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Roundup 2-24-2017

February 24, 2017


Transportation – Firmly Planted to the Couch

— The Buck Stops Over There

— Pound Notes, Loose Change, Bad Checks, Anything

— Conclusion

Downtown – Jackson House Mystery

Downtown – Application Pulled

Downtown – More on the BK

Downtown/Hyde Park – Bye Bye Tribune Building

Tampa Heights – News on Food

Cuba Trade/Port – Middlemen Wanted

Rays/Tourism – Almost

The Other, Other Ferry

List of the Week


Transportation – Firmly Planted to the Couch

Last week, the Times had a good article entitled “A long way to go: Tampa Bay has one of the worst public transit systems in America. Here’s why.”  It is a long article that is definitely worth a read.  We are just going to discuss some highlights:

Out of the country’s 30 largest metro areas, the region ranks 29th in four of six common ways the federal government measures public transit coverage and usage.

The other two ways, it ranks dead last.

The region is 17th in population.

Times reporters analyzed data on more than a dozen different transit metrics; interviewed key local officials, national experts and more than 40 bus riders; and studied similar-sized areas across America. Then they traced local elected officials’ decisions about the topic over three decades.

The newspaper found:

In interviews, the leaders of both Tampa Bay bus agencies acknowledged their systems’ deficiencies, pointing to statistics that show they are cost-efficient with the little money they have.

“It’s the difference between good and cheap,” Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority CEO Katharine Eagan said.

In other words, transit in this area is totally underfunded.

Almost every other top-20 metro area has at least 600 buses. Tampa Bay has the fewest, about 360.

San Diego and Minneapolis/St. Paul are roughly the same size as Tampa Bay, but each had at least three times the ridership in 2015.

Spending per capita is half of San Antonio’s, a third of Denver’s and a quarter of Pittsburgh’s. At $57 per person, it’s comparable to Sheboygan, Wisc., and Macon, Ga.

This isn’t just because Tampa Bay is the only system without a rail line. Denver, Pittsburgh and Baltimore spend twice as much on bus alone as Tampa Bay, despite being similar sizes. Austin and Milwaukee each have a million fewer people and spend $10 million to $20 million more a year on bus service.

And it’s not that Hillsborough and Pinellas trail behind only because they’re two counties separated by a huge body of water. Each ranks poorly on its own.

Hillsborough spends $20 million less on buses than the transit agency for Cincinnati, Ohio, and $60 million less than the agency for Detroit, even though both serve similar populations. Pinellas’ agency serves twice as many people as New Orleans’, but both spend about the same amount of money.

Understand that none of this is really news, but the article lays it out more starkly. For some, like the Tea Party member of the HART Board, this situation appears to be a desirable outcome.

Transit critics say leaders are smart not to spend more because Tampa Bay is too big and too spread out for transit to ever be successful.

“We don’t have the density,” said Karen Jaroch, HART’s vice chair. “It just doesn’t make sense to make those sorts of investments here.”

Which is countered by this:

But a University of Utah study found that 11 other metro areas, including Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Dallas, Phoenix and Louisville, Ky., all rank worse than Tampa Bay when combining density, land use and sprawl — and all have transit networks that rank above Tampa Bay’s.

But setting that aside for the moment, back to the Tea Party:

The question for many isn’t whether more money would improve transit service, but whether transit in Tampa Bay is worth investing in at all.

When the Hillsborough County Commission discussed raising the sales tax, it heard from angry constituents who opposed both light rail and higher taxes. HART’s own vice chair, Jaroch, doesn’t believe tax dollars should be spent on major transit projects such as rail and dedicated bus lanes.

Hillsborough County Tea Party co-founder Sharon Calvert said the county shouldn’t raise taxes to pay for something that many people won’t use.

“We spend a lot of money on transit,” Calvert said. “The overall percentage of the population that uses it is very small, so you have to look at the cost-benefit analysis.”

The fact is that across the country, and here, the Tea Party opposes transit – rail and otherwise.  Their opposition is philosophical (see for instance “PSTA/HART – Record Ridership For This Bulwark Against the UN”), which is their right.  But that does not mean we should follow them.

— The Buck Stops Over There

Which brings us to local officials.

Current and former commissioners in both counties said they need to do more, but also criticized the plans before them — many of which they’d discussed for years and were written under their direction.

As we have noted many times, and the article notes, County Commissioners can shape the discussion (as can other local officials, though the Commissioners control the money).  It is interesting to review history (and note there was talk back in the mid 1980’s, too):

Consider the history in Hillsborough County.

In 1991, former County Commissioner Ed Turanchik proposed a multi-county commuter rail system. The plan died after the county couldn’t find a funding source for it.

In 1995, a county plan to build light rail and expand bus service qualified for federal money. The county commission later killed its own plan.

In 1999, a 99-person committee of residents and transportation experts put together a $1 billion plan to improve roads and expand bus service. The commission rejected it.

In 2005, the federal government got tired of waiting for Hillsborough to approve a plan and took the county out of contention for rail dollars.

In 2010, the commission took its biggest step toward expanding transit, asking voters to increase the sales tax by 1 penny to expand the bus system and build light rail. But voters shot down the referendum.

The most interesting thing on the list is all the lost opportunities, the wasted time and effort, and the failure to really do anything. We know, historically, referenda fail first time around (maybe even more than once), and that is not even getting into the major flaws with the substance of the 2010 referendum:

This isn’t unusual. Across the country, similar ballot initiatives often fail the first time they’re proposed, then pass on subsequent attempts. That’s what happened in Phoenix, Denver and Salt Lake City — all of which now have robust transit systems.

