, already designated for future homes and commercial uses, to also include the corporate park. The Pasco County Commission is scheduled to give its initial consideration to the request on Dec. 11.

* * *

The proposed corporate park, expected to be about 800 acres, could feature multi-story office buildings, effectively putting a skyline in the center of the county. Officials hope the land-use change is just the first step toward significant corporate relocations and economic development projects bringing high-wage jobs to the county.

Setting aside that it takes more than “multi-story” buildings to make a skyline, the property does not just abut the Suncoast parkway.

The proposed land-use change, dubbed Project Arthur, would allow the land owners to seek future re-zonings to develop as many as 11,495 homes, 5.4 million square feet of non-residential uses and the corporate business park. The land is south of State Road 52 and bordered by the Suncoast Parkway on the west and the CSX Railroad line on the east.

Imagine that.  The land borders those CSX tracks.  This is the area.   The line goes right to Tampa (and Brooksville.)

As we said about another Pasco story about Lutz a few weeks ago, different people see different things.  Some people see overly expensive express buses as the key to the future. So people are fixated on roads and cars of all sorts. Other people see existing and underused connections that could be reused to make something better.  Of course, to use the CSX tracks for a real regional connection, Pasco would have both buy into rail and to change how it builds, but the opportunity is there.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

Lost in the election coverage was the fact that Hillsborough was not the only county to pass a transportation referendum after previous failures.

Broward voters cast a decisive ballot for better roads, less congestion and more public transit options Tuesday, agreeing to increase the sales tax they pay to bankroll $15.6 billion in transportation improvements over the next 30 years.

The successful sales tax referendum comes after voters defeated previous attempts in 2016, 2006 and 1990.

The vote means the county’s sales tax will increase Jan. 1 from 6 cents to 7 cents for every dollar of taxable goods purchased. About a third of the money will be paid by tourists and other visitors to the county. The money will be used to build wider roads, improve traffic signal synchronization, add buses and bus routes, install light rail and undertake hundreds of other road projects.

* * *

In order to lessen voter worries, the county agreed to set up a nine-member oversight committee to review how the sales tax money is being spent.

It will be interesting to see how FDOT and the legislature deal with two of the largest counties in the state voting for transit.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Cnet had an interesting article on electric scooter safety.  You can read it here.

Happy Thanksgiving

November 22, 2018

There will be no Roundup this week.  Enjoy the holiday.

Roundup 11-16-2018

November 15, 2018

Contents

Transportation – Let It Begin

— The Ferry

— Editorial 

— About That BRT

Channel District – Elevé 61

Downtown/Channel District – In the Parking Lot Down by the Channel

Downtown – Is It Coming

Seminole Heights – Promising, But . . .

USF – Interesting

Trail Tale

Airport – More Puerto Rico

Economic Development – Amazon

St. Pete – Stay Pete-y

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

— About Those Highways

— PHL

__________________________________________


Transportation – Let It Begin


— The Ferry

On November 8, the County Commission had a meeting which included this:

This meeting will also include the farewell ceremony for departing County Commissioners.

It also included this:

Just two days after Hillsborough voters approved a transportation sales tax, the County Commission has dealt a potentially fatal blow to plans for a MacDill Air Force Base passenger ferry service that have been in the works for five years.

The commission voted 6-1 Thursday to cancel its public-private partnership with ferry company HMS Global Maritime and the South Swell development group after learning that the costs of docks, boats and parking at a south county terminal may be as much as $30 million.

That is one reason that the Commission, which has dragged this project along for about five years (neither killing it or really moving it forward but spending money), may have made the move now.  But there is also another answer:

With the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit authority in line to get an extra $124 million per year from the sales tax, commissioners said it makes more sense for the county’s bus agency to pick up the tab.

“To continue this project would be throwing good money after bad,” said Commissioner Ken Hagan. “This is a transit project. If it proceeds it should be under the purview of HART.”

Maybe,

But there is no guarantee that HART will pick up the project. Its 14-member governing board includes three of the commissioners who pulled the plug on the county ferry: Les Miller, Stacy White and Sandy Murman.

And, as noted,

The U-turn came during the commission’s final full meeting before two newly elected Democratic commissioners are sworn in later this month, ending a 14-year GOP majority on the board.

We have been critical of the handling of this project for a while.  There is the question of whether the ferry will be real transit or will be a closed circuit to MacDill.  And it has taken far too long and accomplished far too little (for no apparent reason), especially as the County Commission has continued to spend money for years. And the cost projections were increasing. So there is a logic to cancelling it.

But the timing was very odd.  Given that the Commission waited until it was right about to change composition to drop the project, it would have made much more sense to wait until the new Commission came in and let it make any decision.


— Editorial 

Which brings us to an editorial in the Times regarding the referendum – which we quote liberally because it makes a good point:

The commission’s decision was not entirely surprising. Beyond the costs, it was never clear the ferry would serve a wider audience than MacDill in a meaningful way. And it was never clear why county taxpayers should foot the bill to move employees of the federal government to and from a restricted military base. But several commissioners went further at the Nov. 8 meeting, arguing that the ferry constituted a mass transit project and should fall to HART, Hillsborough’s mass transit provider. Commissioners also said HART should pick up the tab since it is poised to collect an additional $124 million per year from the transportation tax that voters passed two days earlier.

It didn’t take long for the tax to become a money tree that freed commissioners from their commitments. Never mind that the ferry was never a HART project. And while HART now has the funding to pursue a range of mass transit options, it is and will be for the immediate future remain almost entirely a bus agency. Ferries are a long way down the priority list, especially one serving a captured audience at MacDill.

Truly, the ferry is far down on the list of things to get done.    But even more:

Commissioners will damage the credibility of the transportation tax at the outset if they start using it as a slush fund for every conceivable idea. Activists who put the citizen’s petition on the ballot were careful to dedicate the money to specific purposes. That formula and the balance in funding road and transit projects is what led Hillsborough voters to pass the tax by a 57-43 margin. The county and the cities need to be as thoughtful and transparent in spending the money as organizers were in cultivating a winning campaign.

The tax’s spending criteria and oversight committee and the county’s long-range transportation wish list provide a guide path for 30 years. But it would help in the coming months for local governments in Hillsborough to seek a broad public consensus on transportation priorities. What officials must avoid is tossing around $30 million projects on a whim. The tax carries an obligation to set priorities and funding plans – and to stick to them.

As we have noted, the oversight board does not provide a guide path other than to say if a project fits under the referendum language.  And the long-range transportation wish-list may or may not be relevant.  But, the article is correct that the money should not be wasted.

As for the ferry, if the Commission wanted to dump it because they thought it was a bad plan, they should just have dumped it and owned the decision.  The act should have had nothing to do with the referendum and HART.  Otherwise, the old Commission should have left it to the new one to decide the priorities, including the fate of the ferry (even if that was cancelling it which the vote would seem to indicate it would be, and, as we said, there are good reasons that the ferry should not go forward).   Instead, it looks like a punt.

Going forward under the referendum there need to be clear priorities and clear plans (and changes in planning).  The County Commission is going to be very important in this complicated process stretching far beyond the ferry.  Hopefully, the new Commission will take up the work in which the old one never seemed to be truly interested.


— About That BRT

Speaking of the referendum and priorities, URBN Tampa Bay posted a link to an article regarding the Healthline in Cleveland, saying:

Fake BRT on the highway cannot produce this kind of economic return for locals. Only real BRT run through urban neighborhoods can.

We agree with a caveat. The article (here) tells us:

Ten years ago, while the economy plummeted, a national first called the HealthLine began in October to take riders up and down Euclid Avenue.

Today, the Regional Transit Authority estimates that the $200 million invested in its HealthLine has spurred about $9.5 billion in development along the resurging Euclid Corridor, a remarkable return of $190 per dollar.

“The area is way stronger now,” said Floun’say Caver, RTA’s interim general manager.

But it makes this point:

The threads of any successful development are interwoven, making them hard to isolate for credit. But in 2013, the nonprofit Institute for Transportation and Development Policy accepted RTA’s calculations of financial payoff and rated the HealthLine the nation’s leader in two categories: best bus rapid transit system and best return on investment for any transit project.

Michael Schipper, RTA vice president for engineering and project management, recently estimated the 10-year payoff at $9.5. billion, based on figures from community development corporations and other local organizations about construction, jobs and other benefits.

As we have noted before, we have ridden the Healthline.  It is a very good bus system.  It is not a nice as rail, but it is a good bus.  We have no doubt that it has spurred some development.  We also have no doubt that some of the development counted in the economic impact numbers is not really due to the Healthline, especially around the Cleveland Clinic and Case Western.  But that does not take away from the usefulness of the Healthline.

And that takes nothing away from what URBN Tampa Bay said.  The proposed “BRT” plan would not even come close to being as useful or having the same (actual) return on investment as proper BRT (or rail).  It simply would not provide the connectivity and access that a line like the Healthline, running on arterial roads, does.  The “BRT” plan needs to be officially junked (a simple, inexpensive express bus service for Wesley Chapel is fine) and the focus turned to our real needs.

And, noting that we have a funding mechanism and a clear majority that voted for it for real transit, it is time for local officials, FDOT, and the legislative delegation to get on board.


Channel District – Elevé 61

Last week, the City had a public meeting about potentially redoing Channelside Drive along the north south section north of the Aquarium.  The purpose is to make it more walkable, etc.  Coincidentally, the residential tower planned for the Channel District, Elevé 61, has a website and, with it, new renderings.  We have always thought the size of the project was fine, but the layout, specifically the street interaction, and the aesthetics something to be desired.  Here is a rendering of the west façade:

From eleve61.com – click on picture for website

That is ok.  Not spectacular, but ok.  As you can see, and we have noted before, there is a big garage clunky attached.  There is also really nothing happening on the street.  But then we get to the east façade – the part that would be on Channelside Drive along the stretch the City is hoping to redo.

From JGeek2018 at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

That is plain bad.  First, as we knew, the tower portion is quite bland.  Second, there is absolutely no connection to the street along Channelside.  Nothing.  Why the City would approve that at the same time it is trying to make Channelside pedestrian friendly seems to be a complete disconnect.  Throw in that this is the façade that will face the theoretical Port megaproject, and it makes absolutely no sense.

As we have said before, we know the developer knows how to design a better project because they have already done it nearby.  We know the City knows how to push for better projects because (rarely, but on occasion) it has done it.   It really makes one wonder about what the City is doing.


Downtown/Channel District – In the Parking Lot Down by the Channel

Last week, Water Street broke ground on a new building (s).  But even more was going on:

Port Tampa Bay and the developer of Water Street Tampa are close to finalizing a deal for a portion of the Garrison lot, a surface parking lot west of Sparkman Wharf.

* * *

SPP will pay $9.86 million for a 20,000-square-foot — just under half an acre — portion of the Garrison lot, according to an item on the port’s consent agenda for the Nov. 13 meeting.

We are interested to see exactly what will be on the land.

And, in further Water Street related news, the USF Med School building was topped off.

And even more:

Embarc Collective, the $10 million innovation hub in downtown Tampa, announced Tuesday it is slated for a tentative March 2019 opening.

* * *

Applications are now open for technology startups and there is no cap to how many Embarc, the Jeff Vinik-backed space for entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and academic resources, will take.

* * *

Along with its opening date, the organization released renderings detailing the 32,000-square-foot space at the intersection of East Whiting Street and Jefferson Street. The hub will have private workspaces, a public cafe, outdoor lounge and lending library.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

It is not exactly the same as other Water Street designs (and we are not sure it is officially Water Street but it is obviously connected by location and ownership), but it is fine.  Not to mention that developing companies in the area and providing them improved exposure and access to capital (which the aforementioned connections should help do) is definitely important.


Downtown – Is It Coming

There was an intriguing picture on SkyscraperCity:

From Tampa’s Time at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

That is the area of the long proposed Straz apartment tower, the last name of which was AER.  This may or may not be an accurate rendering:

From conkrete.net – click on picture for website

You can see more (possibly) renderings and floor plans here.

It seems that, maybe, this project is moving forward.   We like the look of the large part of the tower, though we are not too fond on the short portion. Regardless, it will be interesting to see if it is actually going to finally get going.


Seminole Heights – Promising, But . . .

Nebraska Avenue has long had untapped potential, which is why it is nice to see this, from URBN Tampa Bay:

There is a new residential project proposed for 6307 North Nebraska Ave in Seminole Heights by Milhaus. The project includes 114 units, 1,220 square feet of office space, and 116 parking spaces.

