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Roundup 5-18-2018

May 18, 2018

Contents

Downtown – Parking Down By the River, Cont

— One More Thing

Economic Development – Mosaic

Westshore-ish – More Midtown

Hyde Park – It Was Better

South Tampa – Approved

Transportation

— Pasco Tunnel?

— Coastal Connector

USF – What Is It, Cont

Port – Different Ships

Built Environment – Filling It In

St. Pete Downtown – A Lot

List of the Week

_______________________________________________________


Downtown – Parking Down By the River, Cont

If you read last week’s Roundup, you will noticed a large number of items involving the river or land right around the river, including some news about a proposal regarding the Straz.  This week we got more detail about the Straz’s plans for expansion.

Plans to redevelop the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts are evolving as new growth brings more visitors and residents to downtown Tampa.

The Straz Center first unveiled a conceptual plan for redeveloping its waterfront real estate in 2015; a master plan for a renovation that could cost up to $100 million was unveiled in 2016.

In early May, Ryan Cos., a Minneapolis-based real estate developer with a large presence in Tampa, filed a design review request with the city that shows the most detailed plan yet for the Straz property.

It is a bit odd for a developer to be central to a public building expansion, but anyway.

As we noted last week, the Straz folks want to build out towards the River and create a more active riverfront.  As a general concept, activating the relatively long stretch of riverfront of the Straz is fine.  The devil, as always is in the details.

This week we got some renderings, like this:

 

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

 

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

and of the back/front (depending on how you want to think about it):

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

We have mixed feeling about the above renderings.  First, the updated parts look ok, though we are not sure how they will look slapped on the old, brown building.  That leads to the question of whether the expansion will blend at all with the original building and are they going to paint the building white or eggshell? Moreover, there is a concern that the proposed generic bubbly screening may very well look quite dated in not too long.

Another issue with the expansion to the west is the apparent lack of pedestrian covering.  As you can see in the second rendering, there is some covered area, but much of what looks like it will be covered is actually open (with some decorative screening).  That is something that should be clarified.  There are some other things, but we will skip those for now.

But, by far the biggest issue is the parking garage. The Straz has long complained of parking problems so we get they feel the need to do something.  However, this is the key rendering:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

And here are the plans:

Ground Floor:

From Florida Future as SkyscraperCity

Second Floor:

From Florida Future as SkyscraperCity

You can see that the loading dock (now on the east side of the Straz) is right on the river.  While on the first floor there is a restaurant (or something) hiding the loading dock/garage from the river, on the upper floors, the garage extends to the Riverwalk.  From the rendering, you can see there is screening of a bit of the garage but the garage is exposed on the higher floors (you’ll get a really nice view of the loading dock and upper parking levels from the newly renovated Julian Lane Riverfront Park).  Moreover, the loading dock is basically right on the Riverwalk.  This setup is not acceptable.  As noted by URBN Tampa Bay:

First off, this is already an identified “restricted use” within the Tampa Comprehensive Plan:

“ENV Objective 1.14: In order to maintain or improve the character, retain the natural functions, and maximize the public benefits of the river corridor, the following principles will be applied to all development/ redevelopment projects proximate to the Hillsborough River during the land development review process…

ENV Policy 1.14.1: The following principles shall be applied by the City to all proposed development/redevelopment projects that have frontage along the Hillsborough River:

Strict environmental performance standards will be applied to:

Minimize adverse environmental and/or aesthetic impacts, provide technical standards and guidelines consistent with the unique character of the urban core, lower, middle and upper river for, or otherwise restrict, certain uses i.e., parking lots, parking structures, truck service roads, loading docks, warehouses, manufacturing plants, ship building and repair, dredging equipment operators, and heavy uses.”

Either the Riverwalk is very important and in need of activation (like the plans for the southwest side of the Straz and restaurant on the first floor) or it isn’t (like the plans for the loading dock and exposed parking garage).  And either we have comprehensive plans or we don’t.

And, even more interestingly, from the Straz statement we discussed last week:

The space between the Patel Conservatory and the expansion will become an enclosed Atrium offering a second entrance to the theaters from the north, a main entrance to the Event Center, and added activity space for the Patel Conservatory and the Straz Center.

Look again at the floor plans.  That atrium appears to be the yellow space just above the parking garage.  We get that it is a slightly odd shape for a garage.  However, why are they putting an atrium/entrance essentially in an alley and putting the parking garage/loading dock on the riverfront?   The plan as presented is definitely not a creative way to get parking.  It is clunky and, frankly, lazy.

The bottom line is that the plan as presented is not acceptable.  We are sympathetic to the Straz’s issues, but Tampa does not need more parking (or a loading dock) on the river.  And while we understand they sort of try to hide the garage, they do not succeed.  The Straz needs to go back to the drawing board.


— One More Thing

URBN Tampa Bay laid out something we have thought (and have said, if not written) for a long time:

We understand the Straz has a parking problem. Much of that is due to the lack of transit options in the Bay area. A lot of it is also due to the face the Straz decided to build on valuable and boxed-in waterfront land, instead of a more inland location where there are better expansion options and lower design standards. The Tampa Convention Center did the same thing.

Hopefully, Tampa has learned its lesson about placement of such facilities.


Economic Development – Mosaic

This week Mosaic announced that it would move its headquarters to Hillsborough County.

The Mosaic Company announced plans Monday to move its headquarters from a suburb of Minneapolis to Hillsborough County, making the phosphate mining giant the first Fortune 500 company to decide to relocate here.

Key details — when Mosaic will move and where it will land — are still under consideration.

So is how many employees will be relocated. Mosaic, No. 377 on Fortune 500’s ranking of companies by total revenue, currently has about 150 employees at its corporate office in Plymouth, Minn., company spokesman Benjamin Pratt said in an email.

First, it is great they are moving. Second, it seems that there are a number of unknowns.

The phosphate giant’s real estate search is in the preliminary stages, and office space across the county is in the running, Ben Pratt, Mosaic’s vice president of corporate public affairs, told the Tampa Bay Business Journal.

“We are considering downtown Tampa as well as our existing office buildings in FishHawk and Highland Oaks,” Pratt wrote in an email.

Pratt said the size of Mosaic’s Florida headquarters is to be determined, though it’s rumored in commercial real estate circles to be looking for 30,000 square feet.  In Minnesota, Mosaic’s corporate headquarters is in a suburban office park, where 150 employees work in 73,987 square feet, Pratt confirmed to the Twin Cities Business Journal, a sister news organization.

If Mosaic knows, they aren’t saying publicly. So we have to wait and see.

Obviously, this has led to speculation they may be moving to Water Street.  From the Times:

Mosaic is not saying where it is likely to land, but it doesn’t sound like Water Street Tampa is off the list.

“We are considering downtown Tampa as well as some other locations,” Pratt said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times. “We haven’t specifically considered Water Street yet.”

Strategic Property Partners did not comment on whether it has had any contact from Mosaic or would pursue the company to join a planned $3 billion project with two new hotels, office buildings, residential towers, a grocery store, dozens of new stores, bars and restaurants and a new building for the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine.

“Water Street Tampa will be a great place to do business for both retailers and for office tenants,” Strategic Property Partners spokeswoman Ali Glisson said in an email. “That having been said, it is our policy not comment on any potential tenant discussion or negotiation.”

Port Tampa Bay president and CEO Paul Anderson said the port would “definitely” talk to Mosaic about the possibility of moving onto port-owned land.

That would be nice, but they also may just build another building next to their office near FishHawk Ranch (which is on Mosaic Drive after all)  or use the present building.

Aside from the office location, there were a couple of interesting things about the decision.

Asked whether Mosaic considered other potential locations, Pratt said, “the choice really came down to Central Florida, or stay where we are.”

Which is not surprising given that

Mosaic already has its largest domestic presence in Florida, including in Tampa. The company employs 3,000 Floridians and another 3,000 contractors.

(And don’t forget the resort.) As their own website says:

Our largest centers of operation are in Central Florida and Brazil, where we mine and process phosphates, and in Saskatchewan, where we produce potash. Our headquarters are in Plymouth, Minnesota.

Which also may help explain this:

Unlike other corporate recruitment efforts, the discussions with Mosaic have not included offers of state and local tax abatements for creating new jobs, Richard said.

“There’s no incentives on the table at this time,” he said, nor was he “aware of any intention to apply for incentives.”

Moreover:

The Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. only had limited contact with the company, according to Pratt.  EDC President and CEO Craig Richard said he remembers talks with Mosaic about moving to Hillsborough dating back to about four years ago. “But I’m aware that sometimes a company has to be ready for those type of changes,” Richard said.

It appears the move it serves Mosaic’s interests, and that is great.  The fact that they just seemed to want to move here is the best kind of relocation.

The company does expect several benefits from a move to Hillsborough, including:

“This move will drive improved efficiency and good value,” Mosaic president and CEO Joc O’Rourke said in announcing the relocation.

Here is a map of their worldwide locations.

 

“We believe locating our corporate office there will give us opportunities to amplify Mosaic’s presence and engage more closely with communities where we operate. With the cost savings we expect to achieve and the closer proximity to our Mosaic Fertilizantes business in Brazil, this move will drive improved efficiency and good value,” Mosaic President and CEO Joc O’Rourke said in a statement.

We will speculate about something else: maybe, just maybe, this put us over the line to get us a flight to Brazil (and Saskatchewan, of course).  That would help their efficiency.

We would say welcome to Mosaic, but they have been here from the beginning of the company (and long before with the predecessor companies).  Nevertheless, welcome to the new people moving here and their new presence.


Westshore-ish – More Midtown

The Midtown developers, who had their rezoning approved this week, are wasting no time rolling out news.

Crescent Communities has built hundreds of high-end apartments around Tampa in recent years and will build 390 more above a base of ground-floor stores and restaurants as part of the $500 million Midtown Tampa project, developers announced Thursday.

Construction on the Novel Midtown Tampa apartments is scheduled to begin late this year, with completion expected in the second half of 2020.

Neither unit sizes nor rental rates have been determined yet, said Margie Martin, spokeswoman for The Bromley Companies, the New York-based master developer for Midtown Tampa.

The apartments will be part of Midtown Tampa’s 1.8 million square feet of office, residential, retail, entertainment and hospitality development on 22 acres at the southeastern corner of Interstate 275 and Dale Mabry Highway.

 

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

Well, that would be fast (at least for the newest iteration).

“Tampa has really evolved into an attractive market, with strong employment growth and an active, livable environment, making it ripe for the first truly-integrated, walkable, mixed-use development in this region,” Jay Curran, senior managing director for Crescent Communities, said in a statement.

Of course, Midtown is not necessarily the first project of that kind, but it is one of the few. More importantly, as we have previously said, the Midtown development has nice walkability internally.  We have no doubt these apartments will be nice, and the ground floor retail is good (though it would be nice if the retail had more practical protection for pedestrians, not just decorative awnings).

Nevertheless, even with all that, the real issue we have with Midtown remains its connection to the area around it and the surface parking lot.  The apartments could easily be just as nice while those issues are addressed.  We hope the apartments get built quickly and nicely and the retail gets filled with good stores. We also hope the developer tweaks the project to make it more connected to the city.


Hyde Park – It Was Better

The owners of Hyde Park Village have been renovating the complex for a while now.  Most of the renovations have actually been pretty successful.  This week, they released updated renderings of the old Jacobson’s portion of the complex.

First, here’s the previous rendering:

From Florida Future as SkyscraperCity

It’s not awesome, but at least they try to cover some of the parking garage.  Here’s the latest:

From Florida Future as SkyscraperCity

From Florida Future as SkyscraperCity

Needless to say, the newer renderings are not nearly as good, especially the first one, which is facing Swann.  (In our opinion, the contrasting colors of the present façade, while a bit old, looks better.) We get that it may be cheaper.  However, it is really not very good, and that is a shame.  Hopefully, they will rethink their ideas.


South Tampa – Approved

The Sanctuary was approved by City Council (7-0 no less).   We have nothing against condos on Bayshore, but it is too bad that the Council did not make sure the project was not utterly bland in the part that faced most of the City.


Transportation


— Pasco Tunnel?

Pasco, along with FDOT, has been trying to figure out how to solve the mess they have created at the SR54/US41 intersection.  They have seen all sorts of ideas.  This week we learned the fate of one idea:

Transportation planners are burying the idea of tunneling under U.S. 41 to ease traffic congestion at the road’s intersection with State Road 54 in central Pasco.

Even with the conceptual cost dropping $300 million, Pasco’s elected county and city officials, sitting as the Metropolitan Planning Organization, said the tunnel was too pricey.

“Clearly, the option and the price is much higher … I think we should move past that,’’ said Commissioner Jack Mariano, who broached the tunnel idea in January and asked for the cost study.

A month ago, the planning board got sticker shock after it learned that building a 6,000-linear-foot tunnel, including approaches, to take SR 54 beneath U.S. 41 could cost $550 million.

* * *

Thursday, the planning board staff lowered the estimated price of the tunnel, now referred to as a underpass, to $250 million. The expense dropped because the length of the approaches and below-grade highway was reduced to just 2,500 linear feet, based on a design of an underpass in Broward County.

“This is just conceptual,’’ cautioned Ali Atefi, the planning board’s engineer.

It was a concept the board unanimously agreed was too rich.

“Unfortunately, it’s cost prohibitive,’’ said Commissioner Mike Moore.

We suppose that is based on this:

[The higher estimate] is more than the $455 million projected cost of the proposed 41-mile Bus Rapid Transit system connecting Wesley Chapel to St. Petersburg via buses in dedicated highway lanes. Likewise, a prior state Department of Transportation plan to build a fly-over at SR 54/U.S. 41 had a cost estimate of roughly $160 million.

We are not really sure what benefit a tunnel gives in that location, but, regardless, it does not seem likely to happen.  Of course,

Studying the proposed tunnel triggered a five-month delay in the board’s consideration of recommendations from a citizens task force on how to improve the bottleneck at the intersection.

The task force spent two years studying the intersection and the entire State Road 54/56 corridor to winnow 18 alternatives to four recommendations. They included: building elevated lanes; at-grade improvements; and its top choice of constructing a network of frontage roads known as a parallel-flow intersection. The task force did not consider the tunnel idea.

Thursday, the transportation board agreed to send the task force proposals to the state DOT for additional study. A time line on a final decision is not yet known, said Atefi, but the county plans a public outreach campaign to gauge public interest in the proposals.

That the top choice is to make the intersection even more sprawling is not surprising.  Pasco seems quite intent to double down on sprawl and poorly planned arterial roads.  Unfortunately, they have not learned from the counties around them.  And those counties, in turn, do not seem to have learned from the SR54/US41 fiasco.

Just remember the numbers being discussed are to “fix” one intersection.


— Coastal Connector

Last week, we discussed the “Coastal Connector” which is a northern stretch proposed for the Suncoast Parkway heading to I-75. You can find more information about it here.  Comment on routes is apparently supposed to have ended this week.  However, as we are learning, FDOT comment dates are necessarily not hard and fast.


USF – What Is It, Cont

A few months ago, we discussed USF’s latest effort to rebrand. (See “USF – What Is It”)  At the time we presented our views on USF’s branding problems.  This week, we learned this:

The University of South Florida has hired the Tampa and San Diego-based branding and advertising agency SPARK to boost the school’s stature nationwide.

The school announced last week that it signed a 12-month, $200,000 contract with the agency to create an advertising and marketing strategy that will better engage current and prospective students as well as faculty and the community.

* * *

Despite its success, Hice said locals still aren’t seeing USF for the “gem” it is, and nationwide, incoming students aren’t looking to USF as a top-tier research institution.

“We’ve got literally hundreds and hundreds of stories that we could be telling, but we have limited resources,” Hice said. “SPARK will help us with a creative approach to telling those.”

In the morning article the Business Journal told us were told that the strategy is due out in late summer/early fall. In an afternoon article, it told us this:

The University of South Florida’s latest marketing campaign will feature the slogan “Be Bullish,” highlighting the school’s brand personality as one that is bold, agile, quick thinking and innovative, with students and faculty who are united, loyal, impactful and high quality.

An early presentation created last month highlights the school’s marketing priorities as it works with Tampa ad agency SPARK on the initiative.  “Be Bullish” will be an ongoing tagline meant to show “relentless optimism for the future,” proving there’s nothing school leaders can’t achieve.  It plays on the school’s mascot Rocky the Bull and the Bulls football team.

We get the “Be Bullish” reference.  And it’s not bad for a slogan (though we’re pretty sure some students will quickly change it to the obvious play on words).  We don’t think it indicates anything that the marketing language says it indicated, especially that the school’s leaders can accomplish anything (and, really, is that a selling point to students?  Shouldn’t it be the students can accomplish anything?).  But it will be catchy enough on promotional materials.

The full campaign is still in development.  USF is definitely moving forward and is a great asset to this area (even if, as we have noted before, it seems a bit confused by its own identity).  We only wish it success.


Port – Different Ships

There was cruise news from the port:

Cuba is proving to be a boon to Port Tampa Bay’s cruise business with the arrival of Royal Caribbean’s Majesty of the Seas on Monday.

The Majesty of the Seas, which carries 2,350 guests, is the larger vessel brought in by Royal Caribbean (NYSE: RCL) to accommodate more than 500 additional passengers during the 2018 summer season. The ship will offer four- and five-night itineraries to Havana that include day and overnight stays through this October.

The new larger ship arrives after Port Tampa Bay made $1.7 million in improvements at Terminal 6, which is used by Royal Caribbean. Terminal 6 previously could only handle cruise ships with 1,800 passengers. Now it can handle ships with 2,500 passengers. The terminal underwent a 7,277-square-foot expansion of the ticketing area and had 32 new ticket counters and 28 new baggage tables installed. The terminal also saw an increase of parking west of the facility.

This is the second summer in a row that Royal Caribbean will offer cruises to Cuba out of Tampa. Last year, the cruise line sailed Empress of the Seas from Tampa to Cuba, which carries 1,602 guests.

Moreover,

The demand for cruises to Cuba continues to increase, according to the Cruise Lines International Association.

That is interesting given news like this from the Washington Post about lowering numbers of US tourists going to Cuba.

In other news, Carnival will be switching out comparable ships in 2019.


Built Environment – Filling It In

There was an article in the Times about Rocky Point.

Many of Tampa Bay’s most scenic and pricey waterfront neighborhoods were built by pouring soil into the open water. Known as “dredge and fill,” the practice largely ended in the 1970s as lawsuits and state and federal laws designed to protect marine environments made it difficult.

Ended for good reason.

Now, officials in Tampa may be turning back the clock.

On Monday, the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission approved a proposal to fill in 3 acres of open water north of Rocky Point Drive, near the eastern end of the Courtney Campbell Causeway.

An Albany, N.Y., developer wants to build 16 townhomes there, each 3?½ stories high with a private dock. Residents would enjoy views of private Scarborough Park and what’s left of an 8.8 acre lagoon once part of it is filled to create the property.

The 6-3 vote followed more than 90 minutes of contentious discussion among planning commissioners, neighbors and businesses. Opponents call it a precedent-setting decision that would harm marine life, limit public access to the water, and encourage people to move into a coastal flood zone.

Here is the area.

Planning Commission staffers found the project consistent with the city of Tampa’s comprehensive land-use plan, meshing with the goal of promoting residential development in the West Shore district. The water has its own zoning designation and it’s compatible with nearby properties. What’s more, there’s no evidence of sea grass growing in the man-made lagoon, carved out during the dredge-and-fill operation that created Rocky Point decades ago.

A retention pond proposed for the development would also help clean polluted stormwater from Rocky Point Drive before it reaches Old Tampa Bay, the staff determined.

We don’t really buy any of that. Notably:

“The decision to change the future use of an underwater parcel located in a high-hazard area simply boggles the mind,” Kent Bailey, chairman of the Sierra Club’s Tampa Bay Group, said Tuesday. “Clearly, the Planning Commission isn’t taking the threat of sea-level rise seriously. That area is plagued by serious flooding now.”

* * *

Opposition came from the nearby Dana Shores neighborhood.

“It’s water that people use and boat in,” said Margaret Bowles. “We’re concerned that it’s just going to start a trend of development.”

Surrounding hotels like the Westin Hotel and Hilton’s Doubletree Suites also protested, saying the project would hurt their business because guests rank water views and sightings of dolphins and manatees as reasons to book rooms.

“Where does it stop?” asked Steve Michelini, a Westin consultant. “The fact that the city and the county staff can’t find policies to object doesn’t mean it should be approved. We should be going the other way. Where is it that it says you should fill water to provide development land?”

So who was for it?  Other than the developer and people who voted for it.  Of course, Tampa messed up planning on Rocky Point, which could have been/be really cool but is just a sprawling mess, so much that this would not really change anything, except the create a precedent of more fill land for not very important developments. But that would be a bad precedent.  We understand there may be limited time where more fill makes sense, but it needs to involve a compelling reason. (And, really, the whole situation arose from a weird planning mess involving zoning and planning categories for submerged land.)

In any event, now it is up to the City:

The Tampa City Council will consider the Planning Commission’s recommendation when it makes a decision on the project. Speaking at the Monday meeting, a Tampa representative said the city’s own planning staff objects to the proposal for eliminating open space, damaging the park and bringing more residents to a high-hazard flood zone.

Those are all good points.  And, importantly, there is no compelling reason to allow any of those things for this project.

City approval to fill in the lagoon is one stop on a regulatory road for Prime Cos. Separate permits would have to be acquired from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the proposal is subject to a formal review by the county’s Environmental Protection Commission.

Let’s see if the City Council listens to staff this time.


St. Pete Downtown – A Lot

There was an interesting article in the Times regarding a church parking lot (really).

Christ United Methodist Church said it has signed a contract to sell its parking lot at First Avenue N and Fifth Street to Miles River Development for $5.65 million.

The developer could not be reached for comment, but church leaders say they believe there are plans to build a mixed-use tower on the little more than half-acre lot.

A half-acre right here.