“Generally, we’ve seen that when transit agencies go to the ballot, they fail initially,” said Darnell Grisby, director of policy development and research at the American Public Transportation Association. “Often times, they’ll go back again and the approval rating tends to be over 70 percent.”

Then there was Go Hillsborough:

But in 2016, Hillsborough County commissioners decided it was too risky to put the question on the ballot again. The initiative would have dedicated almost $1 billion to HART over 30 years, or about $30 million a year.

That vote was “premature,” said Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman, one of four county commissioners who voted no. “We didn’t want to do something that wasn’t going to address the need.”

Which is a salient point, though it is worth noting that the three year TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough process included all the County Commissioners, as well as the Mayor of Tampa and others. In other words, why didn’t they come up with a better plan? Regarding, this is especially noteworthy:

Crist, who took part in three years of meetings to shape the plan, said he did not feel comfortable putting a plan before voters that he didn’t support. He said he didn’t know that HART’s budget was so far behind its peer cities until a Times reporter told him.

“It agitates me,” Crist said. “It aggravates me. How the hell did we get here?” 

Really? He was on the Commission that put the Tea Party activist on the HART Board. That member is now on a second term. She still does not want to have a developed transit system.  Nor is the Commission doing much to properly fund it.  Clearly, that Commission was not committed to properly funding HART.

— Pound Notes, Loose Change, Bad Checks, Anything

And, we saw that in action this week in a separate Times article:

There is a relatively small amount of money, about $1 million, for transit projects in the 10-year, $812 million transportation plan that Hillsborough County commissioners discussed Wednesday.

Yet transit dominated most of the two-hour conversation.

There are two transit-related items in the spending package: $750,000 for a study of a proposed ferry connecting MacDill Air Force Base to south county and $350,000 for a Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority pilot program for on-demand car service to and from bus stops.

As for the rest of the money? About $276 million will go toward road maintenance, $127 million for safety projects and $346 million for congestion relief, such as widening and building new roads and improving traffic flow.

For Commissioner Pat Kemp, the newest board member whose top issue during last year’s campaign was expanding transit, that’s too much for roads and not enough on other ways to move people around.

“Our Achilles’ heel is transit. It’s been transit for a long time,” said Kemp, speaking out at length from the dais for the first time. “It’s time for us to start committing our transit dollars. Just like we do for roads, put them on the same level of dignity and competition.”

Kemp noted that the county will spend $97 million during the next 10 years to widen 3.7 miles of Lithia Pinecrest Road. That’s equal to all of the budget for HART, the county’s bus operator. She proposed committing $100 million to HART over the next 10 years.

Setting aside that the Commission seems to keep coming up with more money for roads out of thin air (now up from $600 million to $817 million), what was the response from other Commissioners?

It’s “highly unlikely that’s financially feasible,” said Commissioner Ken Hagan, unless the county makes significant cuts to public safety or kills off another transportation project.

The county could pass a tax increase of some kind, Hagan noted, alluding to the half-cent sales tax surcharge commissioners rejected last year. Hagan wanted to put a sales tax hike on the ballot for voters to decide, but a majority of commissioners did not.

That’s how we got here – choices.  Why is it “irresponsible” to fund transit by $10 million/year for ten years, but money for roads, sprawl, and subsidies seemingly multiplies likes the loaves and fishes? Maybe the Commission’s project list, their planning, and their subsidizing pet project is irresponsible.

— Conclusion

The fact is that as long as we can remember transit in this area has been treated the Tea Party treats it – as an agency that exists as a last resort for people who have no other choices.  As such, it is not necessary to make it work well or fund it properly.  The riders have no choice.  And, as such, it will not attract choice riders.  That is not the fault of the HART staff.  It is the fault of the decision-makers with power over money, planning, and other decisions.  Clearly, their priorities are elsewhere.

And in the last few months we have learned that, in addition to not knowing about transit funding, local officials have not known what was in the TBX plan, where the proposed ferry would dock (or how the Port would deal with it), and we have never seen a proposed alignment (even a general alignment or favored choices) for the theoretical City starter rail line.  And this is for the supposedly critical transportation issue.

As we discussed last week regarding regional planning and transit, it is not a matter of learning to walk before we can fly.  It is a matter of this area sitting on the couch while others move forward. As noted in the first article mentioned above, so many of the usual suspects have moved forward with transit.  They have also moved forward in other areas, while we have dithered.

It all goes back to the question we keep asking: if a person can live anywhere (or almost anywhere) they want, why would they choose to live here as opposed to another area that already have so many amenities that we are still talking about?

Downtown – Jackson House Mystery

There was a very odd article in the Times regarding Jackson House in downtown.  Just to remind you about Jackson House:

The Jackson House has stood for decades as a powerful symbol for Tampa’s black community, a monument to some of the 20th century’s great black performers and a sobering reminder of the Jim Crow South.

It housed the likes of Fitzgerald, singer James Brown and even baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson, who were barred from the city’s white-only hotels when in Tampa to play and perform. Unlike nearby stores and restaurants, it survived the destruction of the Central Avenue business and nightclub district in the 1970s and was named to the National Register of Historic Places and Florida’s Black Heritage Trail.

But the house has since fallen into disrepair. It stopped taking guests in 1989 and multiple attempts to restore or develop the property have failed, in part because of its condition.

And don’t forget the City wanted it demolished before some benefactors stepped in to save it.

Anyway, the odd part this week:

Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist warned recently that local officials need to step in — and fast — to save the historic Jackson Rooming House.