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

This is the location.

 

We are glad it is proposed for Nebraska, but there is this:

There is no retail space in the project. Instead, there is a leasing office, 4 or 5 residential units, and the small amount of office space on Nebraska. We would expect the Nebraska frontage of this project to have retail space. Nebraska is the only commercial corridor in the immediate vicinity of this project. The loss of stock of commercial land in the neighborhood in this manner will hinder the ability for the area to become a true mixed-use area in the future. If this project is allowed, then other projects could replicate. This project compares unfavorably to Milhaus’s projects on North Florida Ave and in Ybor City. Therefore, we recommend that the project be rejected.

Exactly.  It is not that we don’t want developments like this on Nebraska.  We do, but we want them to be as good as the developer’s other projects (like one of the new buildings on Florida).  Nebraska is a potential retail corridor (like Florida) though it is under developed.  There should be retail on the street (if anything, Nebraska needs it more).  With retail, we’d have no problem with this project. In fact, we would be very happy to have it.

How this project is handled will set the standard for future project on Nebraska (and will show us what some would-be mayors really think).


USF – Interesting

There were two interesting items regarding USF this week.  First,

University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus is on track to increase its student housing by 70 percent by mid-2020, according to plans approved this week.

At the Nov. 8 Florida Board of Governors meeting, the board approved a 375-bed residence hall, slated to cost $33 million and open by July 2020. The dorm would expand the campus housing options from 550 beds to over 900.

* * *

The 125,000-square-foot building will be six stories on 6th Avenue between 3rd and 4th Street S. It will be paid for by USF Tampa’s current student housing revenues and be used in a bond capacity. Construction will begin in spring 2019 by architect Beck Group, which is based in Dallas. 

It is good the residence hall was approved and it is good, for the effort to unify the school, to use money from Tampa to improve the St. Pete campus.

Speaking of money,

University of South Florida is the latest to admit to misusing millions in funds on university buildings, stating recently that the institution misspent $6.4 million in 2010.

David Lechner, senior vice president for Business and Financial Strategy for USF, sent a letter on Nov. 2 to Chancellor Marshall Criser III of the State University System of Florida stating the university misused public funds on the Patel Center for Global Solutions.

“The primary reason for the funding change appears to be that after the building was underway, significant, pledged private funds failed to materialize,” the letter said. “… the use of carryforward funds at that time to complete the Patel Project is attributable to an administrative oversight and misunderstanding about the proper use of carryforward funds in capital projects.”

Needless to say, that is a bit odd, especially given:

The Patel Center cost a total of $21.7 million and was built in 2010. The Board of Trustees was originally told in 2006 the building would require entirely private funds. In 2010, the board received an update that the building would then use private and state matching funds.

A question we are interested in is why exactly the funds were expected and then not raised.  We tend to think that if you are building on donations, you should have the donation in hand before building, but that is just us.  At least

Adam Freeman, director of media relations for USF, said the carryforward funds used for the Patel Center have all been fully repaid.

It should also be noted that USF is not the only state school that did this, and at least the money was paid back.  We hope they make efforts to figure out what exactly happened and prevent it from happening again.


Trail Tale

The Upper Tampa Bay Trail is very popular (according to a Times article, the most popular trail in Hillsborough County, though we are not sure if that means just County trails or includes Tampa).  While it does not really connect to a trail system like it should, where it runs, it is a nice feature.  However, here has been an ongoing issue regarding a development by the trail near the Citrus Park mall. This week, it was back in the news:

A proposed land swap between the county and the developer of an apartment block that would have moved a stretch of the Upper Tampa Bay Trail closer to Gunn Highway appears dead for now.

But joggers, cyclists and other users of the trail, who waged a grassroots campaign against the plan, aren’t celebrating just yet.

Hillsborough County commissioners last week acknowledged that a county-led effort to find a compromise between trail users and developer Alliance Realty had failed. There was no call for a vote on any of the three trail realignments drawn up by county planners.

Less clear, however, is whether Alliance will move ahead with its proposed 300-unit apartment block without the land swap, a move that could set up a legal battle.

Everything could set up a legal battle.  So what is the problem?

At issue would be whether the Winter Park development firm that has the four parcels under contract has a right to connect them to Gunn Highway by crossing the trail.Chris Daye, the owner of Commercial Development Consultants who represented Alliance at a recent commission meeting, claims the firm does. That access might allow the developer to build the project without realigning the trail.

“These private parcels have access to Gunn Highway that lawfully predates the trail,” Daye said.

That likely would be challenged by trail users and the Tampa Bay Sierra Club, who point to language in Hillsborough County’s comprehensive plan that protects trails from being used for other purposes except in “instances of overriding public interest.” Another section of the plan states that the county shall “ensure that no actions will be taken which will impair the use of designated recreational trails.”

Any access conveyed with those parcels would be trumped by the rights of the public to use the trail, said Pamela Jo Hatley, a land-use and environmental law attorney who cycles on the trail with her husband.

But what exactly is the issue?

Alliance Realty Partners proposed the land swap in April as part of its application to rezone land around the trail for an apartment complex, county records show. It proposed realigning the trail closer to Gunn Highway in order to build an entrance to the proposed apartment block on Gunn.

It needed the approval of the county to include the one-sixth mile section in its application since the land is publicly owned. Officials said the benefit to trail users would be that it would only require one trail crossing instead of a potential four if the parcels were developed separately.

* * *

Instead of crossing the trail, the developer should move the apartment block entrance to Basswood Avenue, which links to Erhlich Road, trail users said at a recent commission meeting.

You can see the location here.

The land is zoned for single family houses at the moment, so the developer can’t just go ahead with their apartment project as proposed.  (Not to mention, looking at the proposal, the only reason the trail would have to swerve to have a single Gunn Highway access in the first place is because the developer does not want to bother laying it out differently.)

What you can clearly see is that Basswood provides fine access to the lots to the south.  That may not be the developer’s preferred access, but it is access nonetheless – and access that does not mess with the trail.  (The developer could build an overpass for the trail over their access road, but apparently that is not part of the discussion.)

Setting aside the legal issues, we are not particularly excited about the idea of a sprawling apartment complex right on the trail.   While the rezoning may have been pro forma last week, next week it should not be so.  If they want rezoning, they should truly work with the community to achieve common goals, like not messing with the trail. Our pedestrian and bike accident issues are bad enough.  Trails should provide a protected environment.

Regardless of the outcome in this case, it should now be clear that the County needs to more firmly address issues of interfering with a trail after it is already built. Given that the transit tax has money that can be used for trails and the County needs to connect the trail to the east to create a real network that serves the whole area, it really needs to make sure it can protect the work that has already been and will be done.


Airport – More Puerto Rico

 Another new flight:

BIG NEWS: Today @SpiritAirlines announced new daily nonstop service to San Juan, Puerto Rico! The service will begin on Feb. 14, 2019.

Más es mejor.


Economic Development – Amazon

As those who are interested know, Amazon chose both the DC area and New York City for a split HQ2 this week.  We knew it was not coming here because this area (as well as many others) did not even make the first cut.  It is pretty easy to do an “aw shucks” we did not have a chance for HQ2 given the split between DC and NYC – they have obvious benefits we cannot provide.  In fact, the Times had a piece that was basically that. And that’s fine.  But one little thing got lost in that article, namely this:

Amazon’s announcement that it would bring a new operations hub to Nashville may have been a consolation prize in the national sweepstakes for the tech giant’s coveted “HQ2,” but it remains the single largest jobs announcement in Tennessee’s history. 

And, city leaders said Tuesday, the $230 million investment, which will bring as many as 5,000 jobs, is the right fit for a city already growing by roughly 100 people a day.

“The 5,000 is a good fit in lots of ways, not just in size,” Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce CEO Ralph Schulz said. “It is something we can absorb more easily, quickly.” 

The new Amazon center will be located at Nashville Yards, a major commercial site under construction between Church Street and Broadway near Interstate 40. The company will begin hiring in 2019.

It is not HQ2, but 5000 jobs are going to downtown Nashville (in a development, Nashville Yards, that seems strangely reminiscent to Water Street. ). We are not going to do a full analysis of why they chose Nashville namely because we are not privy to their decision-making.  It could be a lot of things like geography, hills, more density of existing talent or something else (though, interestingly, it is not transit).  They also chose Nashville over a large number of other cities.

However, local officials need to dig into whatever information they can in an honest way because it seems we still lag cities like Charlotte, Nashville, and Raleigh in at least reputation (not to mention incomes and per capita GDP, from the BEA, Nashville – 60,806; Charlotte – 58,064; Raleigh – 54,398; Tampa Bay area – 41,222).  The area overall is doing much better than it did and some people in this area are doing very well, but those GDP numbers are a dose of reality or how we are doing relative to other areas and show we really need to (and can) do better.


St. Pete – Stay Pete-y

In St. Pete the mayor has been looking to promote local business in the downtown area.  The first idea was some sort of ban on chain stores in certain areas.  But that idea, which has some legal issues, was dropped.  This week, there was a new idea:

Kriseman and city staff met with several dozen community members at Bandit Coffee on Monday night to discuss the plan, labeled the “storefront conservation corridor.”The goal is to help local stores to thrive, Kriseman said, and address the concern that many of these small businesses could get pushed out if rents rise.

“We’re not banning (chains), but it certainly makes it a little more challenging,” Kriseman said. “And if they do come in, they have to be willing to fit our design standards.”

City staff developed the corridor plan in hopes of ensuring that the mix of businesses people see now along the two popular streets will stay the same.

To accomplish this, city planners broke up the corridor from the waterfront to 31st Street into four sections: Beach Drive, East Central, the Edge District and Grand Central. Staff then counted the storefront widths of businesses in each section. Whatever ratio exists now of small, medium and large stores will set the standard for how many businesses of similar size can exist in the future within each district.

We would have to have a full draft ordinance to have a full opinion on the idea, but it is a much better approach than trying to just ban chain stores.  At least it is a more creative way to deal with the issue of helping local businesses.  We have nothing against chains per se, but it is also nice to have local businesses that give an area a unique flavor.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country


— About Those Highways

A subject that comes up every now and then is what to do with highways.  Many cities are reconnecting their neighborhoods by building parks over their highways.  Because people might be curious, we thought we’d provide some links: Philadelphia, Atlanta, Washington (DC), and Seattle.

Except in a very limited number of places (like I-175 in St Pete) our highways are a bit different from much of the county because they are raised rather than lowered.  That makes things a bit trickier. However, understanding what is going on in other places, what problems they are trying to solve, what they are trying to achieve (and what problems they encounter in doing so) can help work out local solutions (or avoid local problems, like an 18 to 24 land highway between downtown and Tampa Heights).


— PHL

As regular readers will know, we often discuss airport rankings.  This week, we feature a refreshing take on airport rankings from Philadelphia:

On Thursday, the credit card and travel rewards gurus over at the Points Guy published a ranking of the 30 best airports nationwide. Shockingly, unbelievably, and possibly due to clerical error, Philadelphia International Airport slotted in at seventh place.

The Points Guy derived its list by calculating three metrics: timeliness, accessibility, and amenities. As anyone who has ever used the airport can guess, PHL’s worst showing was in the timeliness category, where it placed a paltry 19th.

In reality, we should probably be even lower. TPG’s report used 2017 data, but so far this year, according to Department of Transportation data for 30 major airports, PHL ranks 26th in on-time departures, at 75 percent. Most delays are due to weather and traffic issues. (Sadly, there is no category for when a pilot fails to show up and nobody at the airline knows where he is, which is what happened to me when I flew out of PHL last month and was delayed for three hours.)

You can read the whole article here.   Well done. (And, just so you know, Tampa came in 5th behind Phoenix (really), Salt Lake City, that pesky Portland, and San Diego and just in front of Charlotte and Philadelphia.)

Roundup 11-9-2018

November 8, 2018

Contents

Transportation – Step One, Referendum . . .

Downtown – A Warning

Transportation – Brightline

Downtown/Channel District – More Water Street

Downtown – About Those Offices . . .

Airport – Changes

Pasco – A Chance

Downtown – Finally

Port – Expanding

Economic Development – Talent

Downtown – Winner

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

_______________________________________________________


Transportation – Step One, Referendum . . .