In an area zoned for mixed-use, the property is in the city’s downtown core district, which allows the highest densities and building height. Elizabeth Abernethy, the city’s zoning official, said there is no height restriction, but buildings more than 158 feet above mean sea level require an airport obstruction permit to verify that there are no airspace safety hazards. Buildings more than 375 feet high require a public hearing, she said.

* * *

The church will get 150 parking spaces on Sundays and 30 Monday through Saturday in perpetuity, Jones-Smith said.

We do not know what the plans for the lot will be, though past history would indicate it will likely not be a short-ish stick construction apartment building. (see here)  St. Pete’s downtown has shown that smaller lots are getting filled in, often with nice, relatively dense projects like a mature urban environment.  Our hats are off to them for that.


List of the Week

Our list this week is ACSM’s American Fitness Index. (Summary report here)  The methodology can be found on pg 6 of the pdf here.

Here’s the top 40: coming in first is Arlington ( VA), followed by Minneapolis, Washington (DC), Madison (WI), Portland (OR), Seattle, Denver, St. Paul, San Jose, Boise, Oakland, Plano, Irvine, San Francisco, Boston, San Diego, Lincoln, Raleigh, Fremont, Atlanta, Anchorage, Aurora, (CO), St. Petersburg, Colorado Springs, Miami, Durham, Sacramento, Albuquerque, Cincinnati, Virginia Beach, Dallas, Chicago, Omaha, Milwaukee, Chula Vista, Pittsburgh, Tampa, Orlando, Long Beach, and Santa Ana.

Once again, the top of the list is populated by usual suspects.  St. Pete came in 23rd and Tampa 37th.   You can review the numbers here for what it is worth.

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Roundup 5-11-2018

May 11, 2018

Contents

Transportation – Here and There

— The Survey

— The Way It Is

— Uptowner

— Regionalism In Action

— Suncoast Extension

Downtown – Parking Down By the River?

West Tampa/Downtown-ish – In a Park Down By the River

Westshore-ish – Midtown

Downtown – Riverwalk Tower

Downtown-ish – UT Riverfront

South Tampa – More Sanctuary

Channel District – New Name, Same Issues

Tourism – Pinellas

West Tampa – West River Starts

South Tampa – A Little More Clarity

Downtown/Public Art – It’s a Logo

Clearwater – Reuse

Rays – Money Talk, Cont

__________________________________________


Transportation – Here and There


— The Survey

As part of the Regional Transit Study, there is now an online survey about the “BRT” plan.  You can find it here.  We recommend you take the survey, but note that some of the questions are loaded.  There is space to comment regarding the “BRT” plan and the USF/downtown CSX idea.  On the other hand, where it asks about options for further or other transit ideas, the options are limits (and inadequate) and there no room for comment.  So, for instance, you cannot say that you favor arterial road BRT rather than (as opposed to along with) the “BRT” plan.  The most you can say is that you want it in addition to the “BRT” plan.

Nevertheless, let your voice be heard.


— The Way It Is

While the County Commission can mysteriously find hundreds of millions for road construction and claims to care about the East County, this week we learned:

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority is working with management of the Westfield Brandon to solve a growing parking problem that recently left several bus riders worried they would return from work to find their vehicles towed from the premises.

Warning tickets were placed on several vehicles that were parked at the mall by people catching HART buses into downtown Tampa or MacDill Air Force Base, according to Westfield’s marketing director Dawn Arvidson. However, Arvidson said mall management has no intentions of towing vehicles as they work with HART to come up with a solution.

“Obviously, we want it to be a safe environment for everyone in the system,” she said.

HART chief operations officer Ruthie Reyes Burckard said the transit authority was “disappointed” by Westfield Brandon’s decision to warn commuters that they were in danger of being towed, but “both organizations are working toward a solution that meets the needs of both parties.”

We get that the mall wants to make sure it has parking, though we doubt that parking is really a problem most of the time.  Nevertheless, a dedicated park and ride lot for commuters would be useful.  Well,

This isn’t the first time plans have been in the works to address commuter parking woes at the mall.

In 2012, HART abandoned plans to build a large park-and-ride station in Brandon on 4 acres off Falkenburg Road, just south of the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway and west of I-75. The park-and-ride would have had space for 200 to 250 vehicles, as well as amenities such as restrooms. HART pulled the plug on the project because costs soared about $1.6 million above original estimates of $2.25 million.

In the greater scheme of hundreds of millions of dollars for roads (or even $15 million for playing fields ), a little less than $4 million is still not that much to create at least mediocre transit where riders are not afraid they will have their cars towed.  One Commissioner even considered trying to put the money toward transportation, but no. Welcome to Hillsborough County.

It is just another example of a key problem with the “BRT” plan: there is no reason to expect the local governments to fund proper local systems that would make the “BRT” plan work, let alone fund the “BRT” plan, especially given Pasco’s hostility to New Tampa.


— Uptowner

Meanwhile, around !p, the ineffable area near USF (the website of which has random pictures of other cities, we assume to indicate aspirations):

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority board approved Monday a participation agreement paving the way for a circulator bus service in the University of South Florida area.

HART approved a joint participation agreement with the Florida Department of Transportation to contribute $270,000 for a 7-mile loop around USF and neighboring businesses including Moffitt Cancer Center, the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital and local bars and restaurants where people work and spend time.

Given that the owners of University Mall are trying to rebrand it as Uptown,

The Uptowner, as its being called, would serve some of Tampa’s poorest areas as well as the nearly 50,000 students attending USF, making it an ideal location for local transit service. The route could serve USF employees heading out for lunch or residents in the neighboring communities going to work. 

Setting aside that the whole “Uptown” thing is a bit premature, we assume the circulator will have riders, especially when it is free, though the number of choice riders is an open question.  Importantly, where does it actually go and how often (and how long the route will take)?

The route would include 20 or more stops and run ideally every 20 minutes. Hours of operation and other details are yet to be ironed out.

In other words, it is not entirely clear where it goes (though we have to assume USF, the Mall, the Florida Hospital, the VA), and how long it will take (and running every 20 minutes is not good for getting people to and from lunch in an hour or so, especially when each bus has 20 stops).  Nor is it entirely clear what kind of bus they will use, though previous reports have said they will be small.  At least it is a small amount of money put toward transit (though in a piecemeal fashion).

We are all for circulators, though most of the area is entirely unwalkable so it will have to deposit people at front doors of their destinations, which is not very efficient. If we see the City and County moving to change their codes and really build properly, maybe we would become more interested in the potential of transit for choice riders.

And there is another thing. The discussion of the circulator is constantly tied to the “BRT” plan with the circulator being one of the key local links connecting to the “BRT” plan.  While, as we said, we are fine with a circulators, a circulator picking up people next to the interstate and shuttling them to their main destination at USF and beyond is quite poor transit planning.  Done properly, the main transit line should run to the biggest destination, here USF, and smaller systems would circulate smaller groups from there (though the more miles of circulation you add, the less efficient it gets). Just another problem with a “BRT” plan that seems more focused with using the interstate than being useful.


— Regionalism In Action

There is a lot of talk about regionalism in transportation, but, as we have previously discussed, even the simplest coordination is lacking: K-Bar Ranch is a clear example.

The Tampa City Council decided Thursday to wait on Pasco County’s next move regarding connecting crucial roads between booming New Tampa and Wesley Chapel.

Council members agreed to delay a final vote to June 28 on a proposal to place up to 700 new homes in K-Bar Ranch, the northernmost tip of New Tampa.

The nearly two-month wait is designed to see if Pasco County will change its stance on completing and opening the 30-foot stretch of no-man’s land between Kinnan Street in New Tampa and Mansfield Boulevard in Pasco County.

Pasco and Tampa have been in a stand 0ff for at least a decade over the roads.

Years ago, Pasco residents traveled to New Tampa to shop and dine. Since the Shops at Wiregrass opened, however, Pasco County has been less interested in opening its housing developments on the Hillsborough County border to New Tampa traffic.

“We have a constant crisis in this area. Not just what we’ve heard here today. A crisis of government is not really working together and we’re all the victims here today,” said council member Luis Viera, who represents New Tampa.

This issue could not be simpler (connect the ten feet or so), but, yet, the roads are not connected.  At least the Tampa City Council sensibly slowed down the process of adding more congestion a little.  However, we doubt Pasco is going to rush to do the simple and right thing.

After the vote, a Pasco County Commissioner said his county’s study on the issue wouldn’t be ready for months and his county wasn’t going to step up  the pace for Tampa or K-Bar developers.

“We have our schedule to look at any possible connections and we’ll be sticking to our schedule here in Pasco County,” said Mike Moore.

Even this area’s road-centric plans cannot be executed properly, and there is no cooperation on even the smallest thing (and little sign of good will). Which may lead some to ask: why fund the “BRT” plan that focuses on Pasco commuters especially when the study found that transit needs in Hillsborough (and Pinellas) are more critical anyway? Not a good sales pitch, Pasco.


— Suncoast Extension

Right now the Suncoast Parkway has a northern terminus that is less than bustling (here).   FDOT is working on stage 2 of the road, which will move to the west close to US19.  After the planned move west, FDOT is now thinking of going east (and north).

Billed as the answer to ease the strain on existing major highways, the proposed Coastal Connector is causing some Marion County horse farm owners their own fits of stress after the state unveiled the proposed routes for the road.

* * *

The plan is in its earliest stages and the current study is only gathering public input. The highway would connect north Central Florida with the Tampa area and run through Citrus and Marion County. The new road, likely a toll road, would reduce the strain on Interstate 75 with the goal of keeping up with growth and improving transportation and future emergency evacuations.

The project is decades from fruition with no construction expected before 2045, according to the Florida Department of Transportation.

The road would connect State Road 589 (Suncoast Parkway) — which is now set to end at State Road 44 in Citrus County — to Interstate 75 and U.S. 441 in Marion County.

 

From Ocala.com – click on map for article

We are in basic agreement with URBN Tampa Bay, with a few tweaks:

After much study, FDOT realized that connecting the Suncoast to I-75 might be useful (duh). Sounds reasonable enough, right? Except this is FDOT, so the proposed routes are all zig-zagging messes which needlessly head several miles west before doubling back east towards I-75. We’re not sure how making a highway several miles longer than it needs to be is good for anyone but FDOT and their cronies. This senseless zigzagging means more land must be acquired and more highway must be paved. It means trips on the road will take longer and the tolls will cost more. It also makes the highway less safe.

We hope that before FDOT goes any further with this, they simply step back and look at what they’re proposing through the eyes of the people expected to use it and live with it in the shadow of their community. There is definitely merit to this concept to get the Suncoast linked to the interstate instead of being a literal road to nowhere, but not this zig-zagging nonsense.

We think the Suncoast should be connected to I-75 further south, but up north would be fine, especially given how bad traffic can be on I-75 from Gainesville south. We are not sure why the path is not more direct, unless it is to avoid the land of some large landowners.  (The Ocala.com article from which the quote is taken is about landowners complaining about the road coming near their horse farms.)

Frankly, we would like the road project to be moved forward (2045 seems way to long from now).  But we would like it planned reasonably.


Downtown – Parking Down By the River?

When last we left the Straz they were 1) trying to figure out parking and 2) proposing all sorts of changes to the waterfront.  However, things have been kind of quiet, until now.  The Straz is looking to move forward with their expansion/rearranging project. From URBN Tampa Bay quoting the Straz statement:

An important component of the project is the integration and expansion of the Carol Morsani Hall and Louise Lykes Ferguson Hall Lobbies into one grand space that opens to a Grand Terrace and the Riverwalk. These expanded lobbies will provide space to relocate both the formal Maestro’s Restaurant and the casual Maestro’s Café to the riverfront so that they can serve the public year-round rather than just on show nights. The expanded lobbies will also provide additional vertical transportation, restroom and service facilities. The space above the new lobbies will provide a flexible-configuration 600 seat Event Center and a Rooftop Terrace. The space between the Patel Conservatory and the expansion will become an enclosed Atrium offering a second entrance to the theaters from the north, a main entrance to the Event Center, and added activity space for the Patel Conservatory and the Straz Center.

The greatest challenge facing the Straz Center and the entire Arts District, and now the Riverwalk and Curtis Hixon Park, is parking. The Straz Center, in concert with the City, Hillsborough County and its neighbors have explored literally dozens of options for adding parking facilities in the Arts District. None of the off-site options proved feasible or possible. At this time all of the immediately adjacent potential sites are under development by the private sector. Thus, the only solution possible is construction of an on-site parking facility integrated into the new expansion project.

The first paragraph is conditionally fine (depending on the details).  The basic idea seems ok.

However, the second paragraph is going to require a lot more information because it definitely sounds like the Straz is proposing some sort of parking garage on their present property. Looking at that property, there is not much room for a garage anywhere but near the river, which is most likely a very bad idea.  We are not saying they haven’t worked out something more creative.  We simply don’t know.  However, it is bad enough that the Riverwalk tower has a big garage on the water (though it, at least, has some decorative screening) to add to the legacy parking garages you see walking on the Riverwalk.  We really don’t think that Tampa should get into the practice of putting more parking garages on the riverfront.

That being said, given the lack of information, we will withhold final judgment until we see more.


West Tampa/Downtown-ish – In a Park Down By the River

Julian Lane Riverfront Park will reopen this weekend (after the Mayor’s state of the city speech Friday), this weekend.  Or, as the Times put it:

On Monday, Mayor Bob Buckhorn said the signature public works project of his two-term administration was 99 percent ready to go for its Mother’s Day weekend debut, when concerts are scheduled by the Florida Orchestra, the U.S. Navy Band and pop act Third Eye Blind, which the mayor referred to initially as “Third Blind Eye.”

Setting aside the lack of nearby parking (not that we think they should build more – but it not really a great event venue.  Curtis Hixon Park is much better), lack of transit and lack of a good connection to the Riverwalk on the east side of the river, the events should be fun.

We are sure people will use the park, and, really, it had to be fixed up.  We just don’t think the City should have spent the amount of money on it (and we disagree with some of the changes, but we are not going to get into the theories of proper park design now).  The point is, the money is spent; we need to make it as successful as possible.  And that is where the City is already failing.

The Times article headline was this: “Tampa’s version of Central Park gets its finishing touches before Friday’s debut.” We don’t know who came up with the Central Park line, but it is silly and not just because Tampa is not Manhattan (and all sorts of park design issues).  Central Park is surrounded by developed city.  Riverfront Park has a river on one side (obviously), a school on another, a highway on another, and underdeveloped land on the final side.  That means only one side of the park can be developed properly to take advantage of the park and give it an urban environment.  So, of course, the City, knowing this and wanting to maximize its investment has changed the code for the property fronting the park . . . or maybe not.

From URBN Tampa Bay:

The city should amend the zoning code/comp plan for any nearby parcels already zoned for urban density to be even denser, with a substantial minimum density that the city will not approve a project below that threshold. Moreover, the city should consider steps it can take to ensure that any redevelopment fronting N Blvd near the park features a walkable design with public facing ground floor commercial and an activated streetscape.

We can scarcely think of a more relevant time to amend development densities upwards, than after building high capacity public infrastructure such as this. This is a golden opportunity for Tampa to break out of its settling ways by being smarter on urban development than we have in the past. The park is built, let’s make maximum use of it to help shape Tampa’s urban core into the high quality, walkable community we all know it can be, and is becoming.

Exactly.  It is so basic that it should not even have to be said.

And one more thing, here is a Times story about Mayor Julian Lane, for whom the park is named.   Read it and maybe you’ll agree with this:

Historian Hearns hopes more is done to honor what Lane.

“In Tampa his name is very seldomly repeated for what he did for this city,” he said. “Mayor Lane needs a statue in the park. He is one of my heroes.”

Seems like that idea has some merit. (As does shortening the name of the park to just Julian Lane Park).


Westshore-ish – Midtown

In the last few weeks, we have discussed the proposed Midtown development.  We have noted that it appears to be internally quite good but does not connect well to the areas around it.  Regardless of that, the City Council has given its first support.  Now, presumably to bring some enthusiasm about the development, the developers have released the names of some of the future retail tenants.

Bromley appears to be targeting an eclectic mix of local and national names that is more in line with the lineup at Hyde Park Village than other retail properties that line North Dale Mabry Highway.

Restaurants on the site plan range from less than 3,000 square feet to more than 6,000 square feet. Outside of Ulta, Whole Foods and REI, the retail space is mostly small shops, in the range of 1,000 to 3,000 square feet.

Fly Wheel, a cycling studio, and Solid Core, a fitness studio specializing in Pilates and boot camps, are listed on the site plan. Hopdoddy, a burger and beer restaurant, and Sixty Vines, a wine bar, are also allotted space, as is an unnamed concept from Tampa restaurant veteran Bob Basham, an Outback Steakhouse co-founder.

Some boutique retailers that are growing their brick-and-mortar footprints are also represented on the plan: Shinola, a Detroit-based leather and accessories store, and South Moon Under, a women’s lifestyle boutique, are both listed.

It’s unlikely that the final mix of tenants in Midtown lines up exactly with the names presented on the site plan. But Bromley’s vision — at least on paper — is one for the future, bringing together a mix of services and storefronts that aren’t easily replicated online.

And that’s all great.  We are all for it.  The thing we don’t quite get though is why they can get those retailers but they can’t figure out how to not put a surface parking lot next to a Whole Foods built under a garage.  The quality of the tentative retailers does not change the deficiency in the design.  Tampa should want (and expect) quality throughout.


Downtown – Riverwalk Tower

Once again, there was news about Riverwalk Tower.  From URBN Tampa Bay:

Feldman Equities, LLC uploaded numerous building documents today to Tampa’s Accela planning portal in pursuit of a permit to build their 52 story mixed-use tower at 103 South Ashley Dr.

According to these updated documents filed with the city, the tower is set to rise to 649 feet. The project includes 236 residential units, an increase from the 220 previously proposed. The office space has decreased down to 136k square feet, from the earlier proposal of 155k square feet. There is 49,500 square feet of retail space. There are 727 parking spaces provided. City code required 424 parking spaces.

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

Setting aside the extra parking, that’s all fine.  It appears that the height went back up, but we will just wait and see.


Downtown-ish – UT Riverfront

The University of Tampa has been building a lot for a while (some good, some unfortunately placed in view corridors).  Through all that the buildings facing the river have been the old, plain buildings.  Now:

The University of Tampa’s Riverside Center, which was built in 1962 on the Hillsborough River and has supported various administrative and academic functions over the years, will undergo a major renovation this summer and fall. The renovation will allow for significantly increased space for Career Services, classrooms, conference rooms and for a transformed post office.

The current building, which is a mix of single-story, story-and-a-half and two-story spaces, will become two-story throughout, but will remain approximately the same footprint. The renovation will add nearly 20,000 square feet for a total of 54,000 square feet. The project is expected to begin in early May, and to be fully completed for the Spring 2019 semester. However, the post office, language lab and some administrative spaces are expected to be complete by the Fall 2018 semester.

There are two renderings in this article.  This appears to be the one fronting the river, which is what we care more about:

 

From the University of Tampa – click on picture for article

It is a (modest) update to the look.  But this building is not the worst offender on campus. There are other buildings on along the river that definitely could use some (quite a bit) improvement (if not demolition and moving their function elsewhere).


South Tampa – More Sanctuary

Last week we noted the updated rendering of the front of the Sanctuary condo.  This week, the Business Journal had more renderings. There were a number of renderings of interiors and the pool area.  We will stipulate that they will be nice (especially if you like having a pool in a Central American jungle).  The only new rendering of the exterior was this:

 

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

At least we know how we will look driving up in our white Bentley.  However, this does not give us any idea of how the building will interact with the area around it.  Nor does it tell us what the other sides of the building will look like (which from previous information, we assume will be bad).

Taub said the house will be demolished “in the next month or two” with construction of the condos due to start this fall. Completion is set for 2020.

Once again, we are sure the units will be very nice.  We have no problem with that.  What we do have a problem with is if the building sticks everyone else with ugliness, which seems to be the case.  That needs to change.


Channel District – New Name, Same Issues

It appears that Mercury Advisors have renamed their Del Villar project “Elevé61.”  Whatever.  There is more information at the project website, though it is quite generic and may be old.  They do say, “Rezoning approval has been obtained for this 36 story residential condominium tower in the Channel District.”  As far as we know, this building has not been finally approved, though it may technically have proper zoning.  Regardless, there are what appear to be updated renderings:

 

From Mercury Advisors – click on picture for website

From Mercury Advisors – click on picture for website

Nothing has really changed from our previous discussions. (see here, here, and here) There is still poor street interaction, lack of retail, and the poorly designed, ugly garage.  (While the latest Del Villar proposal had a very small retail space, it is not enough.)

As for the overall design, we are not fond of the blue stripe, but the real problem is the blank walls.  Just like with Sanctuary, that is what the most prominent feature, and that should not happen.  Tampa deserves better (and Mercury Advisors has done better).  So why this poor design now?


Tourism – Pinellas

Last week, we discussed Hillsborough County’s bed tax collections. This week, we discuss Pinellas:

VSPC reported tourist development tax or bed tax collection of $8.9 million for March, which is traditionally the county’s highest grossing month, in part because of spring break. “March is to tourism what December is to retail,” Downing said.

Bed tax collections for February 2018 were also strong. At $5.9 million, it represented a 14.09 percent jump year-over-year and reflected the highest non-March month of tourist development tax collections in the county’s history.

Interestingly,

The numbers are not driven by more travelers, Downing said. The Revenue per Available Room (RevPAR) and Average Daily Rate (ADR) numbers outpace occupancy, Downing pointed out. Boosting those numbers is the tourism tax money being collected by Airbnb, Downing said. The online home-sharing platform delivered $1.87 million in bed taxes to the county in FY 2017.

“We’ve seen unparalleled growth in the destination, not so much in visitors, but in terms of economic impact,” Downing said.

In other words, hotel prices went up.  The article then discusses the various efforts to attract tourists with an air of success, which is a bit odd given that we are told the number of visitors hasn’t really gone up.  Given the higher prices, if we Pinellas could draw significantly more tourists, think what could be done.