* * *

Crist suggested the county should acquire the century-old Tampa landmark, which once housed black entertainers including Ray Charles and Ella Fitzgerald when they came to town, to salvage what it can of the aging building before it’s too late.

“This is a time matter,” Crist told commissioners at a meeting last week. “It’s being scheduled to be torn down rather soon.”

* * *

It was Crist’s intention to send in photographers and architects to capture the two-story building at 851 Zack St. in its current state. That way, after demolition, it could be recreated to look identical to its predecessor.

Crist hoped a new Jackson House, built with reclaimed and restored wood and fixtures from the original facility, could anchor his idea for a new venture to preserve and display Hillsborough’s black history. Crist said he’s been working with local black leaders on the idea.

We are all for photographing and memorializing the building, but moving it or building a replica somewhere else? Why change the location?  Who benefits?

Regardless, it gets stranger:

That’s news to the nonprofit that controls the Jackson House.

There are no plans to raze the building, said Carolyn Collins, the chairwoman of the Jackson House Foundation Inc. In fact, builders recently completed a stabilization project and the foundation will soon begin a fundraising campaign aimed at full restoration.

“It would’ve been nice if Victor Crist would’ve contacted us and talked to us rather than bring it up to the commission,” Collins said. “I’m curious why he would want to buy it after we stabilized it and are getting ready to go into restoration phase.”

* * *

Collins, the former president of the local chapter of the NAACP, said Crist’s vision sounds in line with her own idea to turn the Jackson House into a museum celebrating the black entertainers who once graced its halls. But the building isn’t up for sale.

“They don’t have to buy the house,” Collins said. “Why not just put up some of the money for the foundation to restore it?”

Why not? We are just going to chalk this all up to a misunderstanding, which is possible.  The County should give money help save the building:

Even now, after stabilization, its physical ailments are readily visible. The building sags in spots, the siding is falling off, window panes don’t look long for this world and sunshine pokes through holes in the roof.

The Jackson House Foundation wants to raise $1.3 million to renovate and restore the building and keep it in its location.

We are not sure that will ever happen (as the building is not in East or South County), but it should.  Then again, it gets even odder:

Crist was not sure where a rebuilt Jackson House would end up if it did move to a new spot in Hillsborough County, but he said there were other advantages to acquiring the parcel it sits on.

“That piece of real estate is contiguous with other county buildings downtown,” Crist said, referring to the nearby George E. Edgecomb Courthouse. “So it wouldn’t be far-fetched for it to be a valuable piece of turf for us to have in our inventory.”

After last week’s meeting, Commissioner Sandy Murman addressed Crist’s idea with skepticism.

“That is a city property,” Murman told him, “And they need to take care of that property.”

First, that property is both within the City and within the County. In fact, it may surprise that Commissioner mentioning the City to learn that, based on the County website, Jackson House is actually in her district.

Moreover, according to the property appraiser website, the property is owned by the Foundation. Based on a quick search of public records, the Foundation does not appear to be owned by the City of Tampa.  What’s even more interesting is that a large local parking/land banking company owns all the land around it – not the County, not the City.

Given that it is not a City property, that it is owned by the Foundation, and is plainly historic, why can’t the County do something about it? (We mean, it would probably only cost one fast food restaurant subsidization.)

Let’s just hope there is actual good will to preserve actual history while we have it rather than let it fall apart and then honor it with a plaque.  We’ve had far too much of that already.  The County should definitely help support 1) the restoration of the building and 2) the creation of a museum and/or putting it in some affiliation with the History Center.

Downtown – Application Pulled

A proposal in downtown Tampa next to the Times building had its application withdrawn.

A Dallas developer has backed away from plans to build an apartment-and-retail project on the northern fringe of downtown Tampa.

Really, it was an apartment building with one relatively small retail space, but anyway:

Mill Creek Residential Trust has withdrawn a variance request that, if approved, would have paved the way for 275 residential units with ground-level retail space on a 2.2-acre surface parking lot sandwiched between the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts and the Tampa Bay Times building at 1000 N. Ashley Drive.

Todd Bleakley, who oversees the North Florida region for Mill Creek, wouldn’t say why the request was withdrawn.

We can’t say we are overly concerned or disappointed that the proposal was withdrawn.  It was tolerable, but no more than that.  And it could have been much better.  We’ll see what happens.

Downtown – More on the BK

As we discussed last week, the City Council inexplicably (unless you have observed Tampa land use for a while) ignored their own staff and approved a stand-alone Burger King near the Encore project.  URBN Tampa Bay posted some more renderings this week:

From URBN Tampa Bay - click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay - click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

And, bizarrely, unless you note the surfeit of cars in the previous renderings, a driver’s view.  It does not get much better than that.

From URBN Tampa Bay - click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

So, thanks to the City Council, you could get the Encore to the east, the Lightning owner’s plans in the south, the Heights to the northwest, and a car choked BK seen through the driver’s view in the north.

Anyway, the folks at URBN Tampa Bay decided to file a formal objection, which can be found here.  And they are right.  It is absurd to approve this.

Strangely, one side effect if TBX get built is that this land likely will be bought by the state and this BK will not get built. If TBX is going to take the land, there is no point in granting the special use.  If it isn’t going to use the land, even with the odd shape of the lot, something better and in line with the rules for downtown can be done.

Downtown/Hyde Park – Bye Bye Tribune Building

Anyone who has been on the Riverwalk recently knew this was basically underway, but:

An excavator has begun tearing down the Tampa Tribune building, the first step in removing the riverfront property that housed the 123-year-old newspaper, which closed after it was purchased by the Tampa Bay Times in May 2016.