As anyone who is even mildly interested knows, both the transportation and school referenda passed.  While we would not say either was really “grass-roots,” it really doesn’t matter.  There were clear majorities for both. This is the map for the transportation referendum:

Source: Hillsborough County Election Supervisor website – click on map for website

Basically, the vast majority of developed areas voted for it.

Now, there is a short period of time for organizers to celebrate.  And we suggest they adopt this tone:

“This is far more important to Hillsborough County than Water Street. Our citizens decided to sacrifice and tax themselves because they understand the importance of infrastructure. It’s incredibly satisfying to know our citizens decided to invest in our county,” Vinik told the Tampa Bay Business Journal on Tuesday night.

Public temperament and grace is one reason we like the Lightning owner.  So here is your time to celebrate. . .

Ok, now that that is done, here comes the hard part: coming up with proper plans and executing them. Which is why this is interesting:

“Putting this investment to work [is our first priority], we have a lot of plans now we need to make sure this benefits people in every part of the county,” said Tyler Hudson, a Tampa attorney who is leading the effort and is chair of the All for Transportation campaign, adding how the oversight committee will be inclusive with a diverse group of people.

* * *

“With our success in this bold campaign, we set expectations really high for what our community can be,” said Christina Barker of Vinik Family Office and All for Transportation organizer. “It’s been a lot of work, conversations with elected officials and people, but they were ready to invest in this.”

As we have noted before, the oversight committee’s composition is unknown (or, rather, it should be unknown).  (And, as we have said before, there are no plans other than the “BRT” plan, which should be junked in favor of simple express buses.)  If by plans the first speaker means ideas of what they would like to do and will advocate for, that’s fine. We are open to hearing their ideas.  However, no plan was approved in the referendum.  All ideas will have to be presented to the relevant entities, planned, and approved by those entities, then vetted for compliance with the language of the referendum.  Nothing is automatic.

And, yes, there are high expectations, like this from a Business Journal article:

Goodbye congestion, hello better transportation.

Congested roads and bridges, potholes and lack of funding for transportation projects may now become woes of the past as the majority of Hillsborough County voters have made a historic decision to invest into the county’s transportation.

While we are for the goals of the referendum and happy there is now a funding mechanism, we are not going to claim that congestion will disappear.

Once again, no plans have been approved (or even officially proposed under the referendum framework).   The fact is that now that the referendum has passed, all the rhetoric is, in a large way, irrelevant.  The only relevant things are the actual language of the referendum, who gets to control the money and make decisions, and what decisions are actually made. (Note that the oversight committee does not develop and execute any plan.  It can only say “yes” or “no” to another entity’s plan.)

The passing of the referendum is a start, but there is no guarantee anyone will get the transportation system they want or need.  It is all still to be decided, down to what crosswalk gets painted and what sidewalk gets fixed.  Now is not the time for complacency or overconfidence.  It is the time for work.

What makes all this more even more interesting is that the one entity with most likely the biggest influence, the County Commission, is going to be very different.  (And the City government will soon be different.)  It will be interesting to see how different its decision-making process is.  And it will be interesting to see how all this is going to work with the new State government (especially our legislative delegation), whatever it turns out to be, and FDOT, especially what FDOT does now that Hillsborough has shown local buy-in. (Not to mention that it is critical that our local planning changes to make transportation alternatives truly viable alternatives.)

And, to be clear, we don’t really care where an idea comes from.  We just care if it is a good idea or a bad idea.  (Our previously stated concern about factions and narrow interests is that, at least historically, they tend to come up with bad ideas.)

So, be happy there is now a funding plan for transportation. But just remember, the referendum is only is step one.  Better transportation is step three.  In the middle is the very hard work that now has to be undertaken, especially on transit, including all the advocacy, planning, and decisions that have to be made.  (And, while not part of the referendum, don’t forget TB(n)X is still out there.)

We are not taking anything away from the passing of the referendum.  It was a major achievement. There is now the opportunity to do a lot of good things in Hillsborough County and, if done right (along with related things like planning and land use), it could change nature and image of the area, but it is going to take a lot of work, persistence, and learning from the mistakes of the past (and present, see next item).

One thing is for sure: this is going to be interesting.


Downtown – A Warning

Normally, we would put this later in the Roundup, but given other events this week, we think it belongs right here.

You may remember that the City sought proposals for the lot across Florida from City Hall (“most prominent undeveloped parcel of land in the downtown area”) for a project that should be the “crown jewel” in our skyline. However, the City chose a very underwhelming project which was then switched by the developer for something even worse (which is not innovative to say the least), and which, for no good reason at all, is apparently moving forward:

A New Orleans developer that’s been pursuing a city-owned lot in downtown Tampa since 2016 has closed on the property.

HRI paid $7.6 million for the surface parking lot at 405 E. Kennedy Blvd., according to a Hillsborough County deed filed Tuesday. The lot is next to city hall, at Kennedy Boulevard and Florida Avenue.

Jeannette Jason, director with Cushman & Wakefield Inc. in Tampa, represented HRI in the transaction.

HRI’s development agreement with the city outlines a 17-story, dual-branded hotel with at least 106 rooms franchised as a Hyatt House and at least 239 rooms franchised as a Hyatt Place, along with 3,400 square feet of meeting and event space, a fitness center and rooftop amenity deck with pool.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

This project is an object lesson.  Here is a very nice lot in a prime downtown location that the City absolutely had no reason to sell, but chose to sell anyway.  It then chose a poor project that got even worse, but, undeterred, the City kept going.  It is not illegal.  But it is a bad project, the waste of a public asset, and quintessential Tampa settling.  And elected officials, including some announced mayoral candidates, just moved it along.

The same thing can happen with the transportation referendum without long-term vigilance.  The transportation referendum money could be turn out to be transformative or it could be squandered on the transportation equivalent of a poorly planned, bland, beige box.  This project should serve as a constant reminder of the need to be involved.


Transportation – Brightline

In what should come as no surprise to anyone:

State transportation officials on Wednesday received one proposal to run an intercity passenger train from Orlando to Tampa, and it came from Brightline, the company that proposed creating the route in the first place.

* * *

The Florida Department of Transportation has named a three-member technical review committee to determine whether Brightline’s proposal meets the requirements the agency outlined in its request for proposals on June 22.

Their recommendation will go to a selection committee of high-ranking transportation officials, who are scheduled to make a decision on Nov. 28.

We are going to go out on a limb and predict that Brightline will be selected the winner.


Downtown/Channel District – More Water Street

By the time this is posted, 815 Water Street will have officially broken ground.

The first residential building in Water Street Tampa — two towers of residential units perched atop street-level retail — will celebrate its groundbreaking this week.

815 Water Street, which sits adjacent to the Tampa Bay History Center near the entrance to the Tampa Riverwalk, will include a 21-story and a 26-story tower totaling 420 rental units, developer Strategic Property Partners said Monday.

SPP, controlled by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investment LLC, will officially celebrate the groundbreaking at 9 a.m. on Nov. 8. Site work has been underway on that parcel of Water Street for months.

* * *

The street-level retail will be 35,000 square feet, 25,000 square feet of which will be devoted to a grocery store along Channelside Drive.

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

This is the location:

From the Business Journal – click on map for article

This is the second true part of the Water Street project to break ground (we aren’t counting Sparkman Wharf, which is a renovation, and the USF Med School, though they are both part of the overall vision).  There is more to come. (See this nice rundown from the Business Journal )

Good stuff.  (This is the quality of project the City should have demanded for its lot.)


Downtown – About Those Offices . . .

While this first appeared on SkyscraperCity, the Business Journal confirmed news about Riverwalk Place.

There is so much demand for condominiums in Riverwalk Place that its developers say they are scratching long-standing plans to combine office and residential space in one tower and will build only condos above retail and restaurant space.

It is a major departure from the original plans for the tower, which was proposed as a pioneering project for Tampa’s urban core — stacking residential units on top of office space and parking. One of the development partners in the project, Feldman Equities LLC, specializes in office space and hired an in-house commercial real estate broker to oversee the leasing and marketing of the office space within Riverwalk Place.

* * *

The developer didn’t say exactly how many condos Riverwalk Place would now include, only that it would be more than 200 units. Those units are priced from the $600,000s to $2 million.

The retail element is unchanged.

Obviously this is a business decision. We just assume the project’s condo sales are doing well, and, presumably, this will make it easier to move the project forward (and make money, which is obviously related).  While we are all for mixed use and it is a big change, the effect on most people will be negligible.  (Water Street will have an office element.)  One thing we are curious about is whether the height of the building will remain the same.

In further news:

The 53-story tower, at Brorein Street and Ashley Drive in downtown Tampa, officially opens its sales gallery to the public this week — with nearly $70 million in reservations already on the books. Smith & Associates Real Estate, the exclusive listing agent on the tower, has been taking meetings with real estate agents and prospective buyers for months while the gallery was under construction.

No doubt the timing of the announcement is not coincidental.

And, if like us, you are into these things, here is a cool video of the project.


Airport – Changes

Given the growth at the airport, some things need to be changed:

Frontier will soon move to Airside E, allowing the airline to continue along its rapid growth trajectory. They’re scheduled to start operating from the new location on Nov. 14.

“We did a lot of analysis and determined Airside E had the most capacity. We had to make sure we put them on gates that make the most sense with the least disruption to other carriers that may otherwise use those gates,” said Adam Bouchard, Senior Manager of Terminal Operations and Security, who led the operations side of the move.

The need to relocate Frontier became apparent after the airline announced 11 new destinations in 2017 and another six in 2018.

It will be interesting to see how that works, given that, at busy times, Airside E already gets quite crowded.  Maybe, with the growth will happening, we will get to a new airside D sooner rather than later.

In more news, or really a nice presentation of stuff we already knew, there was an article about the airport on Airways magazine’s website here.


Pasco – A Chance

There was an article in the Times regarding Pasco County:

Pasco County wants to give Land O’ Lakes Boulevard a facelift.

That could mean building sidewalks, encouraging transit-friendly development, bulldozing and rebuilding atop prime real estate, and perhaps even a push for a privately built town center gathering place for the community along the road also known as U.S. 41.

Contrast that to the current situation that can be best described as a mixed bag. Land O’ Lakes Boulevard is a multi-lane highway stretching from Hillsborough County north toward State Road 52 through the spine of Pasco. It is a gateway dotted with aging buildings sporting for-sale signs, empty lots, a shortage of sidewalks and daily traffic delays at its major intersections.

It is hip enough to have two microbreweries and a winery, but blue-collar enough to support four used-car lots and two bail bond outlets. It is home to multiple mobile-home parks and also high-end residential neighborhoods like Wilderness Lake Preserve, Connerton and LakeShore Ranch.

To further bolster the area, the county plans to ask the Legislature for $1.5 million in next year’s state budge to begin planning the corridor’s redevelopment.

On its face, that sounds positive.

This effort, she said, is intended to mirror the county’s planning work that resulted in the Harbors redevelopment plan, a blueprint for a projected 50-year reinvention of the U.S. 19 corridor.

A likely stimulus could come from the Pasco Sheriff’s Office and the county, which are building a forensics center just east of the road on Central Boulevard. Officials hope that could trigger economic development and new industries at the Connerton Commerce Park, just to the south.

Not exactly what we were thinking about (and, while we are sure it is needed and will be a fine facility, we are not sure a forensics center is really a redevelopment stimulus), but maybe there is more.

Convenience store/gasoline stations are planned for three high-profile corners on the east side of U.S. 41 at Ehren Cutoff, Hale and Bell Lake roads. Other commerce includes an auto parts store under construction on the east side and a medical office building planned for the west side of the highway near Connerton. More notably, Arbor Capital Partners filed preliminary plans with Pasco County indicating it planned to develop an Aldi grocery store and two quick-serve restaurants — Zaxby’s and Burger King — on nearly six acres at the northeast corner of U.S. 41 and Wilderness Lake Boulevard.

That may be some new stuff, but it sounds like conventional Pasco County sprawl.  Though there is this:

But even further south, development potential is hemmed in by CSX rail lines on the highway’s west side and the sparkling lakes on the east that give the community its name.

And that is where different people see different things.  Yes, rail lines make it harder to do curb cuts to fast food restaurants.  On the other hand, Pasco has potential transit lines right there.  If they used those lines (rather than, at most, relying on a flawed “BRT” plan), they could change the nature of the area completely.  Unlike just paving more, a rail station that is a gateway south to Tampa could actually encourage this:

. . . building sidewalks, encouraging transit-friendly development, bulldozing and rebuilding atop prime real estate, and perhaps even a push for a privately built town center gathering place for the community along the road also known as U.S. 41.