West Tampa – West River Starts

The first building of the “West River” project, Renaissance, is breaking ground.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

The Renaissance at West River officially breaks ground Thursday at the corner of Main Street and Rome Avenue in West Tampa, the Tampa Housing Authority said. It is part of the $350 million West River redevelopment, a 120-acre area bound by Rome Avenue, Columbus Avenue, the Hillsborough River and Interstate 275.

To us, the building is a bit disappointing, especially regarding street activation.  What is not disappointing is this quote:

The redevelopment will “create a true center city designed to support a diverse, multi-generational mixed use, mixed-income community that will seamlessly integrate into the nearby West Tampa area and support the greater development needs of this community,” Jerome D. Ryans, the housing authority president and CEO, said in a statement.

If all the Housing Authority designs were as creative and smoothly flowing as that rhetoric, we would be huge fans.

Anyway,

. . . the Housing Authority expects in the next few weeks to announce a development partner for construction of a 70,000-square-foot office block.

* * *

Next up for West River is the rehabilitation of the 150-unit Mary Bethune High Rise Apartments. Built in 1966, the complex will cost an estimated $70,000 per unit to bring up to date.

Groundbreaking is scheduled for the end of the year on a 118-unit apartment block earmarked for families.

We’ll see about all that, and whether it matches the rhetoric or not.


South Tampa – A Little More Clarity

Developers of the office building proposed for Henderson near Dale Mabry released a new rendering.

The project, called Crown Tower, will include an eight-story, 102,355-square-foot building; a seven-story parking garage and a remodeling of the existing Crown Building at 3825 Henderson Boulevard.

 

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

It is a nice enough rendering though it does not add much, except to make it appear that there will not be any retail on the ground floor facing the street.  This project is definitely better than what is there now, but it would be nice if the retail faced out and the garage was not as prominent.


Downtown/Public Art – It’s a Logo

In an odd event this week,

Tampa Bay has a new attraction for the traveling crowd — especially those who are social media savvy.

A new sculpture unveiled Tuesday at Poe Plaza in downtown Tampa brings to life the keyhole and crossed keys logo of Visit Tampa Bay. The 8-by-8-foot structure created by artist Dominique Martinez, owner of Tampa Heights-based Rustic Steel Creations, is expected to attract vacationers in search of a memorable photo opportunity.

“This sculpture encapsulates the essence of this community — the welcoming spirit, the treasured past, and, yes, our love of pirates,” Santiago C. Corrada, president and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay, said in a statement. “In this age of Instagram, we are giving all fans of Tampa Bay a way to show their love for our community with this eye-catching piece of public art.”

So why did they stick a logo in the middle of a plaza in downtown?

Tourism officials are hopeful the crossed keys will add Tampa Bay to a “short list of dynamic communities that boast landmark tourism art pieces,” said VTB’s Chief Marketing Officer Patrick Harrison.

* * *

Art already plays a huge role in downtown St. Pete where museums dot the landscape. There is the Dali Museum, with the largest collection outside of Spain of the work of the late surrealist Salvador Dali; the Museum of Fine Arts, which features classical and contemporary masters; The Chihuly Collection by glass artist Dale Chihuly adjacent to the Morean Arts Center; and the Florida Holocaust Museum.

However, the goal of this new landmark artwork at Poe Plaza in downtown Tampa is to have it join the ranks of iconic pieces in cities the world over such as:

This is the memorable, eye-catching art:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

You decide if it fits in the same category as those other works.

Setting all that aside, really, we want to note this which was in the same article:

Leadership Tampa Bay raised its portion through donations by class of 2017 members. The unveiling included a $5,000 gift to St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital’s Chronic-Complex Clinic in memory of a classmate’s son.

That is by far the most important part of the article.


Clearwater – Reuse

The 1100 Cleveland Building, an office building that was going to get reused as apartments called the Strand, until the recession, is getting another chance:

The redevelopment of an aging office tower in downtown Clearwater is underway.

McShane Construction Co. said Wednesday that it is the general contractor on Apex 1100, which will convert the 15-story office tower at 1100 Cleveland St. into 134 luxury apartments with 4,300 square feet of retail in surrounding two-story storefronts on the property. Some of the units will be two-story townhouses; others will have single-floor floor plans.

The two-story parking deck will be able to accommodate more than 200 vehicles.

GSP Development is the developer behind the project. The tower was built as office space in the 1980s and has been vacant since 2009.

Setting aside that a quick check of the property appraiser website indicates the building was built in 1972 (not to mention  looking at the original façade, see here, it sure looks like a 70’s building), we are glad that the project might actually get finished.  While it is not really in downtown, it would be a shame to have it either sit there empty any longer or be torn down.  Clearwater has many needs to get where it should be.


Rays – Money Talk, Cont

In our continuing not so detailed coverage of the Rays stadium issue (we are just not going to delve into detail on too much speculation), there was something interesting this week:

The Tampa Bay Rays have said for a couple of years they want a new ballpark that’s not just for baseball, but that draws fans and non-fans alike year-round.

So, they’ve thought out loud, how about making the stadium a showcase for local food? Or using training facilities as a community wellness center? Or letting a culinary school use the ballpark’s kitchens? While we’re at it, how about a water slide?

Turns out, that goal — to create a multi-use destination that increases traffic — plays a significant role in how the potential public-private financing is being put together for the Ybor City site the Rays have said is their top choice.

Do tell.

Here’s a key principle:

“You want those who use it and go there to help pay for it,” said Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill, who is at the center of the Tampa-Hillsborough effort to study stadium financing options.

So what’s at the stadium counts. What’s around the stadium matters. And the design of the stadium, he said, should lead to “good fun but also to spending money.”

In an interview last week, Merrill also touched on a related goal.

“We’re aggressively looking for private capital, private developers, to build a stadium,” he said.

Which is fine, but the devil is in the details.  Like maybe this:

Another potential source of revenue for the stadium is tapping into economic activity that is attracted by and grows up around the stadium.

There is a variety of ways to do this, and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn recently outlined one possible scenario. The city could create what’s been loosely described as an entertainment district around the stadium. Inside the district, a surcharge on sales of food, drinks and merchandise could generate revenue that would be used to help pay off stadium construction bonds.

And you can read more about possible plans in the article here.

In any event, while they’re figuring it out, just keep this in mind:

Check out this tweet from MLB Network’s Jon Morosi:

Rob Manfred said on @FOXSportsSD telecast that @MLB “would like to get to 32” teams, citing benefits to scheduling and playoff format. When asked about Montreal and Mexico, he said both are possible expansion locations. @MLBNetwork @LasMayores

— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) May 5, 2018

We’ll see.

Roundup 5-4-2018

May 3, 2018

Due to circumstances beyond our control, we had to post a little early this week.

Contents

Transportation – Back to the Mire

— Most?

— The Editorial

— Speaking of Express Lanes

Downtown/Channel District – A Run Down

Westhore-ish – Conflicted

Economy – TV

Tourism – Growth

Rays – Money Talk, Cont

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

____________________


Transportation – Back to the Mire

Starting with something other than transportation for a few weeks was nice, but you knew it couldn’t last.


— Most?

We knew that the “BRT” discussion would not stay quiet for long.  This week the Times had an article entitled “Most want BRT. Hillsborough’s pro-transit supporters don’t.

The region’s vision for a tri-county bus rapid transit line has a problem: Hillsborough’s die-hard transit advocates don’t support it.

Setting aside that the plan is not “BRT” (we are pretty sure that if a real, “gold standard” BRT plan was put forward, transit advocates would be for it), who is for it?

. . . Pasco and Pinellas politicians and the region’s business community have rallied behind the proposed $455 million BRT plan.

After years of failure, they believe it to be the most realistic transit option Tampa Bay has right now. They have touted it as cost effective, quick-to-build, and a “truly regional” plan.

Scott Pringle of Jacobs Engineering, the consultants who drew up the proposal, said this project also has the best chance to land federal dollars.

“This BRT plan gives us the best chance of success to bring regional transit,” Tampa Bay Partnership CEO Rick Homans said. “We need to act now and make sure that we don’t miss our chance and watch another opportunity pass us by.”

First, that is not “most.”  That is “some.” (For reference, the 2017 Census Bureau population estimates list the county populations: Hillsborough 1,408,566, Pinellas 970,637, and Pasco 525,643.  Pinellas and Pasco together are 1,496,280, which is not much more than Hillsborough now, and Pinellas is not really growing much.  At present growth rates, it is entirely possible that soon – possibly before the “BRT” plan, if it is built, opens – Hillsborough will be over 50% of the three county population.) Second, if the “BRT” plan is so good, why are transit advocates against it?

Brian Willis, one of the region’s most vociferous transit supporters, said the 41-mile bus line connecting Wesley Chapel, Tampa and St. Petersburg doesn’t solve any of Hillsborough’s transit problems. It benefits out-of-county commuters, he said, not county residents.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller, who also chairs the bus authority, is concerned that the project is tied to the interstate instead of extending transit options to local roads and neighborhoods.

And Commissioner Pat Kemp, a Democrat who campaigned on transit needs, has led the charge against the project. Her criticisms range from the number of stops (21 is too many to be effective, she said) to what she called a “predetermined” study was always going to pick BRT.

Hillsborough’s pro-transit forces stand alone in their opposition, leaving BRT without a key constituency.

“We have a crying need for local transit in Hillsborough County,” Kemp said. “And they want us to put our dollars into this very wasteful project that won’t move anybody. This does not make any sense at all.”

* * *

But longtime transit advocates in Tampa like Willis and transportation marketing consultant Kevin Thurman said the project does little to move people around. Instead, they said it is primarily aimed at serving commuters while ignoring transit pressing needs within each county.

“I don’t think using the shoulders of the interstate and then getting on and off the interstate every mile or so is a viable way to spend money,” Thurman said of the plan to add dedicated bus lanes to I-275.

“If we’re going to spend this extra money, we need to make sure we’re getting new riders and creating efficiency.”

Seeing aside the county-centric description, those are good points.  The “BRT” plan is really aimed at just distant commuters.  It is not a true transportation alternative that would be useful to people in the urban and close-in suburban areas.  As we have explained a number of times, it is really quite inefficient unless you are travelling quite far to get to and from work, and there are cheaper ways to provide that.

And it is not just transit advocates who aren’t sold:

It’s not just Hillsborough’s transit boosters who are resisting BRT. The county’s elected leadership greeted the project with minimal enthusiasm.

No major Hillsborough board — its transit agency, county commission or even the Metropolitan Planning Organization — has endorsed the project yet.

Instead, elected officials and transit advocates alike are divided over how to address the area’s growing transportation concerns.

Commissioners Sandy Murman and Victor Crist called the BRT plan “a reasonable first step” and “a good starting point.” But both said projects like ferries, circulators and a streetcar should be added for the plan to succeed.

Both also voted against putting the 2016 Go Hillsborough transportation referendum on the ballot and letting voters decide whether to pay for transportation improvements.

Commissioners Ken Hagan, Al Higginbotham and Stacy White did not return calls for comment to discuss their views of the plan. Hagan and Higginbotham both voted to put Go Hillsborough on the ballot. White did not.

Of course, the Commission is probably not opposed to the plan for the same reason as transit advocates, since the majority of the Commission seems to just want to pave roads and force people to rely on their cars while subsidizing sprawl.  But politics sometimes makes strange bedfellows (though we would not say transit supporters and the County Commission are really bedfellows).  And, in any case, it makes one wonder about whether “most” support the “BRT” plan.

But let’s get back to the plan. According to the article:

The BRT project emerged from a two-year study that set out to identify the top 10 corridors for potential transit lines in Tampa Bay.

A majority of those were Hillsborough centric, using various combinations between West Shore, South Tampa, the University of South Florida and downtown Tampa.

The Wesley Chapel-Tampa-St. Pete BRT option ranked sixth.

But over the last year, options to improve transit within Hillsborough were eschewed for much broader projects that could earn regional buy-in.

So, what happened to the top 5?  It does not seem that the “BRT” plan really addresses the biggest transit needs. And:

A 2017 travel market memo from an early phase of the study showed 91 percent of home-to-work trips that started in Hillsborough ended there. Similarly, 86 percent of Pinellas’ trips start and end within its borders.

Pasco had the largest cross-county commuter numbers, with more than 40 percent of trips starting at Pasco homes connecting to jobs in Hillsborough and Pinellas.

“Why is Hillsborough going to contribute to a project that is primarily serving commuters elsewhere?” Willis asked. “They want to take our money to fund a commuter express bus service … when we have our own substantial transit needs to address.”

So the plan does not serve the needs of most Hillsborough commuters OR most Pinellas commuters.

Once again, we are down to the idea that the plan is cheap and regional.  Whether it serves the biggest need in the best way seems beside the point. And it may just be that regional and more important or effective are not the same thing, at least in the initial stages. (Though it is also pretty clear that the “BRT” plan supporters are not going to support a plan that focuses on Hillsborough right now, even if that is the biggest need. That may be a significant reason why transit planning in the area is so bad.)

A properly planned system would serve the core needs first and expand from there (much like Minneapolis-St. Paul has been building their system).  That does not mean that other areas do not get transit.  It means you serve the biggest needs first.  (And it also means setting priorities so that some of the billions set aside for the interstate go to needed transit instead.)

Which leads us back to what we concluded a while back.  The two biggest points of the plan are cheap and regional.  So keep the regional and make the plan cheaper. Set up a basic express bus service to serve distant commuters, save money, then put time and money focusing on the biggest needs with real transit.  The goal should be useful, effective transit in this area.  The “BRT” plan proposed is not it.


— The Editorial

The Times ran another editorial on the “BRT” system that ties into the above.

Critics are finding plenty not to like about a proposed bus rapid transit system connecting Wesley Chapel, Tampa and St. Petersburg. But the cake’s not even in the oven; consultants are still toying with changes to make the system faster, more popular, more accommodating to various forms of transit and more competitive for federal funding. This is an opportunity to improve the concept, not prematurely kill it. The top priority should remain creating a regional transit spine that connects to local routes in each county, and a robust system needs both.

That is true to a degree.  However, it ignores whether the “spine” being created is a proper spine and is actually useful.  Just because it is some sort of spine does not mean that it is automatically a good proposal.  For instance, is the interstate the place to run a BRT system?  Is BRT the best spine?  Should a proper spine be built in segments, starting with the most important and radiating out?

Many of the criticisms are valid, to a point. There are still many questions to answer about a proposal to run express buses in the interstate shoulder. Early proposals to include 21 stations on the route seem ill suited for a rapid bus system. And the cost and ridership projections still need clarifying. Where will local bus agencies, which are already strapped, each find the $3.5 million or more every year to build and run the system — or the millions more it will take to expand existing bus service to get BRT passengers to their local destinations?

Poor stops.  Unknown real cost and ridership projection.  Unknown funding (plus no commitment to develop and fund robust local connecting service).  Given that, the real question is what exactly the enthusiastic supporters are supporting so enthusiastically. (Being open to the idea but needing more information seems a more logical choice.)  Maybe this:

But it’s essential to remember what this proposal is about and that it is still early in the planning process. The proposal hopes to build mass transit service along the existing regional spine of Interstate 275, capitalizing on the existing highway that already runs through the region’s major cities, employment centers and airports. This is not designed to serve one county or to take the place of local connectors and other service improvements that individual counties should be providing. Framing this decision as an either-or choice ignores the reality that the area needs both regional connections and better local bus service.

As noted in the first segment, we do not think a proposal should necessarily serve one county, but it should serve the biggest need.  But, setting that aside, we all know the proposal is intended to run in the interstate.  However, that does not mean the interstate is the best place to run it (it’s not).  And we know it is regional, but is this “spine” the biggest need and is this the best way to make a spine? That is the key. Maybe fixing the plan requires changing the nature of the proposal (like putting a large portion of it on dedicated lanes in arterial roads like real BRT). Which leads us to the last paragraph:

There will be spending choices to make and plenty of details to nail down, but Tampa Bay business leaders, politicians and transit advocates should be striving for both regional and local solutions. It would be a lost opportunity if leaders in Hillsborough brushed off any interest in BRT merely because it’s not the end-all to the county’s transportation problem. The early critics raise some legitimate issues, but they should be advocating for improvements rather than for scrapping the entire concept at this early stage. TBARTA and other advocates recently have demonstrated their willingness to enhance the BRT proposal, and there is time to push to make it even better before any final decisions are made.

We agree to this extent: we are not for scrapping the “BRT” plan entirely.  We are for rationalizing it – balancing its cost and its utility.  We are for stripping it down to its essence – an express bus for distant commuters without any of the real benefit of effective mass transit – and not spending more money on express buses than we need to. (Why enhance an inherently limited idea?) Then we can spend time, money, and political capital on the real transit needs of this area.


— Speaking of Express Lanes

FDOT was back talking about express lanes and Tampa Bay Next this week.

A plan for express toll lanes on Interstate 275 north through Bearss Avenue is officially dead.

* * *

Local DOT secretary David Gwynn confirmed to Hillsborough elected leaders Wednesday that the agency will not pursue toll lanes on I-275 between I-4 and Bearss. The move had been opposed for years by activists in Tampa Heights, V.M Ybor and other neighborhoods along the stretch. 

And that is a win for public input.  Of course, FDOT seems compelled to put express lanes somewhere else:

In its place, I-75 would become the main north-south option for moving commuters from suburbs north of Tampa as part of the department’s rebranded Tampa Bay Next initiative. The department has begun a year-long state study to determine where along I-75 to charge the tolls.

This could include stretches around Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, Wesley Chapel and other points north in Pasco County, Gwynn said. Areas as far as Sun City Center and South Hillsborough also are being considered.

The express lanes are needed, he said, to reduce journey times. He is not expecting the same level of opposition as the transportation department encountered when it proposed the I-275 tolls.

Express lanes don’t really reduce travel times (especially over time) for the people in the regular lanes. (And so much for FDOT not knowing if express lanes would be tolled or not.)  Variable rate express lanes are a way to say they are doing something about congestion while not really doing anything for most people. (If they insist on variable rate toll lanes, they should at least be HOT lanes to incentivize carpooling and maybe actually have some effect on congestion.)

But, in any event, even more interesting is the focus on Pasco (which won’t even pave a few feet to connect to a road in New Tampa. See here).  TB(n)X/”BRT” plan has never been about urban/close-suburban transit alternatives.  It is not about avoiding running cars going to Pinellas through the middle of Tampa.  On the other hand, if FDOT wants to imitate the Katy Freeway, better they do it out on I-75 than in the middle of Tampa.

And then there was this:

Gwynn also announced Wednesday that the transportation department has come up with new options to reduce the impact of a proposed redesign for the downtown interchange, often called “Malfunction Junction” by motorists.

The state’s original plan included an option to completely rebuild the intersection, requiring the purchase of almost 200 neighboring plots of land. Two new options would use existing roads and add an elevated express lane either to the south or north. That would reduce the number of parcels the state would need to buy to between and 30 and 80, FDOT documents show.

“We could be down to as few as 30 parcels,” he said “All of that came out of the input we received from the community.”

The state has yet to make a decision on what option it will pursue. The costs range from $775 million to $1.6 billion.

That is not really news. It came up in March, if not before. See Transportation – Like It Ever Ends . . . — Meanwhile, Back at the Interstate” .   You can read our thoughts on it there.

And here is one more idea, express buses on express lanes on I-75 would be cheaper and just as useful for getting people from Wesley Chapel south (if the route is not effective, why build express lanes on I-75 from Wesley Chapel?) than the “BRT” plan.  Save money (and put the FDOT money for the cancelled I-275 shoulder enhancement towards buying and operating buses) and just run them there.  Then get to work on real transit in urban and close-in suburban areas.


Downtown/Channel District – A Run Down

This item is much more fun.

Now that Water Street has gotten going, local media has been putting out guides to the development process.  This week, the Business Journal had another one, which we thought might be helpful.  First, to review, the general overview:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

How it breaks down

Now that we have that:

What else to expect in 2018: The second building to break ground will be 815 Water Street, a retail-and-residential building with a ground-floor grocery store at Channelside Drive and Water Street. The grocer will serve as a podium for two residential towers — 26 stories of condos and 21 stories of apartments.

The rental tower is perpendicular to Channelside Drive while the condos will be built to maximize water views. The retail will line Channelside Drive.

The 157-key Edition Tampa, which includes condominium units, is also slated to break ground before the end of the year.

The first phase consists of 12 buildings (see conceptual design below). By early 2019, SPP says it will have 20 cranes in the air.

 

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

There is more, but it is vaguer.  We’ll stick to the 12 buildings for now.  If those buildings actually all start this year, that alone will be unlike anything seen here before.

Finally, as part of preparing the ground (literally) for that construction,

Water Street Tampa’s next phase of road construction has begun, permanently closing a portion of one street and switching a one-way stretch of Channelside Drive into a two-lane street.

Brorein Street between Channelside Drive and South Nebraska Avenue closed at 12:01 a.m. Sunday, along with the northernmost, westbound lane on Channelside Drive between South Meridian Avenue and Old Water Street.

The Brorein closure is permanent. In the new grid, Old Water Street will be extended to the north by about three blocks, becoming the district’s signature, tree-lined boulevard. . .

Between South Nebraska Avenue and Old Water Street, Channelside Drive is now a two-way street. It was previously a one-way, eastbound street. South Nebraska Avenue, between Channelside Drive and East Brorein, will become a one-way northbound street.

You can see a gif explaining it here.

We get why they are rearranging the roads.  It will make the area more walkable and the grid more rational. However, given the lack of real transit, the rearranging of the roads it going to create some interesting traffic issues, especially when there are events at the arena.  Be prepared for some growing pains (and probably some pain thereafter).  Long term, getting people in and out of the area efficiently will need to be addressed more comprehensively.


Westhore-ish – Conflicted

Sticking with large projects, the Midtown project got initial approval last week.

Tampa City Council approved on first reading a vacation of certain property surrounding the proposed development — a routine step, but one necessary to move forward. The measure will come up again for final approval on May 17. As part of the filing, developers included new renderings not previously released.

You can see all the renderings at the Business Journal website here. We are going to focus on a few which show why we are a bit conflicted over this project.