The waterfront property, located on the west side of the Hillsborough River just south of the University of Tampa, was sold to Miami-based Related Group in 2015. The company intends to erect an eight-story, 400-unit apartment complex in its place. A representative for the company could not be reached for comment this morning.

The demo is fine with us.  The property is far too valuable for a blank-walled newspaper building. Though the newspaper building was better than the previous power station that was there way-back when (We can’t resist these pictures):

From Tampapix - click on picture for website

From Tampapix – click on picture for website

From Tampapix - click on picture for website

From Tampapix – click on picture for website

You can see the location at the top of this picture.

The only thing we wish was that the project that is going to be built was better – not even necessarily taller, just better, especially on the street side.  First, the retail, which, according to Related’s own development manager, does not seem actually planned for success:

The property has been approved for a restaurant or sandwich shop, but Peña said it’s unlikely the property will have enough foot traffic or parking spaces to accommodate that kind of business.

“It would need to be a destination and the access might be challenging,” he said.

But even more is the garage, which is that oddness on the left side of this rendering (it’s the squat building at the bottom):

From the Times - click on picture for article

From the Times – click on picture for article

When the garage, which is poorly screened (probably like PierHouse) and just dropped in the neighborhood with no regard for street activity, is the most prominent thing in a project from most angles, the project can be done much better.

Tampa Heights – News on Food

It is well known that Armature Works, when it opens, will have a “market hall” concept and some other restaurants.  A while back we discussed how there is another project for a “restaurant collective” (looks like a fancy food court to us, but if they want the branding, that’s cool) project on Franklin street.  There was news about that this week:

Wilson, who sold off his mortgage company Leverage Financial in 2013, is seeking to recreate the kind of food hall experience that’s become ubiquitous in other cities as a place to showcase the local culinary scene. Typical construction delays have kept the Hall on Franklin a bit behind schedule — it was originally slated to open by the end of 2016 — but Wilson and his team have been working to evolve the vision for Hall on Franklin, an 8,000-square-foot space at 1701 N. Franklin St.

From the Business Journal - click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

You can read the rest of the Business Journal article for details on the offerings.  Potentially exciting times for Tampa Heights (aside from TBX taking out a bunch of it and hurting its connections to downtown).

Cuba Trade/Port – Middlemen Wanted

Last week we discussed Cuba trade and said we could not understand why it was ok to have flights and cruises to Cuba but bad to have actual cargo come and go through our ports.  This week, the Times told us this:

Major cruise lines will start sailing from Port Tampa Bay to Havana in the coming months, with possibly more than 40,000 passengers spread out over 22 voyages who could add more than $5 million to the Cuban economy this year and next.

These statistics are from a new report by the New York-based U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, which crunches numbers on business between the two nations.

* * *

When the more than 30 cruise ships to Cuba out of Miami for 2017-2018 are added to those sailing from Tampa, more than 110,000 such passengers and an $11 million economic impact could be brought to the island, according to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.

We get the argument that the cruise lines are private companies doing their own business.  On the other hand, they use public facilities, and the cruises (directly or indirectly) give money to the Cuban government as well as benefitting public entities in Florida.

In any event, if having the private middle man is the requirement, then the Port should just have agreements with companies to transport cargo to and from Cuba to use their facilities without signing any agreement with the Cuban officials. (See here) Problem solved.

Rays/Tourism – Almost

There was an interesting article in the Times regarding the tourism in Hillsborough County.

Despite a sixth straight record-breaking year for Florida tourism, Hillsborough County has reason for a bittersweet celebration. The county has missed its bid to snag an extra $6 million in estimated tourism taxes this year, money that could have been used to lure the Tampa Bay Rays away from St. Petersburg.

* * *

Florida drew nearly 113 million visitors in 2016, up from about 107 million in 2015.

* * *

Hillsborough collected $29.9 million in tourism bed taxes during the 2016 calendar year, falling just shy of the $30 million threshold needed in order to be considered a “high tourism impact” county. That designation would have given county commissioners the option of raising the bed tax from 5 percent to 6 percent, resulting in additional tax revenue which county commissioners said was a key component in their attempt to bring the Rays across the bay.

First, that is very good for tourism. Second, unless trends are way off, this year the threshold will be crossed.  And you have to add this money to the pot, though there may be corresponding decreases elsewhere.

In December, the Hillsborough County Tax Collector’s office reached an agreement with Airbnb to collect bed taxes and sales taxies on rooms booked through the website. That deal went into effect on Feb. 1 and is projected to generate about $250,000 in tax revenues this year.

Pinellas, with the beaches, is already there:

Pinellas County collected $52 million worth of bed taxes in 2016. It qualified as a “high tourism impact” county in 2013, but county commissioners did not vote to raise the tax to 6 percent until 2015.

They raised their tax in 2017.

As we said, unless something major happens, we expect Hillsborough will cross the threshold this year.  It should not really have an effect on the Rays issue.

The Other, Other Ferry

The ferry saga in the immediate Bay area is complicated with the MacDill proposal taking years (see last week) and the Cross Bay Ferry test having a high price and limited hours, so much so that an article in the Times detailing some trips on the ferry two out of three trips end in using Uber to get back.  Nonetheless, there are other ferry proposals nearby – arguably in the Tampa Bay area:

The Sarasota City Commission voted 5-0 on Tuesday to conditionally approve a permit for a water taxi and ferry service between Sarasota and Bradenton Beach.