The opportunity is sitting right there, especially with the Hillsborough referendum. Whether Pasco even considers taking it is completely unknown.


Downtown – Finally

It has been a long time with a lot of twists and turns, but:

The Tempo, a seven-story building featuring 203 units of one, two, three, and four-bedroom apartments, is set to start moving residents in on the first few floors this month as construction on the remainder of the building is completed. 

It is about time, and, hopefully, the Housing Authority has learned some useful lessons for future projects.


Port – Expanding

The Port bought some more land:

The Tampa Port Authority has bought a key piece of property to fit into its plans for Port Redwing and South Bay.

“The acquisition of this property is a positive one that’s going to create efficiency, bring more tenants and create more jobs,” Port Tampa Bay VP of Real Estate Lane Ramsfield told Tampa Bay Business Journal.

The deed, which was filed in Hillsborough County on Nov. 1, shows the port closed on the property south of U.S. Highway 41 in Gibsonton on Oct. 26 for just over $2 million.

The 20-acre land is currently zoned as agricultural industrial and is being used for hay.  

This is the land:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

That may seem a bit odd, given that it is not actually on the water, but:

“This property was necessary for our development,” Ramsfield said, speaking about the future tenants for the property. “Even though it’s not waterfront, the type of tenant is the type that’s going to drive bulk products, containers through the port.”

Those tenants would use the Big Bend Channel, for which the port is undergoing a $55 million expansion. The channel, which connects to the Tampa Harbor main channel, will be widened from 200 feet to 250 feet and the depth will be increased from 34 feet to 43 feet.

We will see what happens with it.


Economic Development – Talent

There are a number of local officials who often tout how the Tampa Bay area is now a magnet for talent (and no longer a net exporter).  We do not have any firm numbers, though anecdotally, we are not sure about that.  In any event, given those statements, it was interesting to see an article from St. Pete Catalyst entitled “Tampa Bay Partnership CEO talks tackling the regional talent pipeline

The Partnership commissioned a massive data overhaul in 2017 and published its first Regional Competitiveness Report in November 2017. The report compared the Tampa Bay MSA (Tampa – St. Pete – Clearwater) to 19 other regions, including Minneapolis-St. Paul, Orlando, Raleigh-Durham, Seattle, Houston, and others.

There was good news – as the 18th largest metropolitan area in the country, Tampa Bay ranked #2 in job growth rate.

But the study also set off major alarm bells in the areas of average wage (Tampa Bay ranked 19 out of 20), median household income (20 out of 20), transportation (20 out of 20) and high school graduation (18 out of 20).

The alarms didn’t stop there.

“The real wakeup call for us was as we looked at the talent indicators and we looked at the level of educational attainment in our population,” said Homans.

“An example would be for the 25 years and older, the percentage of the population that has a bachelor’s degree or higher, I think we’re around 27, 28 percent,” he continued. “Well, the communities that have the highest gross regional product per capita, the highest average wages, are coming in in the neighborhood of 40 to 50 percent.”

This more-than 20 point spread in educational attainment pointed to major concerns for Tampa Bay’s talent pool. Despite the abundance of colleges and universities in the area, the attainment figures for those who call Tampa Bay home are lagging in comparison to similar regions.

Another indicator, bachelor’s degree attainment combined with the target age (millennials 24-34) proved concerning too, as it is a predictive indicator of the economic prosperity and growth of an area. Tampa Bay ranked 19 out of 20 regions, with just 28 percent of 25-34 year olds with a bachelor’s degree or higher. The top region, Raleigh-Durham, came in at 51.7 percent.

(The report is here.) The article goes on to discuss steps the Partnership is taking to try to address the issue, and that is fine.  The issue needs to be addressed, because, despite much rhetoric, it is still an issue.

It is not that there are not positive thing happening here.  There are (including the potential of both Hillsborough referenda to make the area more attractive to new and existing talent). And this area does produce talent, and it does produce ideas.  However, still too often the talent and ideas end up going somewhere else (or staying somewhere else) to reach their potential.


Downtown – Winner

A few weeks ago we mentioned that the Riverwalk was up for a 2018 American Planning Association people’s choice award.  Well the people have spoken, and the Riverwalk won.  You can read about it here.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

A bit on transit:

This week, Spieler, a urban planner at the design firm Huitt-Zollars and an adjunct professor at Rice University’s Schools of Architecture and Engineering, published a slick, map-filled volume documenting the condition of the 47 metro areas in the country that have functioning rail or bus rapid transit systems.

“Functioning” might be an overstatement. This is Spieler’s point, and why he spent more than 15 years traveling to, observing, and collecting data on all these cities to begin with. “I feel a lot of the discussions around transit take as its major metric of success the opening of new rail lines,” he says. “I think the definition of ‘success’ is you made a network that makes it easy to get around the city.”

Spend a little time with the book’s meticulously detailed maps, and you’ll see what he means. Metros like Seattle; Portland, Oregon; Salt Lake City, Utah; and even El Paso, Texas, connect their densest residential and employment centers with bus or train lines that run at least every 15 minutes during the week—exactly the metrics, in Spieler’s opinion, that should be used to judge a system. (Some cities publish data on route frequency online. Others don’t, so Spieler sometimes found himself manually searching through their transit schedules, charting how often a train or bus route makes its run.)

It is a salient point that should always be kept in mind.  The purpose of transit is to connect and without frequency, connections are bad.

If you are really interested, the book is available here.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

There is more news about why ridesharing may be useful but should not be relied on as the solution to transportation issues:

But against these benefits, there are costs to weigh. Far from reducing congestion by encouraging people to give up their cars, as many had hoped, ride-hailing seems to increase it. Bruce Schaller, a transport consultant, estimates that over half of all Uber and Lyft trips in big American cities would otherwise have been made on foot or by bike, bus, subway or train. He reckons that ride-hailing services add 2.8 vehicle miles of driving in those cities for every mile they subtract.

A new working paper by John Barrios of the University of Chicago and Yael Hochberg and Hanyi Yi of Rice University spells out one deadly consequence of this increase in traffic. Using data from the federal transport department, they find that the introduction of ride-sharing to a city is associated with an increase in vehicle-miles travelled, petrol consumption and car registrations—and a 3.5% jump in fatal car accidents. At a national level, this translates into 987 extra deaths a year.

So what can be done?

What could be done to tip the balance back to benefits overall? “Congestion pricing is the most direct solution,” says Jonathan Hall of the University of Toronto. Several cities, including London, Stockholm and Singapore, have moved in this direction, charging drivers for entering busy areas at peak hours. If ride-hailing firms tweaked their pricing to encourage carpooling, that would help, too.

In other words, make ridesharing more expensive, which makes it less desirable, and less useful, especially for a last mile solution in a congested area.  (Not to mention most areas with congestion pricing have robust transit).  Ridesharing has a place, but it is not a solution.  And, with increasing evidence, if relied on as a main solution, it becomes part of the problem.

Roundup 11-2-2018

November 1, 2018

Contents

Downtown/Channel District – Connections

Downtown – 500

Tampa Heights – Could Be Better

West Tampa – Adaptive Reuse

Transportation – Odds and Ends

— Propitious Timing?

— Brightline

— Money

— Ferry

— Yet More Examples

Economic Development/Politics/Built Environment – Someone Has to Pay

Lessons in Planning

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

— About Ports

— Underlined

Built Environment/Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

_________________________________________________________


Downtown/Channel District – Connections

Downtown boosters have long dreamed that the flour mill along Meridian would be bought, allowing development.

The flour mill covers a little more than 3 acres and was owned by Ardent Mills, a joint venture between ConAgra and two other agri-business companies. It has long been seen as an anachronistic remnant of the waterfront’s smokestack past and out of synch with Water Street’s lifestyle-driven mix of high-rise hotels, apartments, condominiums and offices.

Built in 1938, the 80,000-square-foot flour mill grinds wheat around the clock, shipping 1.5 million pounds of flour a day to bakeries across Florida, the Southeastern United States and the Caribbean.

Well,

. . . the development company for Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investment on Friday paid $13 million to buy the ConAgra flour mill just north of their 50-acre Water Street Tampa project.

The transaction clears the way for the 80-year-old flour plant to move. . . and for developers with Strategic Property Partners (SPP) to expand Water Street Tampa’s footprint and further shape the city’s urban core.

We can’t say we are surprised or unhappy about it.   And it has this added bonus:

SPP, controlled by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investment LLC, paid more than $13 million for the property, adding it to the more than 50 acres it already controls between downtown Tampa and the Channel district. At the same time, the city of Tampa has has secured the rights to connect Cumberland Avenue from Meridian Avenue to Brorein Avenue. As of November 2020, the flour mill will terminate its leasing rights to the rail spur south of Cumberland Avenue.

The road connection is important; the entire foundation of Water Street is a reconfigured street grid that transforms the moribund gravel parking lots surrounding the arena into a walkable, pedestrian-scale neighborhood. But the deal SPP and the city have struck with the flour mill is about building more than a new road: It removes a physical and mental barrier between the Channel district and central business district.

See the area here.

The streets do not line up exactly, but the connection can be done, even if it does not exactly make a grid (Pierhouse messed up the north-south grid and blocks some of the east-west grid, anyway.  Good thing we have Pierhouse and Aurora).  And it would be good, though this is overstated a bit:

While the Channel district is an easy walk from the central business district, it is neither a pleasant nor comfortable walk. Tourists, conventiongoers and Channel district residents walking on Meridian Avenue face a conundrum: With a panoramic view of the skyline, downtown is clearly close by, but there’s no clear way to get there. With the flour mill out of the literal picture — and new sidewalks to guide the way — the Channel district and city center will finally be connected.

On the north end of the Channel District, the grid is connected (Jackson being the southernmost connection before Channelside), though the government section of downtown that connects to the Channel District is not that inviting.  In any event, it will be nice to have the southern end connected, especially if Water Street develops it in line with their existing plans.  (Note that the land was once discussed for a Rays stadium and, given the rails, is often raised for a potential train station.  Whether Brightline is considering it or not is unknown. Then again, they did not buy it.)

As for the mill:

“Ardent Mills is looking at several sites in Tampa and the surrounding area for our new community mill location,” spokeswoman Mary Ann Strombitski said in an email Friday evening to the Tampa Bay Times. “We are excited to continue to serve the Tampa community from our current facility and our future new facility. We have not selected or finalized a site location yet.”

Hopefully, they will end up in the Port nearby.

And there was more activity:

One business day after paying $13 million for the site of the ConAgra flour mill, the development company for Water Street Tampa on Monday got the green light to spend another $2.75 million more on land it needs for its finest hotel and tallest office tower.

The Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority board voted to sell the land — nine parcels that used to make up the curvy parts of Brorein Street — to Strategic Property Partners (SPP), the real estate venture between Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investment, the private capital fund of Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

Even more than the purchase of the flour plant, which has long been seen as an industrial anachronism in an area expected to become a lively neighborhood and entertainment hub, the Brorein Street purchase has immediate importance for the $3 billion mixed-used development.

That’s because SPP’s plans include a new Marriott Edition boutique hotel and a 20-story office building near where Brorein used to split off from Channelside Drive.

“The reason this is critical is two of our projects could not have gone forward until we owned all the property,” SPP executive vice president and general counsel Jim Shimberg said after the vote.

As with so much, it is all tied together:

“Two huge things have happened two days in a row,” Shimberg said. “We couldn’t close (with the expressway authority) until the rights to the Cumberland crossing were secured.”

We had no doubt that the Expressway Authority would agree.  The only question was Ardent Mills.  Now, it is all worked out.

On to the more fun stuff regarding the hotel and office building:

Construction is expected to start on both projects in early 2019, and both are projected to open in 2021. The Marriott Edition building will rise 26 stories, with 173 rooms in the hotel and 46 condominiums on its top 15 floors. The office tower, at 1001 Water Street, will open next to the new medical school building already under construction for the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute.

We look forward to it.


Downtown – 500

In vaguely related news:

Bank of America Plaza in downtown Tampa will be the new corporate headquarters of the Mosaic Company, the first Fortune 500 firm to relocate to the Tampa Bay area.

The phosphate mining giant announced in May that it was moving its corporate offices from Minneapolis to Hillsborough County but the exact site had not been known until today.

Banyan Capital, owner of the 42-story tower at 101 Kennedy Boulevard, said Mosaic will rent 20,000 square feet on the 25th floor. The move-in date has not been announced nor has the number of employees who will work out of the space. 