Looking east from Dale Mabry:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

Looking north from Cypress:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

Looking at Whole Foods from Dale Mabry:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

Looking at those pictures it should be clear why we are conflicted.  We like much about this project, at least internally.  It has nice internal walkability.  If you live and work in the project, you could easily spend much of your time there without driving.  There are many amenities and walking around inside the project will probably be a nice experience.  That is all good.

Like URBN Tampa Bay, we are not so fond of the project not lining up with the rest of the Tampa grid.  We also do not really like that there seems to be little connection to the surrounding area or enhancement of the external streets of the project (like Cypress and Himes).

And we are concerned about the parking, especially the surface parking lot on Dale Mabry.  We get Whole Foods (and the rest of the project) needs parking, but Whole Foods appears to be located immediately under a multi-story parking garage.  Does it really need a surface parking lot, especially one fronting a major road?  There also is a huge garage in the back (north side) which is not very good either, but at least it fronts 275 not an actual surface road.  And, while you might say that no one is going to walk on Dale Mabry, if you start replacing what is there now with properly designed projects you never know.

We also don’t like the large pond facing Dale Mabry but that is FDOT’s doing, just to make any transit connection at I-275 and Dale Mabry ungainly, even with this large, internally walkable project.

______

We had already written the above when, on Thursday, the Times had an article on the about the hearing, noting that the City staff raised a number of objections.

The city staff said the project damaged Tampa’s attempt to breathe life into pedestrian activity on Dale Mabry. The developer’s urban planner scoffed at the idea that anyone wanted to dine al fresco in exhaust fumes.

(People sit outside at Brickhouse across the Dale Mabry and the restaurant across Cypress, not to mention we are talking about a Whole Foods with a parking garage.) And

Another city gripe: The Midtown project would funnel visitors into the confines of a triangle-shaped parcel bounded by Cypress Street to the south, Dale Mabry to the west, Interstate 275 to the north and Himes Avenue to the east, isolating the parts of Westshore in need of more pedestrian traffic.

Midtown Tampa looks inward to itself, failing to draw the surrounding neighborhoods into his embrace, city staff argued.

None of that is wrong (good for the staff). In the end, Tampa did what it does:

Eventually, council members decided that a low wall and landscaping separating the parking lot from Dale Mabry could work, unanimously advancing the plan to a May 17 vote.

It won’t. (It is the essence of settling, whether you think it justified or not.  In this case, we think it was not.)  While we get some landscaping, we don’t see how putting a wall will make the project more connected or pedestrian friendly.

It just would be nice if a project like this, with all its positive internal attributes, was designed like it also wanted to really connect to the city around it. That is especially true since the issues we have did not have to exist and could be fixed to make the project much better.

In any event:

Bromley expects construction to break ground next year with construction complete in 2021.

We’ll see.


Economy – TV

There was an article in the Times this week highlighting the benefits of people filming commercials in the Bay area.

Hillsborough County interim film commissioner Tyler Martinolich has a unique approach to channel surfing.

He searches for two kinds of commercials: those made in his county and those he thinks should have been.

“Television commercials mean money,” Martinolich said.

With five months to go in the fiscal year, Hillsborough has already bagged more money off television commercial productions than all last fiscal year.

Yuengling beer, Home Depot and NAPA Auto Parts, for instance, have each had commercials produced in Hillsborough.

Since October, production companies have shot 108 commercials in Hillsborough, spending $4.64 million on payroll, purchases, rentals and about 4,600 hotel nights, according to Martinolich’s Film Tampa Bay office. The office operates under the umbrella of Visit Tampa Bay, the county’s tourism bureau.

In the previous 12 months, 39 television commercials spent $3.15 million and booked about 3,800 room nights.

You get the gist of the article, and it is good.  (You can read the rest here) There is nothing wrong with developing an economic market segment.

However, one thing really caught our eye:

When Martinolich took the helm of Film Tampa Bay last year, he focused on luring commercials and not Hollywood films, which are difficult to get without the type of state incentive that places like Georgia offer.

“It’s just a different tactic,” he said. “I have made efforts to reach out to the local business community to shoot here and not somewhere else.”

For instance, a production company was planning to shoot a Tampa General Hospital commercial in Orlando, Martinolich said, but when he heard that a park they needed fell through, he offered Ballast Point and successfully brought nearly $100,000 in production money to the county.

Huh?  Tampa/Hillsborough keeps trying to develop its film and commercial segment and TGH hired a company that was going to shoot a commercial in a park in Orlando though there were obviously good locations in Tampa?  How exactly did that happen?  That is just bizarre.


Tourism – Growth

There was news about hotel tax receipts.

Hillsborough County has seen the collection of its tourist development tax or bed tax soar in the first three months of this year.

In the second quarter ended March 31 of fiscal year 2018, the county collected more than $9.27 million, or 8.67 percent more than the $8.53 million collected over the same period one year ago. That is a nearly 16 percent increase from the same period in FY 2016 when the amount collected was just over $8 million. In March alone, which reflect collections in February, a record $3.43 million was collected compared to $3.399 million for March 2017.

Interestingly,

Revenue for hotels in Hillsborough County rose 4.5 percent in the second quarter of FY 2018 (Jan. 1 through March 31) to more than $231 million, despite occupancy dropping slightly. In the month of March, hotel revenue was nearly $89.3 million, a 10 percent rise over March 2017.

That could mean a few things.  First, there are more hotel rooms, so you could have more rooms filled but lower occupancy.  Second, hotel prices might be higher.  Or a combination of the two.  In any event, it is good that Hillsborough County is getting its piece of the tourism (and business) upturn.

It is time for the County to add the extra percentage point to the bed tax.


Rays – Money Talk, Cont

Last week we discussed how the proposed Rays ballpark location was not accepted as one of 400+ (out of 1200 or so) statewide economic opportunity zones, which would have helped attract developer (and thus, theoretically, funding) interest. (See “Rays – Money Talk”)  This week:

Tampa’s ask of Gov. Rick Scott isn’t about the Tampa Bay Rays – not really, a city official says.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn has emailed a letter to Scott and other state officials asking them to reconsider the city’s request to classify a .65 acre parcel near the proposed Ybor City site as an economic opportunity zone. It includes the property the Rays want as their new home.

Buckhorn proposes a swap for a parcel around Armenia and Hillsborough Avenues that was approved by Scott last month.

Tract 39 takes in the Rays’ desired ballpark spot, in an area bounded Adamo and Channelside Drives, East 4th Avenue and East 15th Street.

Asking again is fine, but

“[The Rays stadium is] not the primary reason we want it included,”  said Christina Barker, Buckhorn’s special assistant. “The fact that the Rays are looking at it shows how prime it is for economic development.” 

You can decide for yourself.

Another question. The City has a habit of neglecting the area around Armenia/Hillsborough so why swap out this specific parcel?

City and county officials agree the Ybor City site has more economic potential, generating a possible 9,633 jobs to 341 in the Armenia/Hillsborough area, according to estimates.

If true, that is a decent reason, though, if true, it makes one wonder why they are both on the same list.  It also makes one wonder how many proposed zones would have more employment and why it got rejected in the first place.

In any event, we’ll see what happens.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Time to check in with another transit project in the U.S., this time in the Southeast (and an area often touted as a competitor).

Transport agency GoTriangle has selected a Gannett Fleming/WSP joint venture as its construction management consultant for the planned light rail project in North Carolina’s Durham and Orange counties.

The joint venture is to provide a constructability review, estimating, contract packaging, design and specification review services under the first phase of the contract. It would then provide construction management services when work gets underway in 2020 with a view to opening in 2028.

The 28 km route with 18 stops would run from UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill to North Carolina Central University in Durham, connecting three universities and three medical facilities, including three of North Carolina’s 10 largest employers. 

The project is still waiting to hear if it has Federal funding ($1 billion or so).   The local funding is from ½ cent sale tax in three counties that will pay fund the rail and other transit improvements.   Interestingly, the first county passed the sales tax in 2011 and the third in 2016.  There is also a commuter rail project. (Interestingly, the Triangle Transit authority was apparently created in 1989.)

Three counties coordinating on transit improvements. And, they have local transit agencies that need to coordinate.  Assuming we build the proposed plan here and they build their plans, where will we both be in 10 years? Something to consider.

Roundup 4-27-2018

April 27, 2018

Contents

Downtown/Channel District – Really Getting Going

Downtown – Another Rendering

Transportation – Variety

– Ferry News

— Make Straight the Way

— Confab

— Odd

Economy – Jobs

South Tampa – Sanctuary

What Do You Expect?

Adventures in Planning – New Tampa

Rays – Money Talk

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country (and World)

— Hit and Run

— Transit Debate

___________________________________________


Downtown/Channel District – Really Getting Going

This week, the JW Marriot in Water Street broke ground.

From Water Street Tampa – click on picture for website

Even more interestingly, that is just the start of what promises to be quite an active time at Water Street.  From the Times:

Within a year, developers said Monday, construction should be underway on 10 — 10! — of Water Street Tampa’s planned 22 buildings. Watch for Amalie Arena, now flanked by acre after acre of bare dirt, to be surrounded by up to about 20 construction cranes at a time, with nearly 3,000 hard hats on the job.

* * *

Phase one of the project will generally take place inside the space bounded by Channelside Drive, E Cumberland Avenue, S Meridian Avenue and S Morgan Street. Breaking ground on a staggered schedule will be:

From the Business Journal:

The JW is the first building and already slated to be the official host hotel when the city hosts its fifth Super Bowl in 2021. 815 Water Street — apartment and condo towers perched atop a ground-level grocery store — will follow in the months ahead. By the end of 2018, more than a dozen other buildings in Water Street will be under construction.

While the schedule after 815 water Street is not clear, so far SPP has been sticking to its public statements (relatively unusual for this area), so we have no reason to think, barring some unforeseen larger issue, most of the list will not start this year.  This project promises to truly be transformative for downtown (especially if Riverwalk Place also starts on time).  However, once again, to really reach its potential, we need real transit.

And, just for kicks, here is another screenshot of the Edition video from URBN Tampa Bay giving a better view of the overall building:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

Like we said last week, it is ok to get excited once the building actually starts. (Though we still wish they would address protecting pedestrians from the elements a bit better).

There was also this:

At more than 55 acres, Water Street Tampa is already massive for an urban infill project, among the largest developments of its type in the U.S. But its developer said Tuesday that the project could get even bigger.

* * *

Water Street is currently slated to total 9 million square feet at completion, but it could be larger, said James Nozar, CEO of Strategic Property Partners.

Though, we’ll just have to see.  On the other hand, if they can make money, why not?


Downtown – Another Rendering

Last week we had the first rendering on the Riverwalk Place project.  The project website as a slightly different version of the rendering:

From Riverwalkplace.com – click on picture for website

It is a little more detailed, and it is just nice to consider.


Transportation – Variety


– Ferry News

We have noted that we like the Cross Bay Ferry, but it is just not set up to be a real transit option.  It is more of a tourist or recreational excursion.  Last week, there was news that just reinforced that view.

Delaware-based HMS Ferries, the company that operated the ferry pilot project during the 2016-17 season, and Seastreak LLC & Yacht Starship Dining Cruises LLC both responded to a request for proposal the city solicited earlier this year, according to documents obtained by the Tampa Bay Business Journal.

The HMS Ferries pitch includes cost and revenue projections for three years using the same boat and teal used during the pilot project.  The team’s proposal noted that as a way to “hit the deck running” to ensure “an even more impressive” route than the original, which exceeded revenue expectations.

HMS did propose some changes, including decreased fares and a different operating schedule. . .

The proposed route schedule would not serve morning commuters between the two cities.

* * *

The ferry would run between November and April because the boat used operates in Boston during the spring and summer months.

The article in the Business Journal had HMS’s proposed schedule, which begin running at noon on weekdays and 10 am on weekends.  That is great for a relaxing trip, but not a real transit option. And the other proposal emphasizes the true nature of the service:

It’s unclear whether the Starship Dinner Cruises proposal would run during additional months.  The company operates four dinner cruises in the Tampa Bay area as well as the Pirate Water Taxi fleet that runs along the Hillsborough River near Riverwalk.

It is a cruise, not transit.

As we have said, the first run was a nice experiment.  Now, the area has a choice.  Is it going to look to this kind of ferry for real transportation, in which case the ferry service needs a whole new approach, or it is just going to be recreation, in which case these proposals are fine?


— Make Straight the Way

A couple of weeks ago, we discussed possible express lanes in St. Pete (See “Transportation – Some Other Stuff — Pinellas”.  Another aspect of the possible changes to the St. Pete interstate was straightening the lanes of the interstate, which has long been needed.  This week, the Business Journal had more.

The Florida Department of Transportation is moving forward with plans to improve traffic flow through St. Petersburg along Interstate 275, one of several being planned as near-term solutions for increasing traffic congestion.

A draft plan shared with the Tampa Bay Business Journal shows $65 million in widening and re-striping projects adding lane continuity to the stretch of highway between 54th Avenue South and Gandy Boulevard.

Motorists changing lanes slow traffic and increase congestion, especially during peak travel periods. The project could increase safety by limiting the amount of times motorists have to change lanes in heavy traffic.

That is definitely true.  But here’s the kicker:

Right now there isn’t a single continuous lane from the Sunshine Skyway Bridge to the Howard Frankland Bridge along southbound I-275; northbound travelers have just one. FDOT wants to reconfigure the interstate to provide two continuous lanes in each direction along the stretch of interstate.   

We knew the lane changes were bad, but, in reality, we never checked that point.  It is absurd. The real question is how has this state of affairs been allowed to last so long?  Shouldn’t FDOT have cleaned this up for a relatively small sum before deciding about large interstate expansion?  And, really, why wasn’t it included in TBX?  We get they love express lanes, but this is so basic.

The project would require some widening between 26th Avenue South and 54th Avenue South near Interstate 175, between 22nd Avenue North and 38th Avenue North on the northbound side; between Fifth Avenue North and 22nd Avenue North on the southbound side; and southbound between Gandy Boulevard and 54th Avenue North.

* * *

Most of the work would include utilizing existing infrastructure with occasional expansion necessary. In some areas along I-275, lanes can be re-striped to accommodate seamless travel through Pinellas County on the interstate.

A modest amount of widening may be needed, but clearly restriping the road could take care of a lot of it.  And we are fine with some modest widening to make the fix.  But nothing is that simple:

FDOT has $7 million earmarked for design development of the project, but that funding could be shifted as part of the agency’s overall interstate modernization plans including widening to accommodate lanes for bus rapid transit proposed under the Regional Transit Feasibility Plan.  

Naturally.  We wouldn’t expect them to just fix something that has been so obviously wrong for years (if not decades).

Of course, being an article about interstates, it had to have something like this:

Transit supporters are still hoping for multimodal solutions that would take drivers off the road rather than footing the tax bill for accommodating them on roads, but FDOT says it’s working within the framework that currently exists.

We get trying to bring context to a discussion, but this is not the context. There are two different issues.  Not wanting to spend up to $9 billion on destructively widening the interstate through the heart of Tampa without addressing real transit is completely different from spending $65 million from fixing something that FDOT should have fixed in the beginning.  We want real transit, but that doesn’t mean we want poorly designed roads.


— Confab

The Business Journal had an article about an upcoming transit conference:

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority and Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority will host this year’s American Public Transportation Association Bus and Paratransit Conference, where transit leaders from across the globe will gather to find innovative transit solutions, HART announced Thursday.

The four-day conference from May 6 to 9 gives HART and PSTA a leadership role in the global conference and the ability to engage in conversations about how to address the region’s long-standing transit woes.

Maybe the conferees are interested in seeing a case study in how not to create a bus system. So what will they do?

The conference, to be held at the Tampa Marriott Waterside, will focus on operations and maintenance, accessibility and paratransit, integrated mobility and transformative technology, first-mile/last-mile transportation, safety and security, planning and sustainability, funding and finance, capital programs, procurement and workforce development.

That is all well and good, except it is a bus conference.  It is not about comprehensive transit development.  If it helps local transit agencies and local governments make the bus systems better, great, but that is all it is.


— Odd

There was some oddness from TBARTA this week.  On April 22, Sunshine Citizens posted the following screenshot from TBARTA on their Facebook page:

 

From Sunshine Citizens – click on chart for Facebook picture

As you can see in the circled section, it lists the total cost of the project (here the Howard Frankland improvements, though the note implies Tampa Bay Next) as $8.1 billion.  Because Tampa Bay Next has not actually put out its plan, that was odd.  We knew TBX was planned to cost between $6-9 billion, though media reports often tried to go with a lower cost. In any event, we thought that maybe it was a place holder but wanted to examine the full document.  Sunshine Citizens put this link as the source.  But, when we checked, that would not resolve.  So we went to the TBARTA website and looked for the document.  We found what appeared to be the document here. which is a TBARTA MPOs CCC meeting agenda.  Nothing odd there.  However, what was in the document was a bit odd.

From TBARTA – click on chart for document

As you can see, the same project now has a much lower total cost ($817 million). According to the Business Journal:

Stephen Benson, a government liaison with the Florida Department of Transportation, emailed TBARTA Saturday asking where the agency got the $8.1 billion figure. TBARTA’s Senior Planner and Project Coordinator Anthony Matonti replied someone had mistyped the cost estimate and added an extra zero, according to an email chain obtained by the Tampa Bay Business Journal.

A follow-up email from Benson asked that TBARTA use the term “interstate modernization” and not Tampa Bay Next.

“Please be extra careful when describing these projects since a lot of people are watching them,” Benson wrote.

Setting aside that, yes, people are now watching, we figured it was a typo.

Regardless of the numbers they list, the proposals for the interstate (especially the variable rate toll lanes) are excessive and counterproductive.  And it does not change the fact that there seems to be a bottomless well of money for widening the interstate (in ineffective ways) and previous little for real transit. (And if FDOT can find billions for these roads, why can’t it find $20 million more for St. Pete’s BRT or pay for the streetcar expansion in Tampa?)

Tampa Bay Next is supposedly still ongoing.  The Regional Transit Study is supposedly taking input.  Whether that means anything remains to be seen.


Economy – Jobs

Time for a look into the job market.

Tampa Bay continues to lead the state in job demand, with a reported 43,272 openings in March.

* * *

The region was second in the state with jobs created over the last year. Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford led the state with 43,700 jobs (+3.5 percent), followed by Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater with 28,700 jobs (+2.2 percent), and Jacksonville (+21,500 jobs, +3.1 percent).

Job openings are not the same thing as new jobs, but both stats are good (though we have to wonder why those jobs openings are not being filled, especially with all the new people moving here) and there is the question of wages because of things like this:

Almost half of all homes on the market in the Tampa Bay area are unaffordable for many buyers. According to Zillow, 48.7 percent of homes for sale are “high-end — more than $348,0000 in Tampa Bay — while just 20.5 percent are “low-end’’ or under $118,000.

Not to mention the high cost of car ownership here and lack of real alternatives (and the “BRT” plan will not really do much about that).

Regardless, more jobs is a good thing.


South Tampa – Sanctuary

At the end of last year, we discussed The Sanctuary, a proposed condo just north of Bay-to-Bay on Bayshore. (See “South Tampa – Bayshore Bland” )  At the time we only had simple drawings that were very bland, especially on the back side.   Now, there is a fancier rendering, at least of the front:

From Sanctuary – click on picture for website

Here’s the website.

We’ll set aside that the rendering makes it appear that this is some tower rising in a jungle, like some long-lost Maya temple.  The façade is ok.  We can’t see the back, but we can see the sides and they are still bad.  That is what most people will see most of the time.  Even worse, look at the connection to the street, which is Bayshore.  It is basically all driveway.

We have no idea how nice the units are going to be.  They may be great, but the external architecture, especially what you can’t see in the rendering but will see all the time if this gets built, really needs an upgrade.


What Do You Expect?

There was another article about noise in a local downtown, this time, St. Pete.

Downtown’s rapid growth has not been without tension between its residents and the businesses and events that draw exuberant crowds.

The city, which has been attempting to amend its noise ordinance over the past few years, isn’t there yet.

“There are a lot of issues. There are a lot of stakeholders who have a great interest in them,” said Dave Goodwin, the city’s director of planning and economic development.

There’s the booming entertainment sector. Then there are the residents flocking to the high rises and condominiums.

“Both of those sectors are growing,” Goodwin said. “They are a little bit on a collision course and we want to have an ordinance that fairly addresses the needs of both, because they are both a positive thing.”

On April 12, he laid out three options to the City Council’s Public Services and Infrastructure Committee. They could endorse a more precise, science-based decibel system to monitor the noise, add progressive penalties to the current “plainly audible” system, or radically modify it by using such methods as reducing the distances used to determine noise from a particular source.

All options would require start-up equipment and personnel, Goodwin said. Noise enforcement staff would likely be civilian employees from the Police Department, an issue that raised concerns among council members because of the new requirement for police officers in schools.

We are not going to delve into the whole article. (You can read it here). We are fine with having some logical regulation of noise in an urban area.  There is no need for blasting music outside at 2 am.  On the other hand, if you choose to live in an urban area (and just an urban area, a downtown) with urban amenities, you have to accept that there will be noise, including bars and concerts that go a little late. (And, really, what kind of soundproofing technologies are they using in the new construction?)

If you don’t want noise, live somewhere else.


Adventures in Planning – New Tampa

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

New Tampa was built on sprawl.

Big houses, often in gated communities with lots of green space, are the operating principle for developing the area Tampa annexed in pieces starting in the mid 1980s.

But residents who love the good schools and pastoral setting are increasingly frustrated by traffic. Some worry about being able to get to a hospital in an emergency.

First, it is not pastoral.  It is a car-centric, sprawling mess of subdivisions, illogical roads, poorly designed retail, and limited transportation options.  And the way it is laid out, there is little hope of too much road relief.

And now a massive new development plan is making its way through the City Council that would put nearly 700 homes in the K-Bar ranch subdivision in New Tampa’s northeastern tip. That has the area’s council member raising his voice in protest.

“I have a problem with this because I think of lot of it is based on wishful thinking,” Luis Viera said at a recent meeting.

The magical thinking? That Tampa and Pasco County will agree any time soon to open a road linking K-Bar Ranch to Wesley Chapel.