Sherman Baldwin, general manager of Paradise Boat Tours, presented the water taxi and ferry plan and applied for a permit under Paradise’s parent company, TevaTan LLC, in early January. On Tuesday, the commission voted to approve the permit application with the following stipulations:

▪ The water ferry’s Sarasota embarkation points will be determined within a period of six months from Tuesday; and

▪ Baldwin will meet with Sarasota Bayfront 20:20, a long-term planning organization, to assure the Sarasota embarkation points have enough associated parking nearby.

* * *

The ferry will run from the Bridge Street Pier to one of three embarkation points in Sarasota. Baldwin provided three suggested points to the Sarasota City Commission, which has the ultimate say in which of the three will be chosen. The possible destinations include the T-dock at O’Leary’s Tiki Bar & Grill, the Marina Jack boat basin, or the Centennial Park boat basin. He favors the Centennial Park option, but for it to work, a sublease must be negotiated under the current lease between the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 84 and the city of Sarasota.

The water taxi service will operate daily at a round-trip ticket cost of $12.50 with passes available for locals who frequently travel between Sarasota and Bradenton Beach. The boat will have air conditioning and heating systems, two restrooms and a small coffee cafe. The seating will be covered, but Baldwin said there will be an outside area for passengers who want to enjoy the sea breeze. 

A few things of note:  First, it is not finalized, but there is a deadline to finalize it.  Second is the prices are more reasonable than the Cross Bay Ferry.  Third, if you go the article here, you can see the proposed schedule, which is quite extensive.

We don’t know what will come of this, but at least it looks like it should not drag on interminably.

List of the Week

One of the main factors in attracting business and talent is the quality of local schools. And from a recent report on AP tests, at the top, Florida seems to be doing well. Yet, as described by the Times, Hillsborough County Schools have some financial issues that were apparently ignored under the previous school administration.

In light of that, it is interesting that the Business Journal had a list of the best 25 elementary schools in the area by Niche.   As to the methodology:

In addition to the usual metrics based on test scores, the ranking takes into account student and parent assessments, student life data, teacher ratings and various ratings of a school’s culture and diversity.  

We are not going to list them all.  You can see the list here.  But there are a few interesting things to note.  First, the top 16 schools are all in Sarasota County.  The highest ranked school in Hillsborough is 17th, and Hillsborough only has four on the list.  Pinellas’s highest is 20th and it has four schools on the list as well. No other counties are on the list.

And, as for High Schools, Sarasota County has the number one school on these (see here and here) two rankings.

Maybe someone needs to take a field trip to Sarasota County to see what is going on.

Roundup 2-17-2017

February 17, 2017


Transportation – Alphabet Soup

— Re-Enter The Party of No

— What Would It Look Like

— The Other Elephant in the Room

— Conclusion

Transportation – The Other Ferry

Transportation – A Little Too Much Autonomy

Port/Cuba – A Cruise

Downtown/Hyde Park – Lafayette Place

Downtown – Chillin’ at the BK Lounge

Bayshore – Virage

Transportation – About Routes

Transportation – More Tales of Biking

Rowdies – Moving Forward

Landmarks – UFO Sightings

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida


Transportation – Alphabet Soup

As we have been discussing recently, there is a move to have a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between HART and PSTA to work together.  That comes as the Tampa Bay Partnership is pushing for some sort of unified MPO and transit agency.  As with most transportation issues, that has caused a lot of activity which Stpetersblog has been covering nicely.

— Re-Enter The Party of No

Let’s start with the MOU between PSTA and HART.

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority board approved a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to cooperate and collobarate with the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA), but only after adding additional language clarifying that it is not a move towards a potential merger or a regional sales tax increase.

That language was needed ostensibly to assuage the MOU’s critics, including HART board member Karen Jaroch. 

Setting aside that the language is not needed at all, what is her complaint?

Of underlying concern to Jaroch and some others is Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long’s aspirations for the two Bay area transit agencies to form a regional council of governments. Such a group, Long told HART members last fall, could provide “better, more nimble” solutions to problems that they currently face. Long’s idea would fold PSTA, HART, and other transportation providers such as the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority, ferryboat operations and others under the regional council of government. Certain functions, or entire organizations, could be consolidated within the council of governments concept.

But critics fear that it’s an underhanded move to get another transit tax proposal to go before the voters, which they vehemently oppose.

“They intend to use this MOU to go to Tallahassee to request funding for how to pay for Long’s proposal, and how to get the regional sales tax funded,” said Tea Party activist Sharon Calvert during the public comment portion of the meeting. Calvert and Jaroch have frequently cited a comment by PSTA head Brad Miller last month that he would be going to Tallahassee on Tuesday, February 7, to talk to lawmakers, a day after HART was poised to approve the MOU.

It is the same complaint as always.  And, we ask again, if there is a referendum and it passes, what is the problem? In our system, the people are free to tax themselves if they see fit.  A referendum for a tax is the essence of taxation with representation. You can’t get more back to the Founding Fathers than that. And if you want to vote against it, that is your right.

In any event, HART, as usual, is going along:

But HART board members Sandy Murman and Mike Suarez said they knew nothing about any trip to Tallahassee, saying that was perhaps being discussed across the bay, but not in Hillsborough County.

“This is an MOU. It is not a merger,” said Murman. “It is a very specific document. It is not broad. It is not general. It is very, very specific. I think to not do this today makes us more or less a ‘do-nothing’ board.”

Given past history, we don’t doubt that it is not being discussed in Hillsborough County. More to the point:

Suarez said that until the Legislature approves funding for a regional authority, nobody should worry that the agencies were about to merge.