We are all for Fortune 500 companies relocating to Tampa and downtown.  We find it interesting that they chose an existing building rather than Water Street, but, given all the potential factors involved, we draw no conclusions.  In any event, having a Fortune 500 company nearby is not a bad thing for attracting business.


Tampa Heights – Could Be Better

A few weeks ago, we discussed the office building along Tampa Street proposed by the Heights project.  We noted that on the block south of that there were plans for a hotel, grocery store, and parking garage.  This week elevations for the garage block were released.  From UBRN Tampa Bay:

As you can see from the site plan, the block includes a 30,000 square foot grocery store, 7,000 square feet of retail space, a hotel, and 1,560 parking spaces which will be a majority of the The Heights master plan’s total parking at full build out.

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

 

From the elevations, you can see that the hotel will screen the western side of the structure.  The grocery store will face Tampa.  Both those are fine.  However, we agree with URBN Tampa Bay:

We understand the development needs parking, but it needs to be dressed up better then this. A development of this size should have been able to do a better job of wrapping its parking with other uses to conceal it.

Or at least they could try to cover the parking levels with some screening or a green wall. (Otherwise the view over this nice field of flowers  will not be so pleasant) They can definitely do better than six levels of bland, exposed parking in the heart of Tampa Heights.  We know they know how to do it, because they did a nice job with the Pearl.  Hopefully, they will make some changes.


West Tampa – Adaptive Reuse

This week there was a proposal for an adaptive reuse of a cigar factory on Howard.  From URBN Tampa Bay:

Plans have been filed with the city to convert the vacant cigar factory at the northwest corner of Howard Ave. and Nassau St. into a 70-room hotel. 77 parking spaces are required according to code and the developer wants to provide 71.

The rezoning hearing is set for March 14th.

 

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for posting

The location is here.

We have been waiting a long time for the old West Tampa cigar factories to be put to good use.  We count a hotel among those uses.   While we are not so excited about two surface parking lots (and the pool is in an odd location), at least the proposal is looking for a little less parking than the code requires.  City should allow the decrease.

This is a corridor (that has been) primed for redevelopment all the way to the heart of West Tampa (especially if real transit is even built) that has a number of old buildings ready to be renovated.  The City should encourage it as much as possible (but not buildings that fake activating the street, like this)  And it should avoid surface parking fronting the street.


Transportation – Odds and Ends


— Propitious Timing?

The idea of running transit (not just commuter trains but real transit – DMU’s, running on hydrogen or electrified) on the CSX lines in this area has been around for a long time.  And, given where they go, it makes a lot of sense.  One issue has been buying the lines from CSX.  The State paid to buy them for SunRail in Orlando, but there has never really been a serious effort here.  The stars may be aligning. From the Jacksonville Business Journal:

CSX Corp. is making good on its pledge to trim surplus rail lines with more than 1,100 miles of track now up for grabs. In filings with the Surface Transportation Board, CSX (Nasdaq: CSX) targets 460 miles of track across 28 different lines – in addition to the 650 miles of track it solicited in June.

The lines – which CSX is looking to sell, abandon or discontinue service – are dispersed across a dozen states. Alabama stands to lose the most miles in CSX’s STB filings at 180, but the 650 miles solicited in June – concentrated mostly in New York – are not broken down by miles.

* * *

At the railroad’s investor conference in March, Mark Wallace, executive vice president and chief administrative officer, forecasted $500 million from selling rail lines, plus $300 million in real estate sales, over the next three years.

“If we don’t need it, let’s get rid of it,” Wallace said during the conference. “Our team has been unleashed to generate revenue wherever we can find it.”

* * *

CSX CEO Jim Foote told the Business Journal after the company’s third quarter earnings call that there was not a geographic or commodity-specific strategy to the lines the company is looking to sell. Rather, CSX is selling lines “that don’t really fit well with our network anymore” and lines “that might have strategic value for CSX, but might be a better fit for someone else,” according to Foote. Some of the lines that have been sold or abandoned had not carried trains in years, according to STB filings.

We understand that a downtown to Westhore connection would not be involved (because CSX does not have one) and would have to be built.  And we get that the CSX lines do not cross the bay, though they do connect to Clearwater through Westchase (which still has land set aside for a station).  They also go to Pasco County.  And they go near the airport from the north (there are ways to go around the airport to get to Westshore from there allowing a loop).

The article does not say anything specific about this area, but this is the time to find out.  Then we can forget the “BRT” plan, have some express buses, and work on the real transit system we need.


— Brightline

There was an article in 83 Degrees media that discussed Brightline.  First, it discussed the connection between Tampa and Orlando.  It discussed Brightline as a developer, which we have discussed before.  Then:

Baumgartner expects that an Orlando-Tampa leg would also boost the tourism and leisure industries.

“Having high-speed rail that can connect those two regions instead of sitting in a car on I-4 could be critical for tourism,” he says. “Folks who come down to Orlando for the amusement parks and want to shoot over for a day to the beaches or to see a baseball game will use it. Then there’s the reverse of that for the folks who come down to the beaches and want to shoot over to the amusement parks for a day.”

“It would connect two of the major economic engines in the state of Florida and the two anchors in the I-4 corridor,” Buckhorn says. “A lot of the foreign visitors who come to Orlando to visit the theme parks also want to visit the beaches. It would be an easy access point for them to get to Tampa for better access to the beaches.”

Someday, but probably not anytime soon (though the CSX lines could speed the process).  Let’s look at the trip to the beaches from an amusement park.  We will assume that all plans proposed right now are built.  First, you have to go from the amusement park to Orlando airport (which is in the wrong direction).  From there, you take the train to downtown Tampa.  Either by ridesharing, walking or the streetcar (depending on the station location) you get to the “BRT” stop under the interstate.  Form there you go to Gateway or downtown St. Pete.  From there, you make your fourth change and get a (potentially real) BRT line (or ridesharing) to the beach.  And after you spend the day at the beach, you get to do it again and hope all the services run on time and all the connections are made. You’d have to be a truly hardy traveler to choose that option (though getting to a baseball game at the proposed Rays stadium from Orlando would be much better, assuming you can get to Orlando airport easily and parking is not more expensive than parking for the game).

We have been very clear about our view of Brightline.  We are all for it, but the fact remains that the Orlando connection at the airport is truly suboptimal unless you are going to Lake Nona.  Right now, it is more interesting for connections past Orlando.  Say you have to go to West Palm Beach.  You can drive, but it is long and with no really good path.  You can take a puddle jumper, which takes time, money, and many people avoid them.  Or you could take a train, do something or sleep on the way and end up downtown.  That sounds much better.

The article then gets into this:

Buckhorn and Baumgartner say transit in the Tampa Bay Area needs to improve for Brightline to reach its full potential. While Brightline is privately funded, they each speak in support of the transportation sales tax on the November ballot in Hillsborough County as a way to generate the money to improve the local transit system.

“We still have to resolve the last mile issue,” Buckhorn says. “When you get to downtown Tampa, how do you move people around Tampa? That only strengthens the argument for local rail to move people to the airport, or the beaches or downtown St. Pete. That’s obviously years down the road but resolving that last mile connection is equally as important as getting Brightline because you don’t want tourists to be dropped off in the middle of downtown Tampa with their suitcases and no way to get to the airport.”

(Note, there has never been a plan to have rail go to the beach, though the Greenlight plan did go to downtown Clearwater, so that is close enough). We agree with the basic point that we need the local infrastructure, though it is hardly a last mile issue, especially for St. Pete or the beaches.  (And remember, the more line changes you have to make the more likely something will go wrong and the more likely people will choose not make the trip that way.)

Ride-sharing services such as “Uber and Lyft will be part of that equation but we also need a more robust bus system,” Buckhorn says. “It reinforces the need to pass the transportation referendum in November because it’s all about the linkages; it’s all about connecting the various modes of transportation, of which there will be many, into a single seamless system.” 

We are for a seamless system (as longtime readers will know).  However, there is no seamless system to Pinellas and the only plan right now is the weak “BRT” plan.  (And that does not take care of the “last mile(s)” issue of getting to/from Orlando’s airport at the Orlando end.)

We are for a Brightline connection in Tampa.  And we are for a coordinated transportation system in the Tampa Bay area (and, to make intercity rail work, in Orlando)  We just think that all the coverage of Brightline ignores the real strength of the service in favor of something that will likely be clunky at best for . . . given all the variables, it’s hard to say how long.


— Money

HART is requesting money from the Legislature for a number of things,

For HART’s 2019 State Legislative Funding Recommended Priorities, the authority details three major projects that are in need of funding to get underway.

Those requests include a 1) heavy bus maintenance facility, $22.86 million for construction and demolition; 2) CAD/AVL system modernization, $10 million for new equipment purchase and installation costs; and 3) electric powered transit bus demonstration project, $2.87 million for vehicle and equipment purchase. While the request may seem a bit odd given the referendum and possibility that they will have much more money soon.  However, they worked that into the request:

The documents note that funding for the projects also depends on the outcome of the Nov. 6 sales tax referendum.

If the increased sales tax to fund transit and transportation projects in Tampa Bay is approved, HART officials will alter this funding request to move from a demonstration project to a full-fledged electric bus replacement and service expansion project. HART officials will also alter its funding request for the bus maintenance facility to include real property acquisition, as building on the current site is not feasible due to future service expansion requirements mandated through the referendum and HART’s Transit Development Plan, according to HART’s documents.

Which is fine, though it will be interesting to see how much money for smallish projects gets allocated by the State if the referendum passes.


— Ferry

The Cross Bay ferry started its second seasonal service. You can get information here.


– Yet More Examples

Last week gave us yet more reasons why running buses on the shoulders is a bad idea. On Monday,

Two separate crashes on Interstate 4 in Polk County caused traffic backups for motorists traveling toward Tampa early Monday morning, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

The first accident closed westbound lanes in Lakeland after a semi-trailer transporting sweet potatoes caught fire around 5:10 a.m. near mile marker 35, troopers said.

The driver, 62-year-old Steven Tillman of Orlando, exited to the emergency shoulder as the semi-trailer experienced a mechanical issue and became engulfed in flames. Troopers say nobody was injured in the incident.

The second crash came shortly after, troopers say, closing westbound lanes near mile marker 40 just west of Polk Parkway.

Also on Monday,

The northbound lanes of I-75 have reopened Monday morning following a three-vehicle crash.

The crash occurred just north of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

And Thursday (this time with serious injuries),

For the second time in less than two weeks, a suspected drunk driver made a U-Turn and went the wrong way on the Howard Frankland Bridge early Thursday morning, causing a crash that closed all northbound lanes.

Once again, accidents blocking the interstate are far too routine (as are death from these accidents).  We need real alternatives.


Economic Development/Politics/Built Environment – Someone Has to Pay

We routinely say that if you want something, you have to pay for it.  And, for years, Hillsborough County had an impact fee system (now “mobility” fees) that was supposed to have developers pay for the impact of their development.  Needless to say, it never worked (mostly because the County did not really enforce it).  A Times editorial, in a related context, pointed out the attitude that causes that:

Hillsborough County residents are paying for growth on both ends, subsidizing development on the front end while struggling to address billion-dollar backlogs for roads, schools and other public services. Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp tried to slow that senseless cycle this month with a reasonable proposal to raise development fees. The commission’s refusal to act is another reason why voters need to make smart choices for the board in the November elections.

Kemp exposed the pitifully low sum developers pay when applying to build projects that exceed existing planning guidelines. If a developer wants to tear up more than 100 acres in Manatee County, for example, the application fee alone would cost $20,000. Broward County would charge $17,500; in Pasco, the fee is $7,000. But Hillsborough’s fee is only $1,000 — a token amount that hasn’t changed since 1987, when Ronald Reagan was president.

* * *

Kemp called for commissioners to increase the fees to at least pay for the staff time. Under one proposal, application fees to consider large-scale developments would increase to $4,000 from $3,000, while fees for smaller developments (less than 500 acres) would increase to $4,000 from $1,000. The fees for other plan reviews would also increase, to up to $1,500 from between $100 and $150. But even with the higher fee schedule, Hillsborough’s rates would still be lower than those in Pasco, Manatee, Broward and Palm Beach counties. And for large developments, the higher fees would still be lower than if Hillsborough had indexed the current fee by 3 percent over the 29 years since it was last updated.