This is where it gets interesting.  As you may recall, there is a road that should link Pasco and Hillsborough, but it doesn’t.  Why?  Because this is the Tampa Bay area.

Connecting Kinnan Street to Mansfield Boulevard over the Pasco County line has been a stalemate of long standing between Tampa and Pasco. The two roads are currently separated by a tiny strip of grassy land. The sparring has lasted more than a decade. Expecting a resolution to the standoff any time soon, Viera said, is like believing “in the second coming of Elvis.”

Pasco County is conducting a study to determine if Kinnan-Mansfield should be connected. That study should be finalized this summer and then presented with a recommendation to the county’s Metropolitan Planning Organization in September.

But Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn isn’t holding his breath.

“That has been a long-standing issue, a long-standing bone of contention. Pasco has not been inclined to work with us on that, which doesn’t make any sense at all. That would relieve a lot of the pressure in that area,” he said.

That’s not how Pasco County Commissioner Mike Moore sees it. Tampa was the party that cut off talks several years ago, he said.

At one time, Pasco County residents did most of their shopping in New Tampa and were more open to connectors with northern Hillsborough County, he said. But with the opening of the Shops at Wiregrass nearly a decade ago, Pasco residents don’t need the connector as much.

“The tide has changed now. Things have changed,” Moore said. He said he’ll wait for the study before making up his mind but emphasized that his constituents’ feelings on the issue are what is important to him. And they aren’t clamoring for the connector.

That is about this area’s level of planning and development.

The road would be useful for everyone, providing at least a partial alternative to Bruce B. Downs (but maybe his constituents like being stuck in traffic on SR56 or Bruce B. Downs when trying to get south).  As you can see here, the road does not even go through a residential neighborhood.  It goes between neighborhoods.  There is absolutely no reason not to connect this.  In fact, there is no good reason it was not connected before.  (And, despite the City Council initially voting for the development, the new houses should not be built until the city figures out how people can get around.)

Honestly, the whole issue is just stupid.  However, the lack of intelligent and coordinated planning is a hallmark of this area’s failure to learn lessons over time.  Just look at South County.


Rays – Money Talk

There has been a lot of news about the Rays (including this article from the Wall Street Journal about baseball in Florida. ).  We are not going to get into all of it.  However, there was an interesting article in the Times about a possible stadium funding mechanism.

Private developers would bear much of the cost of a new Rays stadium in Ybor City under a plan Hillsborough County officials are putting together.

Developers would benefit by cashing in on commercial, retail and other construction around a new ballpark, according to Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill. Taxpayers would win by not having to foot as much of the bill.

But one incentive local officials hoped would help grease the deal is no longer in play.

Both the city of Tampa and the county applied to get the land around the proposed ballpark site designated as an economic opportunity zone, a new federal designation that gives tax breaks to developers who invest in low-income areas.

The Ybor site, however, was not among the 427 sites that the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity said this week will be recommended to the federal government.

It was not one of 427 sites in Florida?  Even more:

The state received more than 1,200 requests for the program from cities, counties, civic associations and other government entities. Each site was assessed according to poverty rates, population, unemployment rates and other economic indicators.

* * *

While the Ybor site did not qualify for the opportunity zone designation, 108 other sites in Tampa Bay were nominated by the state.

They include land next to Port Tampa Bay and Tampa International Airport. Areas of South St. Petersburg, East Tampa and Tampa Heights were also recommended.

Land near the Port was ok, but Ybor was not?  It was not one of the best third of sites in the state?

State officials did not provide specifics on why the Ybor ballpark site did not make cut.

“Feedback was incorporated as much as possible, and balanced with the economic analysis,” said spokeswoman Tiffany Vause. “For example, a request in an area with very low unemployment may not have been chosen.”

Is there a significant different between the Port and Ybor?  How specific are the employment figures they are considering? But there is a more basic question – how many sites to compete with Ybor did the City and County put forward?

We are not saying that, in a vacuum, the Ybor site should have been picked. On the other hand, given all the other sites that were picked, the failure of that site is odd.  And it is odd that the effort seems more like an afterthought than a plan.  In any event, we shall see what happens.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country (and World)


— Hit and Run

We often say that just painting a bike lane on a road is not really creating bike infrastructure, which is really a statement of the obvious to anyone who has biked.  This week, there was a report from the Wall Street Journal:

Hit-and-run crash deaths are rising nationwide, and pedestrians and bicyclists account for close to 70% of the victims, according to a new report, as more people cycle to work and motor-vehicle fatalities are at a near-decade-high level.

The number of hit-and-run fatalities jumped 61% from 2009 to 2016, the most recent year for which data are available, according to the report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

* * *

To improve safety, he said, pedestrians and cyclists need physical barriers like protected bike lanes—an idea gaining popularity around the U.S. but also causing fights in some places over reduced parking or travel lanes.

And protected lanes do not mean bike paths and trails that just end without connecting to anything (like some recent plans).

You can read the whole article here.


— Transit Debate

The debate about transit often descends into a very odd, seemingly ideological mess.  We have long maintained transit is not a conservative of liberal issue.  Maybe there are other explanations.  For instance, maybe this article from Bloomberg points somewhere:

Electric buses were seen as a joke at an industry conference in Belgium seven years ago when the Chinese manufacturer BYD Co. showed an early model.

“Everyone was laughing at BYD for making a toy,” recalled Isbrand Ho, the Shenzhen-based company’s managing director in Europe. “And look now. Everyone has one.”

* * *

For every 1,000 battery-powered buses on the road, about 500 barrels a day of diesel fuel will be displaced from the market, according to BNEF calculations. This year, the volume of fuel buses take off the market may rise 37 percent to 279,000 barrels a day, about as much oil as Greece consumes, according to BNEF.

And add to that electric trains and transit potentially taking cars off the road.  We are not going to flesh it out more now. If you are interested, you can look into it more.

Roundup 4-20-2018

April 20, 2018

Contents

Downtown/Channel District – Getting Going, Cont

Downtown – Finally, a Rendering

Transportation – A Week In the Slow Lane

— A Case Study: That Other BRT Project

— About Transit on the Interstate

West Tampa – What Will It Be?

West Tampa-ish – Expansion

South Tampa – First Approval

Temple Terrace – Still Nothing

Airport – Big Numbers

Built Environment – And Also the Trees

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

_______________________________________________


Downtown/Channel District – Getting Going, Cont

A few weeks ago, we noted that SPP had said the Water Street JW Marriott was going to break ground this month.  Now we know the date:

Strategic Property Partners on Friday said the groundbreaking ceremony for the JW Marriott hotel will be held April 24.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for website

When complete in 2020, the JW Marriott is expected to have Tampa’s highest roof-top bar and biggest hotel ballroom, plus a four-story atrium and a full-service restaurant on the ground floor.

* * *

With 519 rooms at 615 S Morgan Street, the JW Marriott will add capacity that Vinik said Tampa’s market needs to host events like the Super Bowl, coming in February 2021, and the Stanley Cup playoffs, which is here now.

We look forward to it and hope more Water Street projects get underway soon.  Speaking of which, per URBN Tampa Bay:

SPP’s mixed-use condo and grocery store project set for Channelside Drive and Beneficial Drive has been approved and received a demo permit for the parking lot currently on the site. The residential utility permit has been approved and a commercial utility permit is in the process of getting approved.

The project’s stats are updated as well. The towers are still 26 and 21 stories, respectively. Now the shorter tower is 250 feet tall, up from 237 feet tall. The taller tower remains at 312 feet. The unit count has been reduced from 404 to 378. There is 40,000 square feet of retail space total including a grocery store among other retail spaces. There are 634 parking spaces in the project, well above the required 418. Presumably the extra spaces is to replace what is being lost and perhaps provide extra parking for the arena, but we would’ve liked to have seen the city cap the spaces at a lower number.

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

And then there is the new 5-star Edition Marriott hotel (website here).

An international boutique hotel flag known for its one-of-a-kind luxury properties is coming to downtown Tampa, anchoring a 26-story mixed-use tower in the heart of Water Street.

Strategic Property Partners, the developer of Water Street Tampa, said Thursday that it has secured the Edition flag for a 173-room boutique hotel across the street from Amalie Arena, at the northwest corner of Channelside Drive and Water Street. It will be the city’s first five-star hotel and is slated to open in early 2021.

* * *

The intersection where Edition will be built doesn’t yet exist; SPP is under construction on a $35 million infrastructure project that includes the extension of Water Street north from Channelside Drive to Cumberland Avenue.

* * *

Edition Tampa will include a rooftop pool with adjacent bar and restaurant as well as an expansive spa and fitness center. The upper floors of the tower will include a residential component, and an SPP spokeswoman said details on the residences are forthcoming.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

Here is a screen capture from a promotional video which gives you an idea of how the hotel fits into the building:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for forum post

We are happy for a 5-star hotel.  Regarding design, there is not much we can say from those renderings. We’ll just have to see.

That area is going to be very interesting over the next few years. While we try to temper our enthusiasm on mere proposals, we are fine with getting excited when things start coming out of the ground.


Downtown – Finally, a Rendering

That is a lot of Water Street news.  Not to be outdone, the long-awaited Riverwalk Place rendering has been officially released:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for forum post

The rendering is quite similar to one that was floating around a few months ago (the biggest difference being the screening of the garage).  Our impression is essentially the same. We like the tower and the restaurants along the Riverwalk.  The covering of the parking garage is not great (that is the nature of garages), but at least it does not still resemble Noah’s Ark. And note that the tower will be substantially taller than the next tallest building downtown, but not as much as in the rendering.

As for timing:

A sales center for the Riverwalk Place Tower — 50-plus stories of high-rise homes, offices and restaurants — will open in 60 days. Construction is scheduled to begin next year and should take the better part of three years to complete.

That would make things even more interesting.


Transportation – A Week In the Slow Lane

Surprisingly, there was not that much news in transportation this week.


— A Case Study: That Other BRT Project

As regular readers will know, Pinellas County has planned a BRT line from downtown St. Pete, through Pasadena and down Gulf Boulevard in St. Pete Beach to the Don CeSar.  The line would have dedicated lanes through most of St. Pete but run in the street in St. Pete Beach, making it basically regular bus in St. Pete Beach. (For information see here.)

From PSTA – click on map for website

The funding concept is 50% Federal money, 25% state, 25% local including money from PSTA, St. Pete, and St. Pete Beach. PSTA is trying to accelerate the Federal component. However, St. Pete Beach has not agreed to pay.

PSTA’s federal request lists $1.5 million from St. Pete Beach through ad valorem property taxes, but the city hasn’t agreed to pay it.  Most municipalities in Pinellas County assess a 0.075 millage rate on residents’ property taxes to fund public transit.  If St. Pete Beach agrees to that assessment, which it does not currently, it would bring in about $1.7 million a year, according to PSTA.  Instead St. Pete Beach enters into a contract each year with PSTA typically paying about $500,000 for service.

“To be honest, there’s no way in hell I’m going to give them $1.5 million,” said St. Pete Beach Mayor Al Johnson. “As much as I’d like to have it, it’s just not worth it to us.”

The BRT terminus at St. Pete Beach would be at the Don CeSar, but the route would not continue into the community.

The line may not run into the “community,” presumably meaning Pass-a-Grille, but it runs most of the length of the heart of St. Pete Beach.  It is not clear why the bus line is “not worth it” to St. Pete Beach, whether it is mere politics, an attempt to keep tourists on the beach or an honest feeling that it does not serve the beach (the latter being something that could be addressed in planning).  It seems quite clear that having a decent connection to downtown St. Pete would help tourists (and the hotels that try to attract them) and residents.  Regardless,

“If we do not receive the funding from St. Pete Beach, PSTA is looking at other ways to save costs to possibly lower the contribution ask of the city and to attract new private partnerships,” said PSTA Communications Media Liaison Ashlie Handy. “Having these conversations with our potential partners is the most important part and we don’t want to rush it.”

* * *

“We aren’t concerned about how we are going to get the $1.5 million,” Handy said.

The Federal Transit Agency doesn’t require funding from St. Pete Beach and also does not preclude transit agencies from using private sources.  St. Pete Beach is a tourist hot spot with dozens of hotels that could be interested in making sure their guests have a way to get from the beach to the myriad arts and cultural destinations in downtown St. Pete.

That is the proper attitude.  There is more than one way to fund transit, though we have mixed feelings about this whole thing.  It makes sense to have the line going to St. Pete Beach, and $1.5 million is really not very much.  If the line is that important, that should be relatively easy to find.  On the other hand, if St. Pete Beach does not want the service, maybe it should not get it, though that would not be good for Pinellas overall. (The problems of having to get multiple approvals for inter-city projects is something that should be considered when reading this opinion piece about having more incorporated cities in Hillsborough. )

In any event, the whole issue is an interesting microcosm of how this area functions and why good transit has been so hard to develop.


— About Transit on the Interstate

We have consistently said that having BRT or rail stops on the interstate is not optimal (it is usually just plain bad).  This week, URBN Tampa Bay had a post that illustrates what we are talking about.

First, the graphic:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

And the comment:

Now, be honest… Would you ride a bus that requires you to walk or ride a bike to the interstate along busy arterials, where you will then walk up several flights of stairs, then across half of the interstate, and then back down stairs to finally reach the bus stop wedged precariously between highway traffic zooming by? Don’t stumble!

Additionally, you have to walk back under the highway to get to anything side that does not have the access – not to mention having to cross the parallel frontage roads.  Sure, there are probably elevators for some of the journey, assuming they consistently work and are not horrible, as they likely will be over time.  But there is a bigger point – the layout seems almost calculated to not attract riders.

Based on the picture, this appears to be a concept for an overpass at SR54 and US41, a very poorly designed and planned intersection in Pasco that FDOT has been trying to figure out for years (and, truthfully, Pasco has not really helped), not the regional “BRT” plan.  But that really doesn’t matter for the purposes of illustration.

The design makes little sense.  It is a long stretch of elevated road with a bus stop in the middle.  The logical thing to do is have a central platform with access straight down between the two portions of the elevated road to reduce the amount of walking/biking riders would need to do to get to either side. (See this Chicago train stop next to Wrigley Filed or this Minneapolis BRT stop in the middle of an interstate with stairs in the middle of the stop to the arterial road above – which is still quite barren but at least the stop layout makes sense)  Such a layout would also eliminate the need to go up, over the road and down again.  If they can take up space for stairs to go up, they can take up the same amount of space for stairs to go down.

The big question is why anyone would even propose this odd layout rather than a more direct layout that shows real interest in the people who would use the buses and what that says about so much other planning.  We are not for stops in the interstate, but, even though we think overall it is a bad idea, it does not have to be this poorly laid out.


West Tampa – What Will It Be?

This week, the Times had an article on West Tampa that focused on businesses struggling as the area transitions:

More than 2,300 people moved away in the past two years after the demolition of two aging public housing complexes — Tampa Presbyterian Village and North Boulevard Homes. Main Street lost its only bus route in November and the number of children at the local elementary school has dwindled.

Some business owners say it’s now like a ghost town, in danger of losing its soul.

Long-standing businesses like Fourth of July Cafe have closed their doors while others struggle to adjust to the loss of foot traffic as sales have dropped by as much as 50 percent.

New homes and stores will come eventually. The $350 million West River urban renewal project promises a walkable, mixed-income neighborhood of apartment blocks and neighborhood parks.

But residents fear that what emerges won’t be a place where you pull up a chair on the side of the street, where you can always find a neighbor willing to lend you a dollar.

And they fear they will be priced out.

(You can read the whole article here) The effects on present residents and businesses in areas that are redeveloping are always a concern, as we noted a few weeks ago. (See “Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida — Revitalization and Gentrification”)

And there had been little investment in the surrounding neighborhood over the past 40 years.

In 2015, when the city created a West Tampa redevelopment zone, it was one of the city’s most blighted neighborhoods. The crime rate was 1 1/2 times higher than the city average and more than twice as many structures than average rated “fair’’ or ‘’poor.” Large areas lacked sidewalks and decent street lighting. The median annual income of people here — two-thirds of them African-American, 20 percent Hispanic — was less than $19,000.

The redevelopment designation means new property taxes collected from within the area can be funneled to sidewalks and street lighting.

So far, the taxes have brought in about $1 million in two years. But that money has largely remained unspent while a citizens advisory committee draws up a five-year plan for how to improve the area. The group is chaired by Joe Robinson, a local engineer and businessman who has lived in West Tampa since he was a child.

Robinson said West River will help provide needed affordable housing but points out that the project goes no farther west than Rome Avenue.

More investment will be needed in what he describes as the “rough” stretch of Main between Albany and Howard avenues.

That is also true.  Not much has been invested in the middle of West Tampa.  At least not yet.  To really make “West River” successful, that will have to be addressed.

Getting back to “West River” (note the City even gave a different designation to the plan):

Groundbreaking is scheduled for May on a seven-story apartment block for seniors with ground floor retail. Soon to follow is rehabilitation of the eight-story Mary McLeod Bethune senior housing tower. A third apartment block with 118 units at Willow Avenue and Main Street could also break ground this year.

This week, we got a look at the first building, the Bethune Residences I.  Here is a rendering:

 

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for forum post

And here is a site plan:

 

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for forum post

Yes, there is one retail spot at the corner of Rome and Main, though most of the gourd floor is taken up by parking (notably, at least on Main the parking will be hidden by a narrow stretch of the building). According to URBN Tampa Bay, the building will be stick construction on a concrete pedestal, which is pretty much par for the course.  There is also an open space to the east of the building that can be put to public use.

We are pretty neutral on the design.  It is better than previous public housing, but not really good urban design.  In other words, it is basically standard North Hyde Park (while not in North Hyde Park, the design of Encore, colors aside, for the most part is actually better).

We hope the development helps the businesses in West Tampa.  Certainly when more buildings come there will be more customers.  However, as noted above, that still leaves the gap between the commercial heart of West Tampa (around Howard/Armenia and Main) and the West River projects. That sorely needs to be addressed.


West Tampa-ish – Expansion

The previously mooted expansion of St. Joseph’s Hospital is moving forward:

St. Joseph’s Hospital has broken ground on a $126 million expansion at its site on Martin Luther King Boulevard in West Tampa.  

The project is slated to be complete in late 2019. A new six-story tower will feature a covered entry, 90 new private patient rooms, a two-story lobby with drive-up front entrance, and waiting and on-call rooms.

The 90 private rooms will be placed on three patient care floors with 30 private patient rooms per floor. Another floor for mechanical support will be included in the expansion as well as a connecting bridge to St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital across Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. 

There will also be a connection to the existing main tower on the first, second and fifth floors and the basement.

 

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

It is hard to speak of the overall architecture of many hospitals (including St. Joe’s) which often are jumbles of different styles as they are expanded over time, but the hospital has needed that bridge for a long time.


South Tampa – First Approval

Per URBN Tampa Bay, the City gave first approval to a mostly office building on Henderson.

On Thursday the Tampa City Council gave first approval to a mixed-use office project at 3815 Henderson Blvd. in South Tampa. The project features a 120-foot, 7-story office building, 2,000 square feet of retail space and a parking garage. The building also features a single 4,000 square foot penthouse condo.

We discussed this project previously here. In sum, we like the density and mixed uses.  The parking is a bit much.  In any event, it is an improvement over the office building next door.


Temple Terrace – Still Nothing

There was a report in the Times about Temple Terrace’s halting plan to build a new downtown.  When last we left it, Temple Terrace had basically given up on building a downtown and was trying to sell of the land they had previously designated for downtown to get some sprawl built.  The stated reasons were to remove the debt.  This week:

City financial advisor Jay Glover told the City Council that its chosen institution, Republic Bank, can cover only part of the $23.5 million debt the city must refinance by June 1.

Another bank, however, CenterState, is willing to lend the rest of the money so Glover recommended last week that the council pursue a combined deal.

“I think we’re all in agreement that this is the best course of action for the city,” said Glover, with PFM Financial Advisors in Orlando.

Temple Terrace borrowed the money last decade to buy and improve 29 acres on the east side of 56th Street from Bullard Parkway to the Hillsborough River, hoping to create a downtown environment.

After parting ways with three developers over 15 years, the city now is simply trying to get the best deal it can on the 22 acres it still owns.

You can read here about the loans.

Interestingly, The Times article online included this picture:

From the Times – click on picture for article

And this caption:  “The city of Temple Terrace is still striving to bring this vision of Downtown Temple Terrace, but to succeed it has to overcome a financial hurdle.”  While that might be an attractive vision, in fact, as the article notes above, no they aren’t.  They have given up.

The big question is why, when many cities in the area are finally getting it and are moving forward with some at least urban-ish development, Temple Terrace has had such trouble.


Airport – Big Numbers

The airport just reached a major milestone:

Tampa International Airport saw its busiest month ever in terms of passenger traffic.

The airport served a record 2,192,602 passengers in March, beating the previous high set in March 2017 by 213,358 passengers — a 10.8 percent jump, the airport said Monday.

Since the 2018 fiscal year began six months ago on Oct. 1, 2017, TIA has served 10,761,239 passengers, soaring 953,684 passengers, or 9.7 percent over the same period the previous year.

Both domestic and international passenger growth drove the strong performance. International passenger travel was up 12.3 percent. Meanwhile, domestic travel rose by 9.6 percent.

That is great.

In other news, the Times had an article about the new SkyConnect and rental car facility:

Smart design has kindled travelers’ love of Tampa International Airport since the days of the Nixon administration, putting TIA near the top of survey after survey of customer satisfaction.

But the romance has dimmed for at least a small percentage of fliers who have spoken up since the airport unveiled its biggest expansion in decades: a new rental car center, connected to the main terminal by the 1.4-mile-long SkyConnect train.

* * *

About 200 passengers have felt strongly enough to send the airport an email or post comments to social media about the changes. By comparison, more than 3 million people have flown in or out of Tampa International since Feb. 14, when the new projects made their debut.

The reviews have been mixed.

* * *

The top recurring theme was that fliers preferred renting a car in the old location, next to baggage claim. The rest of the five most common reactions were mixed: Some fliers said service had improved. Others criticized the train as too jerky and unpredictable. Still others preferred the train to the old shuttle buses. 