After their last subcommittee meeting, HART attorney David Smith changed language in the MOU so that it now states that it must be approved annually by the HART board. The board went ahead on Monday and put in additional specific language spelling out that it has nothing to do with a potential merger and tax increase, though Shananan expressed frustration for the need to do so. “This is a redundancy over a redundancy.”

Having to approve it annually is silly.  Either they agree to work together or they don’t.  Having it renewed annually just leaves it open to be undermined in perpetuity.  (With all this HART silliness one wonders whether the vote had to be unanimous.  Why bend over so much to appease one member?)

But, most likely that is the point.  It has been clear for some time that the Tea Party does not want a merger, not because it is inefficient but because it may be more efficient. As we have laid out before, from their statements and actions, they don’t want good transit.  They do not provide transportation alternatives. (One possible reason can be found here.) They don’t actually want it to be efficient and provide appealing service to choice riders.  And HART, by going along with them, supports their position.

We are all for talking to everyone and everyone having their say.  But if they do not provide any useful ideas, following their recommendations will not be productive.

— What Would It Look Like

Setting all that aside for now, let’s just assume that a move for a regional approach moves forward, what are the options?

Long said her goal is in sync with the official line emanating from the Tampa Bay Partnership, who are calling for regional transportation governance in the Tampa Bay region. With more than two dozen agencies in the greater Tampa Bay area working on transportation solutions, the concerns being expressed is that there is no “synergy” that ties them together.

Some say the obvious model should be TBARTA, the eight-county transportation agency created by the Legislature a decade ago. But a lack of funding from the onset has hampered any serious attempt for TBARTA to fill that role. Long is outspoken in calling the agency a paper tiger.

“I don’t know if you’ve been to a TBARTA board meeting, but I thought I was going to eat my brains out!” Long says. “It is four hours of — excuse my expression — bullsh*t. All you do is listen to one study after another study after another presentation, and on and on. They don’t do anything!”

And how did that come about?

The Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority was created by the Florida Legislature a decade ago to develop and implement a regional transportation master plan of the seven-county West Central Florida region. Yet as Manatee County GOP Senator Bill Galvano recounted on Wednesday, it was created without a funding mechanism, after then Governor Charlie Crist vetoed the $8 million in appropriations that were created with it.

Galvano said, “That was  a shock to all of us,” adding that, “I don’t think he (Crist) realized the connection and it felt through the cracks.”

TBARTA is a paper tiger now, but that is by choice.  How much have local officials pushed to get real funding?  Not enough to become really newsworthy.  It could change if there is will to change it. Meanwhile, back in Hillsborough,

Hillsborough County Metropolitan Transportation Organization director Beth Alden says she’s all for regionalization in local transportation but says that the urgency right before the legislative session is a bit concerning.

Actually, lack of urgency would be more concerning, but anyway, what is her concern?

While Long believes that a new transportation authority featuring Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties is what’s needed now, Alden says that’s “short-sighted,” saying that the region is much larger than that. She contends that if the Tampa Bay region wants to compete with other metropolitan regions around the country, it needs to include the entire areas that are in TBARTA, which include Sarasota, Hernando, Polk, Manatee and Citrus counties.

Yes and no.  In any event, there is a counter argument:

Long doesn’t support that theory, criticizing Alden’s attitude as coming from a planner’s point of view, not “the common sense, day to day commuter of people going back and forth to work.”

“When you look at the density data, it becomes clear that the basis for this new model has got to be Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough,” Long says, adding that the other Tampa Bay area counties should be given goals and objectives to meet, and when they do, “they can be part of the authority.”

That Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Pasco are the core of the region’s population and transit need is clear.  On the other hand, we really don’t see the two ideas things as mutually exclusive.  Why can’t you have an agency covering a large area that provides useful transit in the core of the region?  Why can’t you have a core agency that has agreements with smaller agencies (like the HART/PSTA MOU)?  Once again, it is a matter of will.  Logically, the core will have more transit and facilities that the periphery.  Other regions seem capable of doing that.  What makes us the exception?

Which brings us back to the head of the Hillsborough MPO:

The Hillsborough County MPO already has formal planning agreements with Pinellas, Hernando, Pasco, Polk, Sarasota and Manatees counties, all working within the MPO TBARTA coordinating committee.

Which is not particularly effective as it now exists, otherwise we would not be talking about this topic.  Once again, to a large degree that is by choice.  But, setting that aside, the Hillsborough MPO head continues:

In December, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Federal Transit Administration (FTA) jointly finalized a new rule calling for MPO’s in urbanized areas to merge. It was first promulgated last summer, and Alden says her organization has spent the past six months studying four different cases on how MPO’s organize planning processes in other parts of the country.

“We think we have crafted a thoughtful approach that includes public discussion of the issue, and independent nationwide research into effective strategies to address the issue of regionalization,” she says. “We can do this well, but we need to do our homework.”

Alden was inspired to post a lengthy comment on the MPO’s Facebook page last week following a Tampa Bay Times editorial lauding the Enos Center report, writing: “I’m not at all saying we should do nothing for regional transit. I’m saying we have to walk before we can fly.”

The Facebook post (here) is a relatively long discussion of how our needs are underfunded, so we will try to pull out the core of the argument:

Common sense would tell you, and polling confirms, that our citizens want their roads repaved regularly; they want #smart #traffic signals, #safe #walk-&-bikeways, #roads that are lit at night and don’t turn into ponds when it rains; they want #buses that show up more often than once an hour, and that access the #jobs, #schools and #healthcare close by, not on the other side of a long bay #bridge.