Commissioners balked, though, insisting they need more time to get feedback from developers. Commissioner Victor Crist resurrected the canard that higher fees would dampen real estate development. “Whatever fees we charge are going to be passed onto the homebuyer,” he said. It’s inconceivable that an extra $1,000 for a 500-acre project would catch anybody’s notice. Home prices are largely shaped by interest rates, the price of materials and other big costs — not modest increases over time in permitting fees. And why should current residents subsidize developers by shouldering the costs for overseeing new construction?

For far too long, the County has had a laissez-faire attitude towards development.  That has left us with poor planning, poor infrastructure, and a long list of needs.  Yes, the County miraculously finds funding (a/k/a taxpayer money) for hundreds of millions of dollars of road work when it wants to, but money if fungible.  If there was a proper comprehensive fee system, some of that taxpayer money would be replaced by fee money (and could be reallocated to other needs, though they should be real needs not pet projects).  And, yes, there would still be needs that are not the responsibility of present developers and we do not think they should have to pay for needs for past poor decisions.  But that does not mean that the ineffective fee system should continue.

As for the argument that proper fees would kill development, we are often told how desirable this area is.  But then we are told that development will not happen if we have a rational fee system that is actually enforced.  You can’t have it both ways. (Not to mention the other counties mentioned are in the same situation and seem to get by.) Just like planning, the fee system needs to be fixed and enforced.  Present residents should not bear the burden of subsidizing routine developments.

Which brings us to housing, from the Times:

Construction began on nearly 3,000 homes in the Tampa Bay area in the third quarter of this year but the new-home market shows definite signs of slowing down.

Moreover, “truly affordable housing (is becoming) an impossibility in this market,” a new report warns.

According to Metrostudy, which tracks housing starts in the bay area, 2,946 single-family homes came out of the ground in the three months ended in September, 5.1 percent more than in the third quarter of 2017. However, the increase was largely due to a near halt in construction following Hurricane Irma a year ago September.

The report (here) does not say much more, but it says this:

For the twelve months ending September 2018, annual new home starts in price ranges under $250k totaled 4,402 units, down 8.9% from the 3Q17 annual activity. New home starts in prices over $250k grew by 20.6% from 5,495 units as of 3Q17 to 6,624 units as of 2Q18.

* * *

“Hurricane Irma affected both starts and closings during 3Q17 – and the 5.1% increase in quarterly starts this year is less than losing one week of activity last year (7.7% of the quarter was lost), so a case can be made that the market was slower in 3Q18 than 3Q17,” said Tony Polito, Regional Director of Metrostudy’s Tampa market. “A telltale sign of a slowing market is contraction starting in the upper end, and while last quarter we noted a decline in the annual start pace for units over $450k, that trend continued into 3Q with a 6.8% decline in starts in that highest price band. We are already undersupplied on the lower end product as land, lot and labor costs coupled with government fees make it nearly impossible to build truly affordable housing. This situation is made worse by rising interest rates. The national 30 year mortgage has now crossed 5% which magnifies the need for affordable product.”

Because we pushed some 2017 closings into 2018 due to Irma and we had no real lost time to weather this year, the annual closing pace is above 11,000 units for the first time since 3Q 2007. Metrostudy’s theory is 30,000 new jobs equals 11,000 new “for sale” housing units. If Tampa can sustain this level of job growth, the biggest road block for new housing will be the cost of housing versus wage growth, especially with another three to four Federal Reserve interest rate increases anticipated in 2019.

 

From Metrostudy.com – click on chart for article

 

Affordable housing is always an issue. As you can see from the graphic, new houses under $200,000 have been a smaller segment for a while, and the lowest cost homes have been a very small percentage.  That is most likely because there are bigger profits in bigger houses.  Not to mention that housing prices overall have been going up, meaning fewer cheaper houses.

We find it hard to believe that, with the County’s decidedly low fees that fees are the real reason for fewer affordable housing starts. For comparison, the Central Florida report by the same company tells us “Housing affordability in Central Florida is rapidly diminishing as prices continue pushing skyward. With wages falling further behind the rate of home price appreciation, competition has revved up for condos and townhouses.”  but says nothing about fees. In Naples-Ft. Myers, overall starts seem up, but affordable housing is very low with no mention of fees.   South Florida, including Broward, has a good overall report, but it says nothing about low affordable housing starts and fees. Sarasota-Bradenton’s most recent report – May – mentions cost issues, but also says nothing about fees while mentioning interest rates.   And in none of those areas are affordable housing starts very high.

It is odd that fees only get mentioned in the report on the Tampa Bay area (especially given that the most active new home starts seems to be in Pasco, where there are mobility fees).  And there is always the option of building smaller houses, on smaller lots, and/or closer to the developed areas to lower any mobility fees that are charged. (And, while we are not necessarily in favor of it because it would be open to abuse and manipulation, if affordable housing is the real concern, there is the option of a partial reduction of fees for affordable housing, defined very conservatively, but not other houses.)  Moreover, if we had decent transportation options, people would have more to spend on homes.

But a real key, especially for this area, is that, as the article noted and was noted in reports for other areas, wage growth has to keep up with other pricing factors, including interest rates. (For more on wages in Florida, see here.)

Affordable housing is a problem nationwide. There are many proposed policies to help alleviate it.  However, we are still waiting for a good explanation of how subsidizing sprawling developments that do not include affordable units is an effective way of going about it.


Lessons in Planning

There was an interesting article in the Times regarding New Tampa.

New Tampa offers many of the perks of suburban living while still being inside city limits: roomy homes on big lots, good schools and a low crime rate.

But the sprawling collection of gated communities in the northernmost reaches of Tampa also has a big drawback: the longest emergency response times in the city.

At 8.96 minutes, the 34-square mile district has a median response time that’s about 90 seconds longer than Tampa’s four other fire department districts, according to data obtained by the Tampa Bay Times through a public records request.

In an emergency, authorities acknowledge, a minute and a half can be the difference between life and death.

In response, the City is building a new station, which makes sense.  Setting aside an intermediate issue of where trucks that will eventually be assigned to the new station are now stationed, why are the times so bad?

Council member Luis Viera, who represents New Tampa, said the problem is emblematic of what happens when the city swallows a huge swath of land which then fills up with people. Tampa annexed what is now New Tampa beginning in the 1980s. Since 1990, the area has swelled from about 9,000 people to around 60,000.

That is one factor, but there is another:

Craig Margelowsky, an incoming board member for the K-Bar Community Development District, says he understands the rationale for placing the engine and rescue car in neighborhoods with older homes and more calls. But he wishes they could be housed at Cross Creek, nearer to his home.

“We are so spread out our neighborhoods are 500 acres or 1,000 acres. It takes a long time on these winding roads to get from Point A to Point B,” Margelowsky said. “They’re covering a whole lot more acreage than they are anywhere else.”

Exactly. Sprawl is inefficient.  It is inefficient for traffic, for transit, for walking, for infrastructure, and for emergency services.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida


— About Ports

A few weeks ago, the Port, “Florida’s largest,” released revenue figures:

Port Tampa Bay set a new operating revenue record at $59.7 million for the Fiscal Year 2018, which ended September 30th. This record eclipses the previous high in FY2017 of $53.8 million. The operating revenue figure includes only those dollars generated as a result of Port Tampa Bay operations. It does not include ad valorem tax revenue or grants.

We noted that was good.   This week, we ran across an article about Port Canaveral:

More cruises and cargo were the drivers for a banner financial year at Port Canaveral.

The port saw $103.75 million in total revenue for the 2018 fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, according to numbers presented by Port CEO John Murray and Chief Financial Officer Mike Poole to the Canaveral Port Authority Board of Commissioners on Wednesday.

The biggest driver in the increased revenue was cargo, which broke $10 million in revenue for the first time in the port’s 65-year history. The port saw 6.4 million tons of things like cars, newsprint, lumber and rocket boosters, a 6.9 increase over fiscal 2017 numbers.

* * *

Total cruise revenue was $77.7 million, which was $4.9 million more than fiscal 2017, a 6.8 percent increase.

We get that Port Canaveral is the world’s second busiest cruise port.  We get that Tampa has much more cargo business.  And we get that Tampa has the unresolved (and now undiscussed) issue of the bridge restricting the size of cruise ships (cruise ships bring a lot of revenue).  Nevertheless, it gives some perspective to the numbers and the challenges.


— Underlined

When Miami built MetroRail, it not only chose one of the most expensive options for transit (elevated heavy rail), it left the land under much of the line (especially the southern end) as basically a long strip of grass.  Now, that is going to change.

On Thursday, a contractor is scheduled to break ground on the first phase of the much-anticipated Underline, which will eventually extend from downtown Miami to Dadeland under the Metrorail’s elevated tracks. That initial segment, in the booming Brickell district, is just seven blocks and a half-mile long.

* * *

A master plan drawn up by High Line designers James Corner Field Operations for the nonprofit group she leads, Friends of the Underline, envisions 10 miles of continuous, parallel but separated pathways for people on foot and people on bikes. Lushly landscaped with native species, the trail would connect a series of parks, gardens, playgrounds and other gathering spots whose look and feel relate to neighborhood surroundings that range from intensely urban to placid suburbia.

The comprehensive concept could cost as much as $120 million to build out. Daly has so far secured about $90 million in funding commitments from Miami, Coral Gables, Miami-Dade and the state of Florida, including money from road and park impact fees paid by developers and state funds earmarked for trail construction.

You can read more here, here, and see the details here. And note they are using some impact fees.


Built Environment/Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Vox.com had an interesting article discussing walkability and a book by the lead urban planner of Water Street (that makes it interesting on its own, if just to see what he thinks).  You can read the article here. We will just highlight this:

The idea is marketed based on a few big benefits, according to Speck’s book, one of them being economics. Cities with high walk scores also have high property values. According to a 2009 study, each additional walk score point resulted in home values increasing between $500 and $3,000.

Investing in walkable cities, whether through allocating funds to repaint pedestrian walkways or building affordable housing close to downtowns, also attracts diverse populations and creates jobs. According to the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, 63 percent of millennials and 42 percent of boomers would like to live in a place where they don’t need a car. And according to the National Association of Realtors, 62 percent of millennials prefer to live in a walkable community where a car is optional. If cities seem less automobile-dependent, chances are they are more appealing to a range of ages.

Walking also costs the city very little, unlike cars and even public transit. According to Speck’s book, if a resident takes a bus ride, it may cost them $1 but costs the city $1.50 in bus operation. If a resident decides to drive, it costs the city $9.20 in services like policing and ambulances. When a resident walks, the cost to the city is a penny.

People also tend to spend more money in walkable cities, stimulating the local economy. A 2008 report of San Francisco’s downtown found that public transit users and walkers spent less on each trip downtown but made more frequent trips, which meant they spent more money overall. Those in cars spent more money on one trip but frequented downtown less. 

The benefits of walking are very interesting.  But also note the difference in ongoing public costs of transit users (here, buses) and drivers (not to mention the price of roads).


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

In October, the streetcar in Tampa went free (for three years).  In doing so, it joined a growing group.

How do you encourage people to take public transit more? One option is to make it free.

That’s what the city of Dunkirk, France, did in September when it made buses free and accessible to all passengers, even visitors. With a population of roughly 200,000, Dunkirk is the largest city in Europe to offer free public transit, the Guardian reported.

Dunkirk’s system was inspired by Tallinn, Estonia, the first European capital to provide fare-free service on buses, trams, and trolleys to registered residents. Locals pay €2 for a “green card” that gives them unlimited free trips. The program started in 2013 and, as of 2016, Tallinn claimed it was turning a €20 million-a-year profit.

Free public transit, once impossibly radical, is gaining popularity. Dunkirk joins roughly two dozen French cities that have gone fare free. Aubagne, for example, made transit free on 11 bus routes serving 100,000 residents in 2009. Over the next three years, bus ridership rose 142% and car trips decreased 10%, according to a 2013 article in Metropolitiques. In Châteauroux, eliminating fares in the early 2000s revitalized the town’s ailing transit system and catapulted its mayor to immense popularity.

Earlier this year, five German cities said they would try free public transit, though they’ve since decided to dramatically reduce fares rather than waive them entirely.

We not going to get into detail, but you can read more here and here.

Roundup 10-26-2018

October 25, 2018

We apologize for the erroneous posting earlier.  Rest assured that the person who did it has been sacked.