While that is not a huge number of comments, since the Times brought it up, we have to say there are a few things about the new facilities that could use some tweaking.  First, we do not prefer the old buses, but one of the great things about the airport is the commitment to not making walks too long.  The SkyConnect station at the landside building is a bit far from the heart of the building.  We don’t mind walking but, especially with luggage, it may be a bit much for some.  A moving sidewalk (at least on the 3rd floor) would be nice.

A bigger inconvenience is at the economy parking garage, where one used to go down to the ground floor and get a bus at the elevators.  Now, you must go to the ground floor, walk to another elevator at the west end of the building and take another elevator to the SkyConnect.  We are not sure why there are no elevators on the various floors of parking directly to the SkyConnect station without having to go to the ground floor first.

These are not huge things, but they would make the system work better and be in keeping with the ease of use that has been a hallmark of the airport since its opening.

 


Built Environment – And Also the Trees

A few weeks ago, a report came out regarding the tree canopies in cities:

In 1972, one of Joe Chillura’s first acts as a city council member was to draft an ordinance aimed at turning downtown Tampa more green.

Now, some 46 years later, that tree ordinance has helped Tampa garner worldwide recognition as the best tree city on Earth, according to a study by the website Treepedia.

* * *

Treepedia, run from an MIT lab, uses Google Street View data to measure and compare the green canopy in cities around the world, according to its website. Treepedia recently announced Tampa has the best green canopy of all the 27 cities ranked.

As you can see by a Parks and Rec tweet here and this Facebook post from the Mayor, the City took pride in the ranking. It should.  The tree canopy is a very nice feature of Tampa.

That is one reason that the moves to change the tree ordinance is interesting.

That code is now in the crosshairs of Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s committee that is looking at ways to streamline regulations to make the city more business friendly. Environmentalists say the protections, some of the toughest in the state, have helped preserve Tampa’s tree canopy, which in turn conserves energy, boosts property values, reduces greenhouse gas emissions and generally makes the city a better place to live. Builders associations say the regulations are too cumbersome, costly and punitive and have come to epitomize the city’s reputation for being unfriendly to development. Buckhorn said agrees with the committee that the tree code needs to be less restrictive, though he had no specific recommendations. “Clearly things need to change,” he said. “The code had gotten too cumbersome, too restrictive and punitive. That doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice environmental concerns.”

Oh, wait, that was from 2011, when the City was allegedly “unfriendly” to business, as opposed to now, when the City is “business friendly” and the code is basically the same.  One other thing to note from the 2011 article:

Tampa requires a permit for cutting down a protected tree wider than 5 inches. Most permits are granted. City records indicate that of 211 requests to remove grand trees (at least 34 inches wide and more than 100 years old) from January to June, only six were rejected.

That does not seem like a big issue in what is a generally successful program. But anyway, now:

The city-county planning commission this week found a piece of the proposed revision to be inconsistent with the city’s comprehensive plan, overruling a staff recommendation.

Monday’s decision cheered tree activists, about a dozen of whom attended the planning commission meeting clad in green and voicing fears that the ordinance would allow builders to clear-cut trees on private lots.

Builders scoff at that idea, saying they want only to streamline the often-expensive, cumbersome process of removing a tree.

* * *

Builders have been frustrated that the city has taken so long to revise its nearly half-century-old ordinance. In early March, the City Council approved a compromise that would allow removals without a review board hearing on lots up to 75 feet wide. The new system would apply to individual properties rather than zoning districts, and removals would have to be tied to a building permit.

That’s the version that the planning commission shot down Monday, saying it interfered with maximizing the mature tree canopy and residents’ quality of life, said David Hey, principal planner at the planning commission.

Tampa’s trees have long been a source of civic pride and political turmoil. As development has picked up in recent years, protecting trees from the development buzz saw has resurfaced. 

This truly is a messy issue. For the average resident, tree codes can be confusing.  They can also be too expensive to comply with.  On the other hand, developers are in the business and should understand the ordinances and processes.  Of course, they just want to make their business easier and lower costs (and it should not be excessively expensive for them to deal with the ordinance). However, the reality is that the ordinance has not seemed to hold building and redevelopment back.  It does not seem to have stopped tear downs in South Tampa.

It was another twist in a tangled issue that needs more time for debate, said council member Harry Cohen, who represents South Tampa, where the passions burn hottest.

“We’re back to square one again. Let’s go back to what we were going to do originally and do it holistically and get everyone involved in the conversation,” Cohen said.

We agree. We are ok with changing the ordinance but think the focus should be on making it more easily navigable (and cheaper) for the average homeowner to deal with trees that pose a danger while protecting the canopy and lowering costs of compliance.  Protecting the canopy is a good thing. Development will be fine.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

While FDOT and many local officials are focused on widening the interstate, in some places – especially in the core of Tampa – to ridiculous widths, many cities are trying to hide them.  Recently there was a report from Pew Charitable Trusts, entitled “More Cities Are Banishing Highways Underground — And Building Parks on Top” (you can read it here)

The most popular place to put a city park is, increasingly, on a highway.

Cities looking to boost their downtowns, or to improve downtrodden neighborhoods, are creating “highway cap parks” on decks constructed over freeways that cut through the urban center. Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Denver and Dallas have deck parks underway. Atlanta, Houston, Minneapolis and Santa Monica, California, are among the cities considering similar projects.

In crowded cities, highway deck parks are a way to create new acreage and provide green space that can spur downtown development. Capping a highway to create a park also can reconnect urban neighborhoods sliced apart by the expressway building boom of the 1960s and ’70s.

“There’s been a sort of a sea change in the way people think about roads and real estate in general,” said Ed McMahon, a senior fellow at the Urban Land Institute, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that focuses on land use. “If you design a city around cars, you’re going to get more cars. If you design a city around people, you’re going to get more people and places and better real estate value.”

The article goes on to discuss a number of projects in various cities that have buried highways.  We understand that burying a highway may not be very easy (or, in some places, even possible) in Florida. And we are not necessarily advocating for doing it.

On the other hand, this basic concept is valid: if you build for cars, you get more cars.  So far, every plan, even the “BRT” plan which tried to squeeze some buses into a plan for cars rather than creating real transportation options, is based on wider roads and building for cars.  It is not design for people.  If you cannot limit the impact of the highway by covering it over, you need to find other ways to limit and mitigate the impact (and make the interstate cutting though the city huge is not one of them).  Much more consideration should be given to how roads, and especially highways, affect the built environment.  So far it seems that this is just another planning, design, and transportation issue about which we are behind the times.

Roundup 4-13-2018

April 13, 2018

Contents

Transportation – Some Other Stuff

— More Good Discussion

— Why Wait?

— Pinellas

— Selmon/Gandy Connector

— The Cost of Complacency

Governance – Where the Responsibility Is

Airports – Growing

Port – More Cruises

Economic Development – Good for the Schools

Rays – Developments

Economic Development – New York Times

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the County

List of the Week I I

List of the Week II

_________________________________


Transportation – Some Other Stuff


— More Good Discussion

The Lightning owner often has interesting things to say.  This week was no different.  He gave an interview to the Business Journal, and we’ll focus on his transportation comments.

We should learn from the Amazon proposal — we checked most of the boxes in terms of being an area where they want to be, and an area we didn’t check and probably eliminated us right off the bat and that’s transportation.

It probably did.  And all the people who care about the local economy – including County Commissioners and the legislative delegation – should take note.

But he had a broader take on transportation:

Our citizens, especially those without cars, face hardship due to our lack of transportation options, and this is across the board. Our bus service in Hillsborough — and Pinellas, too — is the worst in the country and it’s not even close. Only 18 percent of people without a car can get to work within 90 minutes and we need to have better transit to connect these people with jobs and supermarkets with fresh fruits and vegetables and to their doctors’ offices for their health. 

There is a bus rapid transit plan connecting [Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties along Interstate 275]. I think it’s important to have regional projects like that to get this region from point A to point B quicker.

Hillsborough County — all modes of transportation should be on the table in terms of providing connectivity for people and when I say all, I mean BRT, I mean streetcar, better roads, bike paths, the potential for autonomous vehicles and we should look at rail alternatives. I’m not sure they make that much sense in the current environment, but we have to look at everything.

If you look out 25 years from now at Hillsborough County, at the Tampa Bay region we should be one of the best places to live in the United States, not a doubt. We have everything going for us in terms of weather, in terms of things to do, in terms of people. It’s up to us to make that happen and we need to be able to move people from point A to point B.

We agree with most of what he said.  Our transit service is really bad.  It not only fails to attract choice riders, it fails to provide adequate service for riders who need it.  And it is important to have regional connections (though simply because a plan is regional does not mean it is a good).  We also agree that we should look at all transit solutions, including “gold standard” BRT that is really urban, mass transit.  We need a coordinated, synchronized transit system.  It is also true that the current political environment makes it difficult to get rail, though other areas have it and are expanding even now and even in traditionally conservative areas (there is nothing about being conservative that opposes good infrastructure investment), so it is not impossible.

One place where we seem to disagree is about the “BRT” plan as presented, though we tend to think he favors it because he wants something done rather than he thinks it is the best idea (though we could be wrong).  The plan splits the baby of real BRT and cost too much, making it neither really cheap nor really good. (And we doubt that a company that can go anywhere – like Amazon – would be impressed by the “BRT” plan.) Our position remains either make it real “gold standard” BRT mostly on arterial roads that promotes real urban transit and TOD or go truly cheap and fast, then focus on real transit.

And while we agree on the present political environment, the present environment is not permanent, and we can do a lot to shape it. We also believe that if rail or “gold standard” BRT was really pushed here – the biggest swing area of the biggest swing state – in a unified way, the environment might look a bit different.  (We get the local political problems, but that environment is also always in flux.) And if we are planning for 25 years, we have to plan for what we need, not settle, even if it is in phases – but that means a plan with clearly delineated phases.

What we like about the Lightning owner is that he looks to what we can be in the future and tries to move in that direction, even if we don’t always agree with all the details.  And he is honest enough to not try to sugarcoat everything.  The question is whether local officials will do the same or whether they will talk a good game and then settle.

And regardless of the discussion about the “BRT” plan, the larger point remains – we need transportation alternatives and real transit.  The lack of them inhibits our area.


— Why Wait?

We have been saying that the “BRT” plan can be done faster and cheaper (allowing a focus on true mass transit).  Last week there was news about a new HART proposal:

The proposal gives residents three options, all running on a seven day schedule from 6 a.m.-10 p.m. with a one hour frequency. Option 1 will run from Wiregrass Park-n-Ride to the Tampa International Airport; Option 2 will run from Wiregrass Park-n-Ride to the Marion Transit Center, and this option does not include an airport stop; and Option 3 will run from Wiregrass Park-n-Ride to the Tampa International Airport from Monday thru Friday with a shorter weekend route from Wiregrass Park-n-Ride to the University Area Transit Center.

According to HART, the 275LX route will be fully funded by utilizing the funds provided by the Florida Department of Transportation’s (FDOT) Urban Corridor grants and is renewable. The route will replace the existing 51LX.

The overall consensus from the community members at the hearing, and from comments on HART’s social media channels, has been that this new route is long overdue. HART hopes to eliminate long waiting periods in between buses as it moves forward with the project.

Comments from the community will be used to decide between the three options and will be presented to the Finance and Audit Committee during their review in April. The new route is set to begin on July 1.

Obviously, even the longest route above does not go to Pinellas, and the frequency is far below what is needed (though the preliminary “BRT” plan is for 15 minute frequency, which, while better, is not very good for a robust system.) And, yes, the HART route will run in traffic.  But it is also not hundreds of millions of dollars. And note that the money comes from FDOT, not the County which still underfunds HART with no guarantee of properly funding in the future or properly funding a feeder system to the “BRT” line. (When will the County, which is spending hundreds of millions on roads, commit to properly fund transit?) Moreover, if FDOT has billions for TBX/TB(n)X, why can’t it fund simple bus service with proper frequencies?

The point is not that the HART route would be a complete replacement for the “BRT” plan.  It is that, while this proposal does not fill the void, we do not have to wait for years and Federal money to get adequate bus service that can serve most of the potential riders of the “BRT” plan while working to create a proper transit system.  It needs proper funding and political will to just do it (just like funding the St. Pete BRT plan or the streetcar extension).  The real problem is that local officials have just not prioritized it.


— Pinellas

There was an interesting article in the Times regarding Pinellas/St. Pete and express lanes.

For years, anger, confusion and controversy have swirled around the state’s plan to add 90 miles of toll lanes to Tampa Bay’s interstates.

Many opposed the toll lanes from the start, calling the fluctuating tolls “Lexus lanes” that only serve those who can afford them. Politicians said they were misled by the plan to convert a free lane to a toll lane on the new Howard Frankland Bridge. And residents decried the state’s plan to rebuild the downtown Tampa interchange by plowing through their neighborhoods, culminating in a bitter 8-hour meeting that ended at 2 a.m.

All of that opposition has stemmed from Hillsborough County.

True enough, though the local officials in Hillsborough were not misled by FDOT.  Most officials (and business organizations) reflexively supported the plan and either did not read the details or just changed position after it became truly public that FDOT was going to take a free lane from the bridge.  The true opposition was from citizens.

Meanwhile, across the bay in Pinellas County, elected officials and transportation experts have expressed a much different reaction:

They like the toll plan — and they want more of it.

Not only are they okay with toll lanes coming to Pinellas, but they’ve asked — perhaps even begged — the state to extend the toll lanes even further south into the county, right into downtown St. Petersburg.

“When we first heard they initially weren’t going to go all the way through to downtown, we were actually concerned,” St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce CEO Chris Steinocher said. “We were nervous they were forgetting about us a little bit.”

First, note that the article is talking about local officials and “experts” wanting more express lanes, which is similar to Tampa.  Second, while we do not favor variable rate toll lanes:

Enthusiasm for paying tolls is a relatively new phenomenon in Pinellas. Voters decisively shot down a 1976 referendum that would have built a tolled expressway from St. Petersburg north to Pasco County, following 49th Street N and what are now McMullen-Booth and East Lake Roads.

That resounding defeat wiped out any hope of building Pinellas toll roads for decades. Meanwhile neighboring counties would go on to build the Crosstown Expressway in the 1970s (which was expanded and renamed the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway in the 2000s) and the Veterans Expressway and Suncoast Parkway in the 1990s.

That sentiment seems forgotten now as Pinellas leaders and residents clamor for more options, more reliability and better connections.

We get they want more connections and options in St. Pete.  They are at the end of a peninsula and need them.  Of course, variable rate toll lanes are not new connections or real options, they are limited scope expansion of the same road that already exists, and they punish the average driver by giving them choice of very poor service or paying excessive tolls with no guarantee of better service.

DOT officials will spend the next year studying whether to extend the express toll lanes, spokeswoman Kris Carson said. The earliest construction would begin is 2021, with a projected opening of 2024. The St. Petersburg extension would also use the dynamic toll pricing, meaning the cost will rise and fall based on demand.

The added 5 miles of toll roads could cost anywhere between $200 to $400 million, Carson said.

Just note that the 5 miles of lanes will be designed specifically to not be used to their full capacity and sit mostly useless for most of the day (because the congestion will not be bad enough to justify a toll and people in free lanes cannot use them in normal traffic) and will cost close to the same range as the 41-mile “BRT” plan.

Forward Pinellas sent a letter of support to DOT in January. The board acknowledged that extending the lanes plus completing other highway improvements, such as straightening the interstate and reducing merging, would take up much of the space that any future light rail line along the interstate would use.

But voters rejected the Greenlight Pinellas referendum to pay for light rail in 2014. And the Forward Pinellas governing board believes that it’s worth the sacrifice to bring express toll lanes and highway improvements to the county, executive director Whit Blanton said.

“We’ve really had no opposition when I’ve mentioned it to public groups and at meetings,” he said. “The view is, ‘Let’s be practical, let’s be realistic, let’s make progress, and let’s not let perfect be the enemy of good.’”

There has been no proposal for perfect, and variable rate express lanes are not good, but whatever.  People say many things. (Pinellas also really isn’t built out, as the redevelopment of downtown St. Pete shows, but people still say it is.  Moreover, while we do not think light rail should run down the interstate, we wonder if St. Pete really wants to go all in on limited use roads.  One thing we do agree with is straightening the lanes of the interstate – the lane shifts in St. Pete are ridiculous and never really made sense.

Planners still need to address many questions, such as whether there will be one or two toll lanes in each direction. It’s also unclear how much right of way the lanes will require and what kind of impact that could have on surrounding neighborhoods and communities — exactly the issue that has stirred up Tampa’s urban neighborhoods.

* * *

It’s hard to pin down what exactly explains the different reactions. The impact in local neighborhoods could be part of it, Blanton said. Tampa residents knew what was planned while St. Petersburg residents don’t yet know. Some of it could also be ideological, he said, or rooted more in geographical realities than anything else.

“We are much more dependent on regional connections than many people in Hillsborough County are,” Blanton said. That’s because Tampa is the center of the region’s workspace, and Pinellas commuters will always need better ways to drive there and back.

This, of course, is a main point. No one knows exactly what variable rate toll lanes in St. Pete would involve so real reactions are still unknown.  Even the people who support the idea do not really know what they are supporting.  (And, it should be noted, that while we opposed variable rate toll lanes, arguably the interstate in St. Pete did not do the same damage to established neighborhoods to the same extent as in Tampa.)

Maybe St. Pete thinks that giving its citizens (and those who want to visit) a choice between completely inadequate roads and overpriced, often congested express lanes is the way of the future.  It is their choice, of course. But is that really the option they want going forward?  Wouldn’t they rather spend the money on real option, like BRT north to create a real BRT network with the east-west plan (for which they are seeking a mere $20 million from the Federal government)?

Pinellas is a peninsula on a peninsula, as Steinocher likes to say. And downtown St. Petersburg, especially, has seen high rate of growth over the last 10 years, increasing traffic and creating new bottlenecks.

“We want to make sure we’re planning ahead,” Steinocher said, “and that we’re seen as part of the regional experience.”

If St. Pete really wants to join in regional experience of bad transportation planning and not providing real alternatives to congested highways, we guess we can’t stop them.


— Selmon/Gandy Connector

There was news about the Selmon/Gandy Connector:

Overnight road closures are scheduled later this month as crews begin work widening lanes west of Westshore Boulevard up to the Gandy bridge. Widening won’t affect existing lanes along Gandy Boulevard, but are necessary to support future bridge infrastructure for express lanes above the existing corridor allowing commuters to avoid local congestion.

* * *

No lanes will be closed during daytime hours.

The construction is fine.

What is not fine is the bizarre rhetorical transformation of a long discussed extension of the Selmon into “express lanes.”  The two lane extension of the expressway/exit of the expressway is not “express lanes.”  It is part of the expressway that goes over Gandy. (We couldn’t find the words “express lanes” on the THEA Extension website.)  And this:

The new flyover lanes will be tolled. Existing lanes at street level will remain free. Construction on the project started this year. The new lanes are expected to open in late 2020.

The lanes are tolled because they are part of a toll expressway (and, at least based on what has been discussed, not variable rate tolled). The street level is Gandy Boulevard, something completely different than the Selmon Expressway, which has been there for a long time.  That has always been the understanding, primarily because it is true. To recast the extension of the Selmon as “express lanes” is really quite silly.


— The Cost of Complacency

The County Commission is fond of approving developments in south and east county.  Of course, that has consequences:

The once sleepy southeastern portion of Hillsborough County is sleepy no more and Hillsborough County officials are scrambling to keep up with infrastructure needs.

Meanwhile, motorists in the south county region continue to spend time fighting congested traffic to and from work.

Relief is coming, Public Works Director John Lyons says, but it will take time and a lot of money — and there are no guarantees planned improvements will keep up with residential and commercial growth.

Lots of money, and much of it from the taxpayers rather than those who have profited from all that development.

The county will need millions of dollars for an estimated 700 miles of new streets by 2045, said Melissa Zornitta, Planning Commission executive director. That doesn’t include money for expanding major roadway corridors, Zornitta said.

In addition to the Big Bend project, the county is fast-tracking expanding 42nd and 46th streets and 19th and 131st avenues in central and north Tampa, as well as Lithia-Pinecrest Road south of Brandon.

The plans do not address rapid transit projects to reduce pressure on roadways, county officials said.

Of course, development brings congestion, and poorly planned development relying exclusively on arterial roads and sprawling, unwalkable development brings really bad congestion.  The County has specialized in such development and, as often noted, completely neglected any alternatives to driving.  It has failed to learn from all the mistakes of the past: failing to change the model for development, failing to promote infill and proper use of its infrastructure, failing to properly run its impact fee system (we’ll see about mobility fees – though they will not fix the previous mistakes), and failing to stick to even the plans it creates.  And the burden for that falls primarily on the taxpayer (like the $800 million the County has set aside for roads, which, going from the article, is not being used very well and/or is inadequate to meet the needs their poor planning has created.)

“The elephant in the room is transportation,” County Commissioner Les Miller said. “Everybody cannot work in the neighborhood where they live. It is just not going to happen.”

And the elephant in the transportation room is bad planning, which the County Commission continues unabated.


Governance – Where the Responsibility Is

Speaking of the County, roads, and planning, there was an article in the Times about land use decisions that had a very unusual (at least for local media) angle:

Hillsborough County is running out of vacant land to develop. It is running out of money for new fire stations, roads and water lines. And it is running out of time to stop the culprit: sprawl.

County commissioners heard this message twice in the last three months — first from outside experts, then from in-house staff. Twice, a majority of them nodded their heads in effusive agreement.

Yet between those clarion calls, commissioners twice sided with developers wanting to build more homes outside the county’s urban boundary.

In each case, the man able to move them was Vincent “Vin” Marchetti, a Tampa land use lawyer and one of the region’s busiest lobbyists.

You can guess where this is going.  We are not going to write a long comment on it (you can read the article here), just note:

And many of those clients have cut checks to the campaigns of county commissioners in the past year. A Tampa Bay Times analysis found Marchetti and businesses he represented donated $127,000 to the four county commissioners running for re-election this year — Victor Crist, Ken Hagan, Sandy Murman and Stacy White.