These are transportation basics, and this is where most of our local tax dollars go. And the dollars fall short! We’re funding these basics at about half the level most people expect. (See the…/ for details.) #Florida is a low-tax state, and we get what we pay for. Unfortunately this doesn’t leave a lot of room in the budget for big-ticket rapid transit systems that span county lines. Which of these basics would you like to fund less?

I’m not at all saying we should do nothing for regional transit. I’m saying we have to walk before we can fly—figuratively and also literally. Tampa Bay was listed in the Top 10 most dangerous places in the U.S. to walk, once again, just last month. If you’re taking your life in your hands every time you try to cross a city street, you won’t be able to get to a rapid bus or rail station– even if money dropped out of the sky for us to build one. 

Setting aside that having an MPO for Pinellas, Pasco & Hillsborough and then expanding it could be seen as walking before flying, that is true, to a degree.  However, repaving should be part of usual expenditures. And the County found $600 million to do it.  Sidewalks are not built properly by choice – just part of the bad planning and prioritization of sprawl.  And there are other low tax states that have no problem with transit (not to mention other parts of Florida).  And transit, both very local and cross-bay, is woefully underfunded by choice (and not just with the Tea Party, but they don’t help).

The fact is that many other areas have worked regionally, planned regionally, and built transit. It is not so much learning to walk before we fly.  It is a matter of someone sitting on the couch knowing how to walk and knowing how to fly but choosing to still sit on the couch (while, it must be said, other areas are already running and flying) Until that choice changes, nothing will change.

— The Other Elephant in the Room

Given all that, a (if not the) major issue is how whatever regional entity is being discussed will be constituted – mainly the representation.  We think representation should be based on population.  Of course, that means that Hillsborough will have more representation than Pinellas, which never goes down well.  On the other hand, Hillsborough has to recognize that it can’t run everything and prioritize itself over everyone else, which also does not go down well.  Basically, that means that everyone has to act in good faith – in the make-up and functioning of whatever entity is being discussed.  (Frankly, if there really was the political will to act regionally, it could happen with our present structures.)  The reality is that without good faith, regardless of structures, we will be stuck on the couch anyway.

— Conclusion

Our problem is not lack of knowledge, it is lack of will.  It is a lack of will to plan well, and it is lack of will to push for what is really needed (just like it was a lack of will to speak truth to FDOT that led to the mess with the Howard Frankland Bridge.  Once there was real will, there were changes).  Just listening to the party of no will not solve anything.  And simply rearranging the chairs may help, but it will not fix what really ails us.

As we have said before, we think the consolidation of transit agencies is more important than consolidation of MPO’s, though we do not oppose the latter (through TBARTA or a smaller group) provided there are protections for neighborhoods to not get run over in the process (though they get run over in the process we have anyway).  In both cases, though, the real question is whether local officials are really more committed to moving forward locally and regionally than they are to narrow political interests.  County by county or regionwide, nothing will happen until this area gets off the couch.  Whether it finally will remains to be seen.

Transportation – The Other Ferry

Speaking of political will, there was news about the South County-MacDill ferry this week.

There would be no hard feelings if Hillsborough County decided to turn down federal money for a ferry connecting MacDill Air Force Base to south county and go it alone, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor said.

Still, Castor told the Tampa Bay Times she is “very frustrated” that county leaders are only now debating the best path forward to make the ferry a reality. Castor announced the $4.8 million Federal Transit Administration grant in 2014 and the project remains in limbo three years later.

“It is frustrating to win a large federal grant and not be gung-ho at home about getting this done,” Castor, D-Tampa, said.

The proposed ferry would service south and east Hillsborough residents commuting to and from MacDill Air Force Base in South Tampa. The Department of Defense is very supportive of the project, Castor said, because it will help ease travel times for base personnel.

Yes, it is frustrating.

County Administrator Mike Merrill said the county is “diligently working” on it but it’s a complicated project between the environmental concerns, including disrupting manatees, and the security questions of launching a boat to a military base.

“There are so many moving pieces to this thing,” Merrill said. “I know that people are frustrated because they look at it from the outside and wonder why is it taking so long. I would probably feel the same.”

Even basics about the ferry line remain up in the air. For example, officials haven’t decided where boats will launch on the east side of Hillsborough Bay.

Castor said that’s unacceptable on the county’s part. Merrill said it’s one of many delays caused by the mandatory federal study. 

Is it?  Remember this:

The port chairman said the ferry service could interfere with maritime traffic in Old Tampa Bay. Last August, Audubon of Florida opposed putting the terminal and 1,500 parking spaces on the Schultz preserve, where the state has spent $2.7 million restoring native habitat.

That was early 2015. There has never been a good explanation about how other cities deal with the interaction of their ferries and their ports and why we couldn’t do it.  Nor have there been clear alternatives to for the terminal.  It is easy to blame it all on federal requirements, but even if the County drops the federal money, they still need to know where the terminal is going to go?  And it will always cut across the channel in the Bay so how is that going to work?

And then there is this:

Like all of Hillsborough’s transportation needs, the ferry was also held up by a basic question: How will the county pay for this?

First, the County Commission assumed it would be covered by Go Hillsborough (a poor assumption).  Apparently there was no plan B until last week.

Commissioners decided last week, though, to make it a priority. They could also dip into the $21 million won in the BP oil spill settlement to help pay for it.

“While it may have merit, we have limited resources and we treat it like any other project,” Merrill said. “Grant or no grant, there’s a local match and its competing with other projects.”

That’s fine.  But aside from playing fields and subsidizing retail and sprawl, what are they prioritizing?  And then there was this:

If bureaucratic red tape in Washington was a problem, Castor could have helped, she said.