Contents

The Code – Potential Rethink

Channel District – Rethink

Transportation – Some Notes

— Brightline

— Scooters

— Yet Another Example

Channel District – The Wharf

Downtown – Riverwalk Place

North Tampa – Odd

Hyde Park/Downtown/West Tampa – UT

Economy – Jobs

Ports – Manufacturing

Rowdies/Rays – Done

Good Stuff

Reading Material

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Meanwhile, In the Rest of North America

— Maybe Not the Best Idea

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

_________________________________________


The Code – Potential Rethink

There was an interesting article in the Business Journal about the code.

When Harry Cohen attended a groundbreaking ceremony for an office building in North Hyde Park [ed. West Tampa] that will be constructed entirely of shipping containers, the Tampa city councilman wondered if it were time for Tampa to consider the steel boxes for housing.

But using the containers as housing would be pioneering territory for the city, which is why Cohen arranged for a workshop at Thursday’s regular city council meeting.  City staffers from the parking and planning departments will be in front of council to answer questions about everything from the containers to whether parking minimums are necessary for projects in the central business district to tiny houses, which are typically less than 400 square feet.

Maybe he is just curious or maybe it is the mayoral campaign, but we don’t care why. It is about time to start addressing these things.  Actually, it is way past time.  Why didn’t it happen before?

As a traditionally car-dependent, sprawling metro, affordable housing and rethinking parking minimum requirements aren’t issues Tampa has had to confront – until now.  There’s unprecedented demand for residential and office space in the urban core, and for the first time, the city has to consider planning and zoning ordinances with urban density in mind.

That is simply not true.  Tampa did have to deal with parking, affordable housing, and other planning.  It just made bad choices (and has kept making bad choices).  It could have made different choices, like other cities did.  It just didn’t.

We are not sure about container houses, especially in Florida, but it is definitely the time to discuss those issues, and fix the obvious failings in the Code, like the parking rules.  And the review should not be limited to the present urban core.  With a different attitude, the City could grow that core significantly (and potentially help transportation, see Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country below).  It also should be open to examining different ideas, like an interesting one featured on URBN Tampa Bay (here), in whole or in part. (and note, we are necessarily supporting the whole idea, but it should be examined)

Frankly, we have no idea why nothing has been done at least in the last decade.


Channel District – Rethink

The City is looking at changes to Channelside Drive.

For an urban neighborhood, the Channel district in downtown Tampa is a puzzling place: It’s a walkable neighborhood surrounded by wide, four-lane roads that encourage speeding and feel treacherous for pedestrians.

The city of Tampa is looking to change that, at least on the eastern boundary of the district. The city is seeking public feedback on proposed design concepts for Channelside Drive — from south of the roundabout at Cumberland Avenue to north of Kennedy Boulevard at a meeting from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Nov. 7 in the Port Tampa Bay boardroom.

“The city envisions improvements that make traveling the street safer and more comfortable, especially for people on foot,” Rob Rosner, the city’s community redevelopment agency manager, said in a statement. “Safety, mobility, accessibility and vibrancy are the keys to realizing the district’s potential to transform itself into a signature Tampa urban neighborhood.”

* * *

At the Nov. 7 meeting, the city will present conceptual design ideas created after a May 21 public meeting as well as discussions with private stakeholders and government agencies over the summer.

That is all fine, as long as the City is actually seeking public feedback, not just presenting what it is going to do.

However, to be honest, the first thing we thought when we read this article is that one of the reasons the streets are not pedestrian friendly is that many of the buildings on them are not particularly pedestrian friendly (and, if you remember, even large portions of the Port’s big vision for this stretch of Channelside was not particularly pedestrian friendly, especially towards the north end.)  As noted by URBN Tampa Bay:

Also, the boundary of discussion (North of Cumberland/South of Kennedy) is interesting to us. A large chunk of that frontage was just approved for the Elevé 61 project, a project with car-oriented design at the street level. Making an area pedestrian friendly can be just as much about building design as it is about road design.

As we have pointed out before, it is not all about the width of the road. Changing the road but then allowing dead streetscapes is just foolish. (As we always note, Michigan Avenue in Chicago is six lanes wide. People still walk it.  People also walk Yonge Street in Toronto. Not every road needs to be (or should be) one lane in each direction.  Some roads in urban areas need to be urban arteries (not Dale Mabry, but arteries nonetheless).  The key is urban design.

We are all for making Channelside more pedestrian/bike-friendly.  However, as we have pointed out before, there is a risk that narrowing every road into downtown, especially without robust transit, will make it less attractive to people who do not live there to come an partake in what it has to offer (or get to the cruise ships and large Port project if ever built, and ridesharing or automated vehicles won’t help if the cars won’t fit on the road).  There needs to be a balance.  And there needs to be more care taken in what is actually built along the roads.

Those are all concerns, but we are not going to prejudge the plan. We look forward to seeing what they propose.


Transportation – Some Notes


— Brightline

 As people who follow such things may know, Brightline has had some issues with some in the Treasure Coast opposing the project.  Interestingly,

Brightline officials have renewed their offer to examine Treasure Coast locations as future stations and have asked Stuart, Fort Pierce, Sebastian and Vero Beach to submit proposals, according to a letter sent to the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council Monday.

Brightline has asked the four cities to respond within 60 days with proposals that show viable station locations and community support, Rusty Roberts, Brightline vice president of government affairs, said in the letter to Michael Busha, planning council executive director.

Admittedly, for our purposes, that is not that interesting, though it would give more connectivity if/when Brightline came to Tampa.  What is more interesting are some of the criteria Brightline listed for a station location.  As listed in an article from TCPalm.com, the criteria are broken down into ridership potential, development potential, and location.  Because Brightline has already shown an interest in this area, we assume the ridership potential is there.  Here are the other two categories:

Development potential

Location

In Tampa, three parcels have been discussed: one at the site of the old jail on Scott street and two near the Rays proposed stadium location in Ybor.  While none of the parcels really fit all the criteria, it appears to us that the jail site is less desirable from the developmental standpoint (it is boxed in) but a little better on connection to roads.  As we have noted before the other sites connect better to the streetcar but none connect well to the proposed “BRT” line.

The decision about the state RFP is coming up quickly, so we shall see.


— Scooters

Electric scooters may be coming to Tampa.

City spokeswoman Ashley Bauman confirmed Tampa has issued a request for applications to find up to three electric scooter rental companies to bring the new technology to the city. People will only be able to ride the scooters on sidewalks and other City-owned pathways.

Interested companies can apply for the one-year pilot program through Nov. 9. Tampa hopes to have the scooters available at the start of 2019.

* * *

People can pick up the scooters wherever they find them (sidewalks, parks, docking stations) and ride them as far as they want to go. When the ride is finished, the scooters can be left right there at the end of the trip. No docking or plug-in required — just make sure it’s in a public space that doesn’t block traffic.

While the scooters are hardly a new thing, they would be new here.

“We’re trying to get ahead of the regulation and be proactive,” Bauman said. “We know they’re coming. They’ve dropped in every city.”

Electric scooters have popped up in dozens of cities across the county, such as Cincinnati, Indianapolis, San Francisco and New York. They often cost as little as $1 to start riding and then 15 cents for each minute after. Simply download an app, enter a credit card and scan a barcode to unlock the scooter.

We do not really care one way or another if they come to Tampa (though we do not think they should be able to be left anywhere).

One thing we have gathered from seeing them and from people we know in cities where they have been around for a bit, having them on the sidewalk is a bad idea, especially given the small size of most (and poor state of many) of our sidewalks (not to mention the lack of sidewalks on many roads, say for instance parts of Rome ).

In fact, electric scooters have been banned from sidewalks in Madrid, France, Columbus, Cincinnati (San Francisco banned them completely but is in the process of bringing them back.   It is unclear if they can use sidewalks in California. Denver says they have to be on sidewalks . Seattle still does not allow them.)

Scooters travel in a different way and at a different speed than pedestrians.  There is enough evidence of an issue out there already.

URBN Tampa Bay thinks that the scooters should not be allowed on bike lanes.  Presumably they think the bike lanes (which are mostly just paint on a road disregarded by many drivers) are too dangerous.  That is very likely true.  But it is also true that the scooters are a hazard to pedestrians.  From the Washington Post:

Emergency physicians in a dozen cities around the country have told The Washington Post that they are seeing a spike in scooter accidents. In seven cities, those physicians are regularly seeing “severe” injuries — including head traumas — that were sustained from scooters malfunctioning or flipping over on uneven surfaces, as well as riders being hit by cars or colliding with pedestrians.

It is possible that most of our infrastructure is just not ready to have electric scooters on it. (From our bike and pedestrian accident stats, that would seem to be the case.)


– Yet Another Example

Sadly, last week gave us yet another reason (and, sadly, once again fatal), why running buses on the shoulders is a bad idea.

Renard Antonio McGriff, 46, was driving north in a 2010 Chrysler sedan just before 6 a.m. when he turned around about halfway to Tampa, the Highway Patrol said. After driving two to three miles in the wrong direction, McGriff crashed head-on into a 2016 Ford van driven by Mark Joseph Reale near Fourth Street N, the Highway Patrol said.

* * *

The crash closed northbound lanes of the Howard Frankland for just over three hours and also stalled traffic on the Gandy Bridge. The northbound lanes on the the Howard Frankland reopened around 9:10 a.m., FHP said, but drivers looking to detour to Gandy Bridge to cross the Bay were experiencing drive times over an hour long.

Yes, it is on the bridge not through Tampa, but the point is the same.  Accidents blocking the interstate are far too routine (as are death from these accidents).

We need real alternatives.


Channel District – The Wharf

Sparkman Wharf has announced their opening:

The property formerly known as Channelside Bay Plaza will officially begin its new era as Sparkman Wharf on Nov. 30.

Strategic Property Partners, the developer of Sparkman Wharf and Water Street Tampa, said Tuesday that the first phase of Sparkman Wharf — a dining garden, craft biergarten Fermented Reality and recreational lawn — will open the weekend after Thanksgiving with “live music, fitness events and exciting pop-ups.”

* * *

Sparkman Wharf will be open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. The opening weekend includes an athletic competition, Camp Games, hosted by Camp Tampa, a South Tampa fitness studio that’s part of Ciccio Restaurant Group.

You can see a list of the food offerings at the Business Journal article here.


Downtown – Riverwalk Place

We recently noted that Riverwalk Place had pulled a foundation permit.  There are a few more details:

Southland Contractors has received permits to demolish the CapTrust Building and to construct the foundation of Riverwalk Place, the 53-story mixed-use tower proposed at Ashley Drive and Brorein Street.

A spokesman for the developer declined to comment Thursday about a timeline for beginning construction. The permits were issued Oct. 1 and expire April 6, 2019.

While there is no specific date to start:

“The demand for reservations for condominiums in Riverwalk Place has far exceeded our expectations, and this is before we officially open our sales gallery downtown,” Larry Feldman, CEO of Feldman Equities and a joint venture partner in the tower, said in a statement.

“The project is well capitalized and we are taking a diligent approach to construction planning. These permits are an important step in that process and we are thankful for the great working relationship we have with the city of Tampa development staff.”

Hopefully, that means they will begin in the timeframe of the permit.


North Tampa – Odd

URBN Tampa Bay broke a story about a project dubbed “Euro Tampa.”

BREAKING: A mixed-use project has been proposed for the northwest corner of Busch and Nebraska. The project features a 7-story apartment building and a 5-story Tru by Hilton-branded hotel

In total, there are 127 hotel rooms and 149 residential units. There are 351 parking spaces required, but the developer is looking to provide 255. Also, the project is looking to provide 15% greenspace as opposed to the required 20%.

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity– click on picture for post

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity– click on picture for post

Site Plan:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity– click on picture for post

This is the area


Some may remember that this lot used to have a Ramada Inn though the lot has been empty for a while. It is also in an odd location.  It is across the street from a designated Opportunity Zone.  There are CSX lines on the south side of Busch and a metro rapid stop at the property on Nebraska.  It is also right next to the interstate.

The shape of the lot is very odd, as well.  Because of the interstate on ramp, the lot does not really touch Busch.  It does touch Nebraska, but the frontage is not that large (though the amenities building appears to touch Nebraska, sort of).

Frankly, to us, the whole project is odd.  It is not that we would not like the area to be redeveloped, but this project seems quite out of the blue and the apartment building is surprisingly large.  We shall see what happens.