Here’s another way to put it: $1 of every $7 raised by commissioners this election cycle has come from Marchetti clients.

There’s “no correlation” between the donations and his success with the board, says Marchetti, a shareholder with Stearns Weaver Miller, a statewide law firm. Commissioners, he said, “review the facts of the case and make a decision that’s in the best interest of the whole.”

* * *

When Marchetti holds fundraisers for local politicians, his clients are often on the guest list. One for Hagan last year raised $50,000.

Hagan has received the most money from Marchetti’s clients, about $56,000 of his $472,000 war chest. Hagan did not respond to calls for comment. He also did not attend either county meeting about sprawl.

“I have fundraisers for candidates that I tend to support and I ask my clients if they want to attend the fundraiser,” Marchetti said. “They either come or they don’t.”

* * *

Crist said he was surprised when the Times informed him that the developers for the project donated $8,000 to his re-election bid. Of the $78,000 Crist has raised since opening his campaign last May, $22,000 are from Marchetti clients.

“That’s news to me,” Crist said. “I don’t look at who writes checks. I’ve got two little old ladies who give their time to handle that.”

(At the end of the article there is a list of how much each commissioner has gotten in campaign donations.)

While that last quote strains credulity a bit, it could be true.

While we don’t agree with everything the attorney in question says in the article, we also don’t disagree with everything.  And, like any citizen, he is certainly entitled to support candidates and, within the law, raise money for those he likes and advocate for positions he supports. That is not where the biggest issue is.

The onus is on the Commissioners to make good decisions for the benefit of the whole county.  Ultimately, the Commissioners are the only ones responsible for their votes. You can decide for yourself how they are doing.


Airports – Growing

There was news from the airport:

Tampa International Airport saw 12.5 percent passenger growth in February.

“You have to go back before the recession in 2005 to see that kind of growth,” said Chris Minner, TIA’s executive vice president of marketing and communications, adding that it was the highest monthly growth since 2005.

Minner, reporting airport results at the monthly meeting of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, which oversees the airport, said the increase was driven by two carriers — Spirit Airlines (NYSE: SAVE) and Frontier Airlines. Spirit was up 53 percent and Frontier a whopping 120 percent year-over-year.

International passenger growth was strong as well with a 13.6 percent surge.

But flights to Canada, among several airlines, have shown a 60 percent growth in seat capacity since 2011.

Air Canada was up 16 percent year-over-year. “Canada as a whole represents 57 percent of nonstop international traffic at Tampa International Airport,” Minner told the board members. 

* * *

Also on the international front, German carrier Lufthansa saw a 30 percent increase due to its additional flight. Copa Airlines, which focuses on Latin America, also performed well.

That is good to hear.  Hopefully, it will lead to more flights to more destinations.

Across the Bay, the news was also good (if slightly tainted by the reliance on one airline):

March was the biggest month in the history of St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport, with 237,021 passengers, a 15 percent increase over the same month last year. Year-to-date, traffic at the Pinellas airport is up 13 percent.

Growth is good (with the usual caveat for St. Pete-Clearwater relying on one airline).


Port – More Cruises

The cruise business in Tampa is doing quite well, in line with the national tourism boom.  This week we learned:

Carnival Cruise Line announced Friday it will add 20 cruises from Tampa to Havana next year, bringing its total number of sailings to Cuba to 31.

The five-day voyages will leave Port Tampa Bay on Saturdays on the Carnival Paradise, which recently underwent a multi-million-dollar renovation, and include a call in Havana, plus stops in Key West, Cozumel or both.

Assuming Cuba stays open, that is good news, especially given that Tampa did not get another flight to Havana in the latest reallocation of flights.


Economic Development – Good for the Schools

There was encouraging news regarding Hillsborough County schools, which have all sorts of issues.

Hillsborough leaders consider the newly released results from the National Center for Education Statistics to be an accurate comparison of educational systems, despite structural differences between Hillsborough — a district that includes city and suburbs — and some of the others, which are more purely urban.

* * *

The district tied for first place nationally in fourth-grade reading and math. Eighth-graders tied for first place in reading and were in a group that tied for second place in math.

Charter school students were included, and the team that administered the test took care to include students in a wide variety of schools. Unlike state tests that measure every student, this test, called the National Assessment of Educational Progress, is given to a sampling of students.

We think that is great.  One can debate whether the results are completely accurate, but it is good nonetheless.

The results, announced today by the National Center for Education Statistics, the primary federal entity for analyzing education-related data, is part of a national initiative known as “The Nation’s Report Card.” Students from 27 large school districts, including San Diego, Boston, Los Angeles, Houston and others, took part in what communities use as a tool for comparing their students with peers across the country.

In other words, the numbers are for 4th and 8th graders, not high school, and do not include richer suburban districts in other areas.  Nevertheless, it is good (and hopefully reflects improvement in the whole district).

But that is only step one. One challenge is to maintain that progress through high school.  The bigger challenge, as pointed out by the Lightning owner last week, is convincing those students to stay in this area after they are done with school.   If we can do that, it will really be impressive.


Rays – Developments

On the field, the Rays have not started the season as we would have wished, but there has been a lot of reporting about off the field action.  In reality, what is going on is the set-up for the debate that will is coming regarding the theoretical Ybor stadium.  As such, there is actually not that much to comment on, but we thought it might be helpful to just link to some articles.

First, there are the efforts among the business community to develop support for the stadium. (here, here, here, here, here, and here.)

As we have been told, how much money the Rays are willing to put up for the stadium is partially contingent on business support. For more on their potential share read here.

And, as one would expect, there is a debate about spending public money on the stadium. See here, here, and here.

Finally, here is an article about MLB team valuations and how the Rays are at the bottom of the list.  And, by any measure, including fan score, their attendance is poor.


Economic Development – New York Times

There was an article about Tampa (though they still included the “Fla” in the dateline) in the New York Times this week focusing on real estate entitled How Developers Discovered Tampa’s ‘Best-Kept Secret’. While it is not really an original article, has a couple of obvious errors, and is basically an ad for three developments in Tampa (mostly Water Street, plus Westshore Marina District and Midtown), it is nice exposure for the area.  You can read it here.

From the NY Times – click on picture for article

Some of the comments by local officials that were a bit impolitic, but we are not going to get into them.  Though one thing really stuck out to us:

Mr. Richard added that the market had been untapped for many years in terms of major construction, especially downtown. “The last thing you want to be, in terms of economic development, is a best-kept secret,” he said, “but we’ve managed to do that for decades.”

What he is saying about all the time and money spent on trade missions, advertising, and economic development promotion over many years and all the people involved in those efforts?


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the County

In Tampa, the City government was determined to remove the Bro Bowl (and build a copy hidden away next to the interstate where TB(n)X very well may make it even more obscure or destroy the recreation.  The administration had no regard for the historical nature of the Bowl or skateboarders in general.  Last week, the New York Times had an article on skateboarding entitled “Skateboarders Won: Skate parks, once considered a menace, are booming everywhere around the world. Now we head toward the first skateboarding Olympics.”

Steve Rodriguez, 46, a professional skateboarder and the owner of 5boro skateboards, helped build Ms. Sheehan’s ramp in 1995. A little more than a decade later, on the Manhattan side of the bridge, he helped organize the city’s skate community in order to save a portion of the so-called Brooklyn Banks, a popular spot for local skaters at the time. In this case, the city promised to eventually turn part of the area into a proper skatepark.

Skateboarding had gone from renegade to recreation. After decades of commandeering streets, sidewalks, parking lots and public sculptures, skaters entered the mainstream. Now New York City, the United States, and the world at large have all seen a surge of skate park development. With skateboarding entering the Olympic Games in 2020, the international growth of skate parks is likely only beginning.

* * *

In Harlem, a new skate park opened at Thomas Jefferson Park in September. The Bronx will see the completion of Williamsbridge Oval Skatepark in early 2019. Mr. Rodriguez recently worked on designs for a skate park currently under construction near the refurbished Kosciuszko Bridge. These new entrants follow the construction of Golconda Skatepark in Downtown Brooklyn, in 2016, and Cooper Skatepark in Bushwick the same year.

In Los Angeles, the highly regarded Stoner Skate Plaza opened in 2010 and features recreated elements of bygone local skate spots. The architect Anthony Bracali teamed up with skateboarders in Philadelphia for the 2.5 acre Paine’s Park, completed in 2013. The Seattle Skate Park Advisory Committee has spent the past decade advocating skate parks in that city, arguing that Seattle’s more than 29,000 skaters needed dedicated space to skate. Today, the city is home to a growing number of skate parks, as well as more than a dozen designated skate spots and “skate dots”: individual obstacles spread across the city designed for people to skate.

Just so you know about the LA recreations, unlike Tampa, they are not building replicas of historical bowls that the City destroyed:

Several local pro skaters also took part in designing the space. The names, according to sources, include: Colin Cook, Justin Cefai, Joey Brezinski, Chris Roberts and Aaron Snyder. California Skateparks and the local pros created the 20,000 square feet space to reflect landmark skate areas around L.A.

* * *

One part of Stoner mirrors an area of the West L.A. courthouse, while another portion mimics a popular skate spot along a Venice bike path.

Tampa is not mentioned in the article.


List of the Week I

Our first list this week is Newsweek’s Top 50 U.S. Cities Ranked by Quality of Life and Average Salary.  From the name of the list, the methodology seems pretty straightforward.

Coming first is Austin, followed by Denver, San Jose (CA), Washington (DC), Fayetteville (AR), Seattle, Raleigh-Durham, Boston, Des Moines, Salt Lake City, Colorado Springs, Boise, Nashville, Charlotte, Dallas-Ft. Worth, San Francisco, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Madison (WI), Grand Rapids, Houston, Sarasota, San Diego, San Antonio, Richmond, Omaha, Portland (ME), Charleston (SC), Syracuse, Greenville (SC), Albany, Hartford, Portland (OR), Buffalo, Harrisburg (PA), Tampa (at #35), OKC, Winston-Salem, Little Rock, Rochester (NY), Orlando, Lancaster (PA), Chattanooga, Louisville, Phoenix, Jacksonville, Honolulu, Milwaukee, Kansas City, Melbourne (FL), and Atlanta.

Not that great.


List of the Week II

Our second list this week goes along with the first: U.S. News’s 125 Best Places to Live in the USA. Here is the methodology.

Coming in first is Austin, followed by Colorado Springs, Denver, Des Moines, Fayetteville (AR), Portland (OR), Huntsville (AL), Washington (DC), Minneapolis-St. Paul, Seattle, Nashville, Grand Rapids, Raleigh-Durham, San Antonio, Salt Lake City, Madison (WI), San Jose (CA), Dallas-Ft. Worth, Phoenix, San Francisco, Lexington (KY), Charlotte, Boise, Ashville, Boston, Houston, Portland (ME), Omaha, Melbourne (FL), San Diego, Greenville (SC), Lancaster (PA), Reno, Sarasota, Honolulu, Columbus (OH), Manchester (NH), Charleston (SC), Albany, Ft. Wayne, Ft. Myers, Anchorage, Winston-Salem, Jacksonville, Harrisburg (PA), Hartford, Atlanta, Syracuse, Cincinnati, Lansing, Rochester, Buffalo, Pensacola, Richmond, Indianapolis, Columbia (SC), Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Springfield (MA), Greensboro (NC), Louisville, Worcester (MA), Oklahoma City, Knoxville, Little Rock, Springfield (MO), Tucson, Santa Barbara (CA), Spokane, Milwaukee, Lakeland, Chattanooga, Reading (PA), Myrtle Beach, Tampa, Augusta (GA), Santa Rosa (CA), Orlando, Port St. Lucie, and Las Vegas.

As you can see, both lists have a number of common cities at the top of the list.  They also have some odd entries. The other thing to note is that in neither list does Tampa do very well.  The largest cause of that seems to be low incomes, though, it is interesting that other factors do not lift us more.  As noted about the U.S. News list in the Business Journal:

Tampa’s overall score dropped from 6.6 to 6.4 out of 10. The lowest score was for value, at 5.1, which compares cost of living to median annual income. The highest score was for net migration, which is a measure of how many people are moving to a particular area.

That is not a large drop in overall score, which could lead one to suspect that other areas got better more than we got worse.

As with all lists, we do not think any specific ranking really means much, though, if you are consistently getting a high or low ranking, it is probably an indicator of something.

 

Do with both lists what you will.

Roundup 4-6-2018

April 6, 2018

Contents

Transportation – On and On

— Adventures in Transit Plans

— Change?

— About Those Options

— BRT the Letter

— Conclusion

– The Half Fix

— Streetcar

Economic Development – Truths

Downtown/Channel District – Getting Going

Built Environment/Planning – No Room?

Westshore-ish – Midtown Officially Announced

South Tampa – Maybe Not Closing Bayshore

Airport – A Small Sign

Time – What it Would Be Like

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

— Brightline

— Revitalization and Gentrification

_____________________________


Transportation – On and On


— Adventures in Transit Plans

As expected, there was new about the Regional Transit Study plan.

— Change?

First, one of the big flaws in the plan is the lack of dedicated lanes, with most of the project running on highway shoulders and part also in express lanes on the Howard Frankland.  Well,

Tampa Bay’s transit advocates have set an ambitious new goal: full, dedicated lanes for a bus rapid transit line connecting three counties.

That’s a step up from the previously announced plan to build a 41-mile BRT route along Interstate 275 connecting Wesley Chapel, Tampa and St. Petersburg.

In that version of the plan, the buses used several lane options, depending on the segment of the route. For some portions, the buses would have their own lanes, either on the shoulder of Interstate 275 or in the expanded median between Westshore and downtown Tampa. In other segments, they’d run in mixed traffic, whether in the managed toll lanes of the future or even with regular interstate traffic.

First, there are many transit advocates, and not all advocate the “BRT” plan. Setting that aside, the idea sounds positive, but what does it really mean?

But now the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority has a bolder vision. Chairman Jim Holton told the Tampa Bay Times editorial board on Wednesday that his group will now push for the buses to run in dedicated lanes — whether along the shoulders or median of I-275 — from Pinellas to Hillsborough counties. The final plan is still being developed. A team from Jacobs Engineering, which in January proposed BRT as the region’s most realistic transit option, will spend the next six months making presentations to the public and gathering feedback. They’re scheduled to deliver the completed plan in September.

Holton expects the firm will know by June whether or not the proposal will include exclusive BRT lanes running across the Howard Frankland Bridge. In the old plan, rapid buses would have shared the new toll lanes set to be added when the Howard Frankland is remade into an 8-lane bridge by 2024.

It appears to mean that the plan would have dedicated lanes on the Howard Frankland (and presumably the previously announced Westshore to downtown stretch) but still run on the shoulders or in full traffic elsewhere. The biggest problem with the plan (though it is a problem) is not the express lanes on the Howard Frankland.  Even bigger, for us, is the reliance on highway shoulders.  So what is he proposing?

“If we could make the shoulder a totally dedicated  lane, exclusively for transit … I would prefer to do that.” Holton said.

If you could do that, it would be interesting.  However, 1) there is no indication you can have truly (meaning without any other vehicles ever using them) exclusive bus lanes in the shoulder and, if you can, that it would be safe and 2) then there would not be any shoulders and any problem on the interstate would be that much worse (problems like here, here, and here which, as we noted recently, happen routinely around here).

Moreover, if the buses run in the median and then have stops on local streets, you either need expensive ramps to get off the interstate or the buses have to cross the congested traffic.  And, given that in much of the area, the “median” is really an inner shoulder, the same issues apply to the median.

And, regarding full-time, exclusive use of the shoulder, can it even be done? From URBN Tampa Bay:

This scheme to put buses on the highway to justify blowing billions of dollars widening the highway is called BOS, Bus-On-Shoulder. The “dedicated lane” FDOT refers to is the highway shoulder, not an actual travel lane dedicated to the full-time and exclusive use of buses. According to USDOT’s national highway policy, you can’t even legally operate a bus on the shoulder full-time, the bus is only allowed to use the shoulder when congestion is so bad that highway traffic is moving less than 25mph, and so then the bus is allowed to get on the shoulder and go 35mph, until traffic speeds up to 35mph, and then the bus has to get back into traffic. It’s not like the bus is in its own lane and if the highway gets congested, the bus can just keep humming along at 55mph unfazed. When the highway slows, so will the buses. (The feds tried that before, where the buses keep doing 55 in their lane, while the adjacent lanes crawl along. They soon stopped that because the speed differential was dangerous and people died.)

We did an admittedly quick search and could not find an official document that said full-time shoulder use was not allowed (which is not to say one does not exist; we just did not find it), but we did find a Federal Highway administration guidance document on bus on shoulder operation that was exclusively about part-time usage and stated pretty clearly:

It remains the policy of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) that constructing and maintaining roadway shoulders along all major and minor arterials and freeways provides inherent value. Shoulder width is one of the controlling criteria that FHWA requires a formal written design exception if minimum design criteria are not met on the National Highway System.(1)

Aside from their structural benefits for pavement and drainage, shoulders provide refuge for vehicles in emergency situations, access for first responders, and an additional recovery area for drivers trying to avoid conflicts in the adjoining travel lanes. The safety benefits of shoulders are documented in the AASHTO Highway Safety Manual and other studies. Because of these factors, the decision to use shoulders for travel should be carefully considered and limited in both its application and time of usage.

(you can get it in pdf form here) In other words, if you have full-time, exclusive lanes for buses on the shoulder, for safety, you would need to build a new shoulder. (The document explains that the best bus on shoulder practice is basically Minnesota’s policy which we discuss here.  Hint – it is part-time usage)  For obvious reasons, not having shoulders that emergency vehicles, crashes and broken down cars, not to mention cars that are pulled over, can use is a bad idea.

But, even if you could do it, there is more.  We listed five obvious issues (other than frequency, funding, and synchronizing with the local bus services) that arise from the “BRT” plan:

  1. This is not BRT
  2. Running buses in the shoulder is problematic
  3. The connections to activity centers is weak
  4. Running a system in/on the interstate is definitely not optimal
  5. The plan will not promote transit oriented development

Even if you run the buses in dedicated shoulders, while you may partially address number 1, you do not solve 2-5 (the problem with the shoulder is there is no shoulder). And you do not solve frequency, funding, and local bus services.

Returning to the TBARTA Chairman:

If the bay area chooses to build a BRT system, Holton said, then “I have one fundamental role …  to make sure it’s real BRT. That’s what I’m dedicated to doing.”

That is one thing we agree with, though real BRT would run mostly in arterial roads with proper stops in the heart of activity centers to help develop ToD. That is the way to address many of the issues above.

— About Those Options

If that was not enough, an article in the Business Journal based on a discussion with the lead engineer or the study and the TBARTA CEO raised more questions than it answered.  First,

Talking points both for and against the plan as it is currently being presented don’t fully represent the challenge facing Tampa Bay regional transit.  The BRT route, if implemented, would create a spine to get riders from one general area to another, but once that connection happens, riders would still need to get to their final destinations.

That’s where local options come in that would be facilitated through either county transit agencies or others with implementing authority.

Setting aside that the “BRT” plan will not create a real spine, getting people to where they are going is a problem.  As we have noted, this whole plan is based on the premise that somehow people get to the “BRT” (which would require redoing local bus service), ride the “BRT”, then get to their destination using another connection.  While the article list some local connection possibilities in downtown St. Pete, downtown Tampa, and Westshore, those all need planning, frequency, and funding, the last two of which local systems have lacked for years.  And that does not include getting people to the “BRT” from where they live so they can get to activity centers. (And circulators are nice, but having a line that runs closer to/into more activity centers to which people can just walk is even better.)

It needs to be made clear that the “BRT” plan really serves commuters travelling a good distance to get to work, not local travelers. For the “BRT” to really work, all the feeders must be in place, not just at destination but to get people to the “BRT” in the first place.  So, in reality, the “BRT” and the local connection all form part of one big plan. A proper system would have more direct local transit connections to and from the line, especially in residential areas.  Leaving it up to the counties to plan out in the future is quite the act of faith.

But we knew that.  Even more interesting for us is this because it gets to the process and discussion:

[Jacobs Engineering Project Manager] Pringle and [TBARTA CEO] Chiaramonte met with the TBBJ to discuss ongoing transit plans and coordination efforts.  Pringle said he hears a lot of misconceptions from residents responding to the plan.

“It’s a draft.  We still have to do all the engineering, all the environmental planning.”  Pringle said. “These are things that can continue to be discussed.”

He reiterated the plan is a first step transit plan aimed at creating an attractive regional project that could draw down federal funding and that could make a strong case for future local connections.  The Howard Frankland Bridge, he said, will still be reinforced to accommodate light rail if that is ever part of the region’s transit plans.

Pringle also said his firm is considering a phasing process where more than one transit project is included in a series of steps.  Chiaramonte said TBARTA could include other projects in its transit development plan.

The two refuted complaints from transit activists that using existing CSX rail lines would be a better use of public funding saying the connection most frequently referenced – one connecting the USF area to downtown Tampa – would be a local project under the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit authority’s purview.

That last point is echoed by the Tampa Bay Partnership’s head in another Business Journal article:

“If [critics] want CSX going to downtown Tampa, that’s a Hillsborough County project that needs to be studied by HART [Hillsborough Area Regional Transit] and the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization, and there needs to be a funding plan for it,” Homans said.

There is a regional CSX option that would connect Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, but some view that plan as cost prohibitive.

“If it is a regional program, then that requires so much more study because it’s a multibillion-dollar project at that point.”

Setting aside that the CSX tracks run throughout the area and any system using them could be expanded in phases throughout the region (and what is a regional transit study that does not study an obvious regional transit idea?), a few weeks ago, we were told this:

There’s nothing to stop Tampa Bay regional planners from moving forward with two transit projects in its plans for a catalyst project instead of one, according to the firm studying options.