Hyde Park/Downtown/West Tampa – UT

Per URBN Tampa Bay:

The University of Tampa is moving forward with a new fine arts building. The tower will be 90 feet tall, making it one of the taller things on campus.

The building will be at the southwest corner of Boulevard and Spaulding Dr. 

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

 

The development on UT has been impressive and the campus is quite nice.

Our biggest issue with UT’s development is not on campus, it is how the campus connects (or doesn’t really connect) with the immediate area surrounding it.  If it connected more, the University could really help drive development, especially on Kennedy.  Right now, it has surprisingly little impact for a decent sized university sitting on a major road.


Economy – Jobs

There was more good news regarding jobs.

Tampa Bay’s unemployment rate plunged to 2.9 percent, down from 3.6 percent in August. Hillsborough County’s unemployment rate last month was 2.8 percent, down from 3.5 percent. Hernando County dropped a full percentage point to 3.7 percent from 4.7 percent, while Pinellas County dipped to 2.7 percent from 3.4 percent. Pasco County’s rate also declined from 4 percent to 3.2 percent over the month.

Metro area and county job figures are not seasonally adjusted so they are more likely to swing significantly month to month.

The bay area has added 49,800 jobs year over year, trailing Orlando (up 73,300 jobs) and the Miami metro area (up 50,200 jobs).

Regardless of trailing Miami and Orlando in job creation, that unemployment rate is incredibly low.

Tampa’s unemployment rate was a low 2.9 percent in September, down 0.8 percentage point from one year ago. The industries with the highest growth over the year in the Tampa area were leisure and hospitality and education and health services.

The growth is still not in the highest paying sectors (though what is included in “health services” is a bit unclear), but, for right now, we will just say that rate is really low.


Ports – Manufacturing

There was some positive news this week about manufacturing at the local ports.

A world leader in liquefied natural gas technology is expanding its footprint and operations in Manatee County.

The Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania-based company Air Products (NYSE: APD) held a ribbon-cutting ceremony earlier this month for its new LNG equipment test facility and a groundbreaking for a facility manufacturing expansion project at the site it refers to as its Port Manatee facility.

Existing operations are on a 32-acre property located on the east side of U.S. Highway 41 and sits across from Port Manatee, where the company’s products are shipped around the world, Port Manatee Executive Director Carlos Buqueras said.

The equipment test facility will allow for the collection of data to develop designs for the next generation of Air Products’ coil wound heat exchangers, the company said in a news release on its website.

While at Port Tampa Bay:

German engineering company Siemens and Florida-based Chromalloy Gas Turbine Corp. are opening their 210,000-square-foot manufacturing facility Oct. 26. The Hillsborough facility, which will be operated by a new company called Advanced Airfoil Components, is expected to create 350 jobs over the next five years, including 100 by the end of 2018.

Growing manufacturing at the ports is a major positive in our book.

However, all the news wasn’t good.  The Port lost out to Jacksonville in another, smaller project manufacturing project.   While the project was not super high-tech and not a major employment developer, one of the reasons for the loss is a little concerning:

“Jacksonville was eventually selected due to JaxPort’s superior advantage over the Port of Tampa as it regards the frequency of container ships from China and due to the availability of a building suitable to the needs of LaRose Industries within the required time frame to move our manufacturing, distribution, and warehouse operations during the first quarter of 2019, Tarino wrote.

While the port has some container service, it still lags.


Rowdies/Rays – Done

The deal is done:

The sale of the Tampa Bay Rowdies to the Tampa Bay Rays is now official, the new owners said Wednesday, the last day of the 2018 United Soccer League season.

The Rays announced earlier this month they had struck a deal with Rowdies owner Bill Edwards to buy the team for a still undisclosed price.

Now that the contract is official, the Rowdies say they will move forward with making changes to the roster, front office and fan experience.

The team also said that starting Nov. 3, Al Lang Stadium will be opened to the community during the first Saturday Morning Market of each month.

It will be interesting to see what happens, especially since MLS seems to be going off its expansion process script (like this).


Good Stuff

There were two acknowledgements of local projects.  First, Oxford Exchange:

Architectural Digest has named Tampa’s Oxford Exchange as Florida’s most beautiful independent store — and one of the 50 most beautiful in the nation. Opened in 2012 in a onetime stable, the exchange a at 420 W. Kennedy Blvd. includes a restaurant, gift shop and a bookstore with “a carefully curated selection of new releases, bestsellers, classics, and more,” the magazine says. “The bookstore focuses on the beauty of the physical book, using the striking black and white motif to allow the books to pop off the shelves.”

It is definitely a nice building and set the stage for other projects like Armature Works.

Next, the Riverwalk is up for an American Planning Association Great Places people choice award vote (see here)

Voting Is Open!

It’s time to choose the 2018 People’s Choice! Vote for your favorite place from the list of finalists below. Voting runs from October 17–November 2.

There is still time to vote at the website linked above.


Reading Material

As happens from time to time, an article about Tampa booming has appeared.  This time it is in Urban Land, the publication of local governments’ favorite consultants, the ULI. You can find it here.  It is mostly positive, kind of fluffy, and full of the standard talking points.

As said by URBN Tampa Bay:

This article is pretty over the top with the praise of Tampa’s built environment… But it’s a nice read nonetheless.

That’s true.  However, while we are not going to do it here, the article could use some fact checking.

And even with all that, it still has this nugget:

The region’s efforts to update the city’s much-derided transportation network also have not kept up with the city’s growth, many observers agree. In recent years, two initiatives proposing to develop light rail and expand public transit networks have failed to win support from voters.

“We have struggled on the transportation front,” Buckhorn says. “If anything, that would be the Achilles’ heel. We have to resolve that.”

In April, the city killed a hotly debated plan to use a “road diet” to redesign a stretch of Bay to Bay Boulevard, a key south Tampa artery. The plan would have added bike lanes and reduced the number of lanes on the road, following an engineering study that concluded that the changes would make the road safer. But the city decided that the changes would cause a “major disruption of a very busy thoroughfare,” drawing protests from local bike and walkability advocates.

But there has been progress in extending hiking and biking trails, primarily through the new real estate developments. “The private sector is leading the way,” says Christine Acosta, executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group Walk Bike Tampa. “The city is still lagging.”

Kind of an odd juxtaposition of comments, but anyway.

All that being said, it is a pleasant read.  (And for comparison, here’s a recent article about downtown Orlando from the Sentinel.)


Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

There was news about autonomous vehicle testing:

A US government agency has ordered a transport company to immediately stop transporting school children in Florida in a driverless shuttle as the testing could be putting them at “inappropriate” risk.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said in an order issued late on Friday that Transdev North America’s use of its driverless shuttle in the Babcock Ranch community in south-west Florida was “unlawful and in violation of the company’s temporary importation authorization”.

“Innovation must not come at the risk of public safety,” said deputy NHTSA administrator Heidi King in a statement. “Using a non-compliant test vehicle to transport children is irresponsible, inappropriate and in direct violation of the terms of Transdev’s approved test project.”

The decision does not end autonomous vehicle testing everywhere.

There are numerous low-speed self-driving shuttles being tested in cities around the United States with many others planned.

That is fine, though notable for being low-speed testing (another sign the tech is just not that far along).  As we have said before, we think there is a place for autonomous vehicles in future transportation (though not necessarily the central elements) and we are all for testing, though, as noted by the NHTSA, innovation must not come at the risk of public safety.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

There has been a collection of interesting reports regarding transportation issues.  First, consistent with other findings, a new report finds that ridesharing increases traffic:

Recently, Alejandro Henao, a Ph.D graduate from the University of Colorado Denver, took a critical look at Denver’s ride-hailing programs like Uber and Lyft and found they may be doing more harm than good for Denver’s transportation scene.

The study, titled “The Impact of Ride‐Hailing on Vehicle Miles Traveled,” was published in the journal Transportation, and concludes that these transportation methods are increasing the number of miles vehicles put on the road and asserts that they are adding to congestion and exacerbating our inefficient transit habits.

You can read the article here.

There is growing evidence that this is the case, meaning that reliance on ridesharing will simply make overburdened roads even worse.

Another report makes the case that transit attracts employment:

Research from the Metropolitan Planning Council, a Chicago-based public policy group, found that half of new jobs created between 2005 and 2015 were located within a half-mile of a CTA or Metra station. These areas grew jobs at more than double the national average, by 19 percent, the report found.

The report, released on Friday, also found that 85 percent of all commercial construction within the 7-county area occurred within a half a mile of a CTA or Metra station.

“It goes to show that employers are choosing to be in transit accessible locations,” said Audrey Wennink, director of transportation for the council, who prepared the report along with transportation associate Jeremy Glover.

You can read this article here.

You can argue with either of these if you like, but we think there is a bigger point.  Whether you rely on transit or plan to rely on ridesharing/autonomous vehicles, there is a need to make areas more walkable to optimize either transportation system and relieve congestion on the roads.  (Transit riders need to be able to get around once they reach their stop and ridesharing users want less traffic to get where they want.)  In either case, or a combination of both, walkability – essentially transit oriented-style, urban development optimizes the transportation system and makes life more efficient.  What is not more efficient are masses of surface parking, an infinite number of curb-cuts, and poor walking/biking infrastructure.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of North America

As some may know, Google is working on a major redevelopment project in Toronto, Quayside.  It is quite ambitious, but has run into some controversy.

When it was announced last year that a district in Toronto would be handed over to a company hoping to build a model for new tech-driven smart city, critics were quick to voice concerns.

Despite Justin Trudeau’s exclamation that, through a partnership with Google’s sister company Sidewalk Labs, the waterfront neighborhood could help turn the area into a “thriving hub for innovation”, questions immediately arose over how the new wired town would collect and protect data.

A year into the project, those questions have resurfaced following the resignation of a privacy expert, Dr Ann Cavoukian, who claimed she left her consulting role on the initiative to “send a strong statement” about the data privacy issues the project still faces.

“I imagined us creating a Smart City of Privacy, as opposed to a Smart City of Surveillance,” she wrote in her resignation letter.

You can read the article here.

Not every innovation or big project is necessarily good (or wholly good).   And there are some comments on the collection of data from the CEO of Apple here.


— Maybe Not the Best Idea

Speaking of which, URBN Tampa Bay pointed to an article about some of the major issues with Hyperloop, like this:

“Humans do not suffer a vacuum lightly. In the event of decompression, there won’t be any oxygen masks to keep you alive,” he says. “The Hyperloop takes all the hazards of being in space and brings them down to a few cm of the Earth’s surface. It also brings all the hazards of the speed of planes and combines it with the hazard of traveling within a few cm of the earth. Any Hyperloop accident will result in the instant death of everyone in the capsule and almost everyone in the entire Hyperloop with the explosive decompression.”

Even though the problems of humans possibly being exposed to a vacuum was an obvious downside we had thought about even before we read the article, we are glad someone is discussing it.  There are other issues you can read about here.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

Electric cars are held out as a green solution to the issue of automobile pollution.  And, in the end, they may be (we have no problem with that at all).  However, they may not be right now.

“We’re facing a bow wave of additional CO2 emissions,” said Andreas Radics, a managing partner at Munich-based automotive consultancy Berylls Strategy Advisors, which argues that for now, drivers in Germany or Poland may still be better off with an efficient diesel engine.

The findings, among the more bearish ones around, show that while electric cars are emission-free on the road, they still discharge a lot of the carbon-dioxide that conventional cars do.

Just to build each car battery—weighing upwards of 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds) in size for sport-utility vehicles—would emit up to 74 percent more C02 than producing an efficient conventional car if it’s made in a factory powered by fossil fuels in a place like Germany, according to Berylls’ findings.

The key seems to be this:

“It will come down to where is the battery made, how is it made, and even where do we get our electric power from,” said Henrik Fisker, chief executive officer and chairman of Fisker Inc., a California-based developer of electric vehicles.

For perspective, the average German car owner could drive a gas-guzzling vehicle for three and a half years, or more than 50,000 kilometers, before a Nissan Leaf with a 30 kWh battery would beat it on carbon-dioxide emissions in a coal-heavy country, Berylls estimates show.

And that’s one of the smallest batteries on the market: BMW’s i3 has a 42 kWh battery, Mercedes’s upcoming EQC crossover will have a 80 kWh battery, and Audi’s e-tron will come in at 95 kWh.

You can read the whole article here.

While driving electric cars are definitely cleaner, how clean the car is overall has much to do with who builds it and how that process gets power.  Of course, that can be improved with a little effort, so the news is not all bad.