Jacobs Engineering Project Manager Scott Pringle told the Hillsborough County Planning Commission on Monday that the results of the regional premium transit feasibility plan could include bus rapid transit and a rail corridor. Pringle acknowledged a CSX rail corridor between the University of South Florida and downtown Tampa has its benefits, but his overall talking points still heavily favored what his firm is describing as bus rapid transit.

That certainly strongly implies that the CSX route could be included in the transit plan.  Even more telling was that the CSX line was included in the Regional Transit Study, and not just initially.  It was part of the big reveal of the “BRT” plan. (See here) and later (See here) If the CSX line could not be in the regional transit plan, why was it included in the study?  Was the CSX analysis just to set up a cost argument for the bus plan?

And saying that other ideas could be included in the plan is all well and good.  What are the options?  If not CSX, what?  What are the criteria for a project being included?  Does it have to cross a county line immediately or can it be part of the phased approach?

We get the cost argument of the “BRT” plan versus the CSX line. (We don’t think it is dispositive, but we get it – the “BRT” plan is cheap.)  We get the political point that it is easier to get Pinellas to support something that runs in Pinellas over something just in Hillsborough.  However, based on the study itself and the statements of the engineers, the CSX argument above makes no sense and makes one wonder.

— BRT the Letter

The Times featured a letter/column from the some leaders of the Tampa and St. Pete Chambers of Commerce on the “BRT” plan.  While it should be noted that both organizations have a history of adopting a “just do something, anything” approach, the letter makes their case, so we will discuss it (you can read the whole thing here).

The Florida Department of Transportation has invested in a study to address our transit woes. That study, dubbed the “Regional Transit Feasibility Plan,” validates concerns expressed across our region and for good reason. Over the next 20 years, local travel miles will increase by 51 percent — yet current plans provide for no more than a 19 percent increase in traffic lane miles, projecting a 220 percent increase in congestion within a region that already suffers from protracted delays.

We will accept that as true.

The first step of the plan was to identify top-performing connections and recommend a “catalyst” project to get us out of the gate. While other options are still being vetted, the project that has emerged as the front-runner is regional Bus Rapid Transit (“BRT”) from downtown St. Petersburg to downtown Tampa to the University of South Florida to Wesley Chapel.

Actually, the first step was to study a bunch of historical studies, not our present condition, to identify which of the corridors identified in the previous studies would be able to give us the cheapest plan, or at least get us under the $10/ride threshold.  But, anyway, we will agree that we need transit.  That is not the question.  The question is whether the “BRT” plan proposed is what we need. Here is why they say the plan is good:

BRT represents a reasonable starting point; it is affordable, regional, timely and inclusive:

BRT may present a reasonable starting point, but the proposed plan is not BRT.  Setting that aside, let’s look at the points:

First, affordable – it is cheap.

Second, it is regional, which it is.

Third, it is timely, meaning we would not need to buy right of way, which is true, but is just another way of saying it is cheap.

Fourth, yes, many people live near the interstate but what reason would most have for using this service when it is not clear how it connects to local bus systems and feeder routes; it is not clear that it will be frequent; it does not actually go to a number of activity centers; and it will not create TOD?  So we give them the number of people nearby with those caveats (Plus it does not say they are within ½ mile of a station, just the route).

Finally, this:

Thirty years ago, our greatest regional challenge was transportation. And yet, here we are with no progress in sight. The time for ultimatums has passed. It’s time to move beyond paralysis toward consensus and meaningful progress.

Our businesses — and those considering a move to Tampa Bay — expect it. Our employees and co-workers need it. Our young professionals demand it. And our children deserve it.

We agree – progress has not happened. And we agree that companies that are considering moving to our area look for transit, but we think they are looking at the quality of transit and the willingness to invest in the improvement of the area. We question whether this “BRT” plan as the core system will have any effect on their decision-making.

Finally, we will reiterate: if a “catalyst” project 1) is not planned and executed exceptionally well and 2) is promoted by creating inflated expectations that stand little chance of being realized, it will catalyze nothing but opposition to future projects.  Right now, the “BRT” proposal runs the risk of checking both those boxes.

— Conclusion

After all the new discussion, the fact remains that the main thing going for the “BRT” plan is that it is cheap.  Simply saying it is a catalyst does not make it so.  Moreover, especially after the CSX comments, there are no known additional plans or next phases to be included.  Additionally, the relative silence about reorganizing and funding feeder systems (not just local circulators around business districts) is a major issue that is not being addressed.  To even for this plan to work properly, feeders have to be considered as part of the plan.  We need a coordinated, synchronized system.

We could support a well thought out, proper, “gold standard” (a term that has been apparently been dropped) BRT plan (even if it BRT is not our preference for a spine).  But, based on what we have been shown, this is not one.  We maintain that the same basic service and catalyzing effect could be served by a substantially cheaper plan that does not create false hopes and sure to be dashed expectations of having real transit solution, while, at the same time, the region works on real transit.


– The Half Fix

FDOT is moving ahead with the partial interim fix to the previous interim fix to the obvious numerous bottlenecks it built around the airport/Howard Frankland.

The Florida Department of Transportation is looking for firms to design and build strategic lane enhancements on State Road 60 around Memorial Highway and the Westshore area.

The department hosted an information session for interested firms this month and is collecting bids for the $3 million project. FDOT wants to extend existing merge lanes in order to eliminate bottlenecks through the busy corridor.

* * *

Firms would have to consider expanding shoulders to accommodate new lanes, according to draft documents, which are subject to change. FDOT asked in its request for proposals that firms not include any designs that require purchasing additional rights of way.

FDOT is also soliciting proposals for improvements to Interstate 275 near SR 60 both northbound and southbound. Requests for proposals on those improvements would go out at the end of April with letters of interest from engineering firms due by May 21. The department expects to give the go-ahead to a firm by the end of the year.

I-275 improvements would include an additional northbound lane between south of Kennedy Boulevard to just before Lois Avenue. They would add a southbound lane from Memorial Highway to south of Kennedy Boulevard. Traffic there currently bottlenecks into two lanes before becoming four lanes on the Howard Frankland Bridge.

Construction would likely include widening the existing highway, some resurfacing, ramp modifications and noise walls.

The I-275 improvements would cost about $25.7 million with construction spanning as much as 650 days.

As we have long said, they should just keep the four lanes going all the way through on I-275.  Adding one lane would keep a bottleneck, though not quite as bad as now.

As for Memorial Highway, one of the biggest problems is the need to keep changing lanes to get where you want to go.  This plan will not fix that, but whatever.  It would just be nice if FDOT stop having interim fixes that keep our area under construction.

And then there was this:

The two projects are what FDOT considers “near-term” because they leverage existing infrastructure and minimal funding. Other projects still in the works include I-275 at the Westshore interchange, the Westshore to downtown Tampa corridor and near the University of South Florida exits as well as the connection between Interstate 4 and the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway and portions of Interstate 75.

FDOT planned these projects to enhance workforce development by leveraging investment in areas with high job concentrations. Once contractors are chosen, construction on SR 60 is expected to take about 235 days.

Enough with the “leveraging.”  These project do not leverage anything. FDOT is half-fixing poorly designed, inadequate roads at a point of congestion which exists, in large part, because there already is a high job concentration.


— Streetcar

Last week we discussed the plan to extend the streetcar to the Heights.  This week:

The city of Tampa and HDR, the consultants hired to facilitate the InVision Streetcar process, are making final preparations to send a preferred enhancement plan to the Federal Transit Administration for inclusion on its New Starts project development list, an early step in drawing down federal grant dollars to pay for the project.

Federal grants typically cover about half of a project’s cost with local governments or agencies splitting the other half. The streetcar overhaul is a $100 million project.

Tampa’s preferred 1.3-mile streetcar route enhancement would connect the existing streetcar route from Ybor through the Channel District and on to the convention center through the downtown core and into the Heights. The project would serve 16,000 jobs and 5,500 residents.

But progress on the streetcar has much bigger implicationsthan serving downtown businesses and residents. It’s an opportunity to create a crucial transit connection to a larger regional system.

As you can guess, the idea is to connect to the “BRT” bus system, which at least is part of planning the connecting routes.

The city’s original goal was to send its preliminary project goals to the FTA by the end of this month. Now the city and HDR are working to make sure the streetcar enhancements align with the Florida Department of Transportation-funded Regional Transit Feasibility Plan that currently recommends a 41-mile bus rapid transit route connecting downtown St. Pete to Wesley Chapel along Interstate 275. 

Regardless of what you think about the “BRT” plan, that is reasonable. As important, if not more, is the need to address the failings of the streetcar, which is too slow, too infrequent, and too expensive as it is (especially if you plan on having people connect from a bus ride they just paid for).

The city hopes to have the project included in the FTA’s New Start project development this July with a goal of beginning service by 2024 if funding is obtained.

We will see.


Economic Development – Truths

While we do not agree with him on everything, we have made no secret of the fact that we like the Lightning owner (aside from just fixing the Lightning).  Last week he gave us another example of why:

Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik told his love story with his adopted hometown to hundreds of local tech workers Wednesday.

But it was a message of tough love, too.

The Tampa Bay region is “behind Nashville by about 10 or 15 years,” Vinik said. Its startup community and angel investors are unknown to the business world and each other. The area’s well-documented transportation woes need answers. Still missing is an ecosystem to cultivate entrepreneurs.

“As a community, we need to take it to a higher level,” Vinik said.

The remarks came at the start of the Synapses Innovation Summit at Amalie Arena, a tech and entrepreneur conference now in its second year. Organizers hope the gathering can start to fill in the gaps Vinik laid out and connect disjointed, and often anonymous, technology and entrepreneur companies from across the region so they can build and grow together.

He is right.  As any regular reader knows, we agree that this area needs to take it to a higher level.  That includes planning and transportation.

The 40-acre, multi-billion development he has planned can’t thrive unless Tampa is able to retain its young talent, he said. He recalled a recent meeting with 50 local high school students, where he told them that if two-thirds left for college and never came back to Tampa Bay, “then we are failing.”

“By magic they are not going to stay here,” the former Wall Street investment manager said. “We’ve gotta give them a reason to keep them here.”

Some may say he is just trying to promote his development. Of course he wants his development to be successful, but there is nothing wrong with that.  And he is right about giving people a reason to stay.  Implicit in his comment is that we are still lacking in that area.  But he added:

The good news is no one else in Florida has stepped up to become the state’s center of innovation. And Vinik believes no other area is better situated than Tampa Bay to assume that mantle.

“It is ours for the taking,” he said. “We put our minds to it, together, collectively, as a group, five to 10 years from now we will be the leader in Florida, if not the leader in the southeast in terms of startup activity entrepreneurialism, which will do wonders for the culture of this area and the growth of this area overall.”

While he is focusing on entrepreneurialism, the point can be applied more broadly.  The fact is that this area has many positive attributes, but is often hamstrung by inertia, complacency, and settling.  We are happy that the Lightning owner is out there pushing.


Downtown/Channel District – Getting Going

Speaking of the Lightning owner, there was new about the Water Street JW Marriott:

The developer of Water Street Tampa will break ground on its JW Marriott convention hotel in the coming weeks.

Hillsborough County Aviation Authority on Thursday approved a height variance for the 26-story hotel. With that approval, Strategic Property Partners is “planning to break ground on the JW Marriott later this month,” spokeswoman Ali Glisson wrote in an email.

The hotel sits on Old Water Street, across from the Marriott Tampa Waterside Hotel and Marina.

The hotel’s grand opening is scheduled for 2020, she said.

 

From the Times – click on picture for website

We look forward to it.


Built Environment/Planning – No Room?

Last week, the Census Bureau released its latest population estimates.

Nearly 55,000 people moved to the Tampa Bay are last year, making it the tenth highest city nationwide in terms of population increase, according to a report from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The 2017 census estimate places Tampa Bay’s population around 3,091,399 after tens of thousands moved here last year, making it the 10th biggest population gain by a metro area in the country.

That is a large increase.  Here are the top 10 metros by numeric change:

Top 10 Largest-Gaining Metropolitan Areas (Numeric Increase): 2016-2017

2017 Rank 2016 Rank Metropolitan Area 2017 Population 2016 Population Numeric Change
1 1 Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX 7,399,662 7,253,424 146,238
2 2 Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX 6,892,427 6,798,010 94,417
3 3 Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA 5,884,736 5,795,723 89,013
4 4 Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ 4,737,270 4,648,498 88,772
5 11 Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV 6,216,589 6,150,681 65,908
6 6 Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA 3,867,046 3,802,660 64,386
7 13 Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA 4,580,670 4,523,653 57,017
8 8 Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL 2,509,831 2,453,333 56,498
9 9 Austin-Round Rock, TX 2,115,827 2,060,558 55,269
10 7 Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL 3,091,399 3,036,525 54,874

Source: Census Bureau

The Tampa-St. Pete-Clearwater metro area includes Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, and Hernando counties, so the top 10 counties for raw population increase are also interesting:

From the Census Bureau – click on chart for website

Hillsborough County accounts for almost half the Tampa-St. Pete-Clearwater growth.  Not to mention:

Right now the county has the largest employment base in the region with more than 772,000 people in the workforce. It’s also the largest workforce importer with 42 percent of the nearly 1 million jobs in the county filled by workers who live outside the county.

In other words, there are a lot of people; there will be more; and there are a lot of people who come to Hillsborough each day.  The really obvious conclusion is that Hillsborough needs much better and more diverse transit options (not just an express bus).  But there is something else:

Hillsborough County needs to update its economic development policies if it’s going to keep up with a growing population.

* * *

“We’re currently losing a lot of land that is currently designated for commercial and industrial space because there’s a lot of interest in housing and retail,” said Lucia Garsys, the county’s chief development of infrastructure services administrator.

The Planning Commission expects 400,000 more jobs over the next 30 years. Under the current development trend, the county would need to expand its urban core by 54,000 acres, according to an early look at the presentation. That kind of growth would require 700 miles of new streets to connect new development to the county’s existing grid.

First, the “urban core” of Hillsborough County is very small and pretty much all within the city limits of Tampa.  Even Tampa has a relatively small, if growing, “urban” core.  Most of it is built in a suburban fashion.  Essentially, all of Hillsborough County’s development is also suburban, if not exurban.  Hillsborough County needs to create an urban core before it considers expanding it.

As for losing land designated for commercial and industrial space to residential and retail, that is also a question of planning.  The problem is the County Commission which cannot stick to a plan and constantly approves additions to the sprawling mess it has created over decades rather than promoting infill, reuse, and more density that would leave land for commercial and industrial.

The Planning Commission is recommending the county take steps to limit the number of retail and housing developments in spaces that were originally zoned for commercial or industrial uses unless for some “extraordinary public purpose.”

* * *

Balancing residential growth with new job space could help county planners reduce the impacts of a commuting workforce by providing jobs close to where people live.

“If you can reduce the trips that someone takes to work you do a couple of things,” Garsys said. “You reduce the impact on roads and you give workers more time to spend with their families. It’s really about quality of life and fiscal sustainability.” 

That is a good idea, but reducing the trips would require rethinking how the area is developed, creating a more urban design rather than sprawling subdivisions with limited entrances/exits on arterial roads, and more mixed use development.  Those are things the County Commission has been loath to do, even though the reality is that if there is better use of land, there will be less need for more infrastructure.  It will save money and save land.

Commissioners will also have to consider how to accommodate growth. Urban land around Tampa and Brandon is nearly built out. Garsys expects robust discussions about whether to expand commercial and industrial space into areas that are currently more rural or to redevelop existing land to accommodate more growth. All areas of the county are currently underutilizing land under current county code.

Because there is basically no urban land in Brandon, it cannot be built out, but we will set that aside for a minute and just talk about suburban land.  Brandon (and most of the rest of the County) is not built out.  Much of the land is underused – much of it parking.  Proper redevelopment of underused land could accommodate much of the growth.  Certainly, if the County continues to allow 1980s building patterns, the mess will continue.  Once again, note:

All areas of the county are currently underutilizing land under current county code.

And that is with the sprawling plan the County already has.  Do not expand the areas for development and let the land be properly utilized.

The Planning Commission is recommending a hybrid of the two strategies.

They should reconsider.  There is no reason to expand the developable area.  All that will lead to is more of the same and we will be back, having the same discussion in a few years.  The County Commission has spent years promoting poor planning, poor development, subsidizing residential and retail, and underinvestment in proper transportation throwing the burden on local taxpayers.  We do not need more of that.  We need good planning that promotes and incentivizes more density and infill to use the infrastructure we have. We need the County to stop approving bigger development outside the urban service area. We need proper transit.

And if you are not going to make it better, at least stick to the mediocre plan for once.


Westshore-ish – Midtown Officially Announced

A few weeks ago, we discussed what was then known as Tampa Bay 1. (See “Westhore-ish – Tampa Bay 1”) Last week it was officially announced as “Midtown.”

Midtown Tampa, Bromley said Wednesday, will include 1.8 million square feet of new commercial space:

Bromley hasn’t disclosed what preleasing thresholds would be necessary to begin construction. The developer is planning to break ground in 2019 and wrap up construction by 2021. For both office and retail real estate, a substantial portion of the space typically has to have a committed tenant in place before a developer will break ground.

Given previous false starts, it will be interesting to see how fast they can fill up space.  At least the previously rumored Whole Foods move has been confirmed. So has this:

Tampa City Council will hold a public hearing on Bromley’s rezoning request for the property on April 12. Bromley has acquired additional acreage since its last plans were approved, and its expanded plans require a rezoning.

You can check out our previous discussion for a site plan, renderings (including the one “released” last week), and our discussion.


South Tampa – Maybe Not Closing Bayshore

A few months back, we discussed a WalkBike Tampa proposal to close Bayshore every now and then to make it basically a park and let people walk and bike without fear of traffic. We said:

. . .maybe it would be fine every now and then on Bayshore, but Bayshore already has walking and biking facilities.  We think the focus should be on other parts of the city, where the majority of people live – like East Tampa/Seminole Heights (say Nebraska or Florida or a cross street) or West Tampa.  Maybe there should be a rotating program. The rest of the City (and County) needs as much, if not more, focus on walkability and bikeability (as well as unifying events) as South Tampa.

This week, there was some action:

Hours after Tampa City Council members advanced a tentative plan to close portions of Bayshore Boulevard to cars some Sundays to encourage walking and biking on South Tampa’s waterfront, Mayor Bob Buckhorn squashed the idea.

“We are looking at other options, but for the foreseeable future, Bayshore will not be one of them,” Ashley Bauman, Buckhorn’s spokeswoman, said Thursday evening. “Even as a pilot project.”

* * *

[WalkBike] also has suggested making routes through Ybor City, Tampa Heights and New Tampa vehicle-free on a handful of Sundays between November and April. Those appear to still be on the table for discussion.

On Thursday, both sides sounded more conciliatory about Bayshore and the other routes.

“The city is open-minded to the concept and willing to discuss it,” said Jean Duncan, the city’s transportation and stormwater services director. But the city wants more details on how many police officers and other city services will be required, she said.

That seems mostly quite reasonable.

The proposal takes its organizing principles from the Open Streets concept, which originated in Colombia and has spread across the world in recent years. The movement is often linked to support for more bike lanes, wider sidewalks and other safety improvements.

If you have been to an Open Streets event, it is quite clear that the best place to do them is where there is something to do along the route where people can stop and interact.  While it is pretty, there are not a lot of activities along Bayshore.  Likewise, New Tampa would not really be a good location.  Ybor City or Tampa Heights (and other places in town, like Seminole Heights and West Tampa) would be better.

Once again, we like the idea.  We just think Bayshore is not the best place for it.


Airport – A Small Sign

There was news last week regarding Lufthansa’s flight to Tampa (and reported this week by the Business Journal here):

Lufthansa in recent schedule update adjusted Frankfurt – Tampa operation during winter 2018/19 season, effective from 28OCT18. Current CityLine A340-300 service is scheduled to be replaced by Lufthansa Mainline A340-300, resulting capacity increase for Premium cabin.

While it is not an increase in service, it is an increase in valuable seats on the route.  It is a small but important indication of the success on our international route.  Now, to make it daily.

And then there is general aviation:

For the second straight year, Sheltair’s Tampa facility rose to the top of the rankings in AIN’s annual FBO Survey. The location earned an overall score of 4.74, and was the only service provider to earn scores of more than 4.70 in each of the five categories.

Well done.


Time – What it Would Be Like

We are still trying to figure out the real cause of the rapid push to change the time in Florida (things usually do not pass the legislature with no real discussion and large bi-partisan margins).  In any event, the Times had a good graphic presentation on the effect of the proposed time change here.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida


— Brightline

There was news about Brightline:

. . . construction on the second phase to Orlando is beginning soon, according to the Orlando Business Journal.

Buildout of office space for planning and engineering staff at the Orlando Airport is nearly complete, with staff to begin moving in as soon as this week.

Construction on the Orlando Airport property will begin in June/July, with a 30-month timeline from the start of work until service begins. An Intermodal Terminal Facility is already built, and a 70-acre Vehicle Maintenance Facility along with the actual rail is being added.

No news about connecting this area to the line.


— Revitalization and Gentrification

As older parts of cities get revitalized, there is always a risk of displacing the people who live there.  Interestingly,

As home prices spike near University of Central Florida’s emerging downtown Orlando campus, a group is launching a regionwide land trust that would start in Parramore with below-market rents and prices.

The Central Florida Foundation has worked with Orlando, Orange County, Florida Housing Coalition and other groups for more than a year on launching Central Florida Land Trust. The idea is to offer more affordable prices on select housing as the west side of downtown Orlando redevelops with classrooms, restaurants, shops and apartments.

“In Parramore, if people move there in force, the people who live there will be forced out,” said Mark Brewer, president of the Central Florida Foundation. “We’re making real estate affordable in the long term. Gentrification is not always a bad thing. It’s bad when you displace people in the neighborhood.”

Prices in the Parramore postal code have increased at quadruple the rate of other Orlando ZIP codes in the past year as UCF and Valencia College prep their new campus to open next year.

Here is how community land trusts work: Generally, nonprofit groups acquire donated or deeply discounted land and build houses or apartments there. The trust leases the land at a low cost, so residents’ only full-price expenses are for the home that stands on it, whether they buy or rent.

You can read the rest of the article here.