“What I heard from the county in 2015 from the county administrator was they didn’t intend to move forward unless the transportation referendum passed,” Castor said. “I did not receive any request for, ‘Congresswoman, will you help us speed up action at federal agencies.’ ”

Not surprising in any way.  Apparently the Commission couches are very comfortable. (At least they found $600 million in spare change while sitting on them.)

Transportation – A Little Too Much Autonomy

The Business Journal had a report about a proposed bill regarding autonomous vehicles.

A House bill filed Thursday to streamline Florida’s autonomous vehicle regulations will have a Senate companion.

The bill, filed by Rep. Jason Brodeur (R-Sanford), removes a requirement that the person operating a vehicle in autonomous mode possess a valid driver’s license. Instead, the autonomous technology would be deemed the licensed entity.

Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) is working on a companion bill that updates language to reflect industry feedback.

As we have said before, we are not opposed to testing autonomous vehicles in Florida.  We are actually in favor of it.  But there need to be some rules.  Quickly reading the bill, we just have a few questions.  How old must a person be to operate an autonomous vehicle?  What skills and knowledge must they have? Can a kid send an autonomous truck on a trip?  And there are many others.

Once again, we are not opposed to having autonomous vehicle in Florida, but this is not a proven technology.  There needs to be some control (not less control) until it is all worked out and proven.

Port/Cuba – A Cruise

There was news about a cruise to Cuba.

The Carnival Paradise ship will begin offering voyages from Tampa to Cuba beginning June 29, the cruise line announced Tuesday.

The overnight visits to Havana will be featured on 12 different four- and five-day cruises from Tampa.

Four-day cruises will depart June 29, July 13, Aug. 24, Sept. 7 and 21, and Oct.5 and 19, as well as May 3, 2018, and include a daytime and overnight visit to Havana. Five-day voyages will depart Aug. 14 and 28, Sept. 25 and Oct. 9, and include a daytime and overnight visit to Havana as well as a stop in either Cozumel or Key West.

Assuming there are not new regulations on Cuba travel, good deal. But it also touches on another issue from a few weeks ago.

Gov. Rick Scott warned Florida’s ports via Twitter on Wednesday not to do business with Cuba, a day before a delegation of Cuban maritime leaders arrive in the state hoping to strengthen business ties here.

“Disappointed some FL ports would enter into any agreement with Cuban dictatorship,” Scott wrote. “I will recommend restricting state funds for ports that work with Cuba in my budget.”

* * *

Shortly after issuing the warning, Gov. Scott doubled down during a Wednesday news conference in Tampa where he announced proposed tax cuts for the new state budget.

“I don’t believe any port in our state, none of them, should be doing business with a brutal dictator,” Scott told reporters.

He clarified that his warning was aimed at seaports only, not airports. Commercial flights serving Havana recently resumed from Tampa and other U.S. cities after more than five decades.

Scott’s office later told the Tampa Bay Times that the tweets were sent following the news that Port of Palm Beach and Port Everglades would be signing memoranda of understanding this week. Port Tampa Bay was not mentioned by the governor’s office.

Given that the Port relies on state money for many of its projects, the warning is quite relevant, though a bit odd.  First, as noted, there are cruises and flights to Cuba.  It does not seem to make much sense to take the tourism business but give up cargo business that, if the Federal government allows it, will now flow to other states.

Even more interesting, the coverage brought up something else:

Whether Port Tampa Bay was planning on entering into an agreement with Cuba remained unclear.

The Cuban delegation visits Tampa on Feb. 1 and 2 and the Tampa port had planned to sign a memorandum of understanding, proposing they start discussing business opportunities allowed under U.S. law, said Patrick Allman, a member of the Tampa port’s governing board.

What’s more, Allman said, the memorandum had been approved by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, the U.S. Treasury Department agency that administers and enforces trade sanctions against Cuba.

“I was under the understanding that we were doing this,” Allman said. “With what the governor said, I’m not sure now.”

But another port official, communications vice president Edward Miyagishima, said there were no plans in Tampa to sign a memorandum of understanding, either before or after the governor posted his tweets.

“Not to my knowledge,” Miyagishima said. “We are not going to look at an MOU until we get an okay from OFAC. We are taking a very conservative approach.”

And, from the Business Journal:

After a series of tweets on Wednesday by Florida Gov. Rick Scott saying he would recommend restricting state funds for ports that work with Cuba, Port Tampa Bay officials said the port didn’t have any plans to enter into any agreements with the current Cuban government.

“We’re not signing any memorandums of agreement,” said Ed Miyagishima, Port Tampa Bay’s vice president of communications. “We did our due diligence and we are taking a conservative approach. I have always said we are Cuba-ready. We will be happy to work with the Cuban government once it becomes legal to do so.”

Which is interesting because the Feb 3, 2017, edition of La Gaceta (pg 12) has excerpts from the draft MOU.

The thing is that we support the Port pursuing an MOU – not because we like the Cuban government (we don’t) but because, if US-Cuba trade is going to happen, we may as well get a cut (and if it doesn’t the MOU won’t do anything anyway). And there is no reason, if there is Florida trade, Port Everglades and Palm Beach should get business instead of us. The Port should be negotiating and seeking OFAC approval.  We are not sure why the Port would say they were not negotiating if they were.


“The governor controls the purse strings for a lot of the investment in our port,” Buckhorn said. “The state has contributed tens of millions of dollars to port-related infrastructure. We’re counting on that money moving forward.”

While we disagree with the Mayor on the Cuba trade issue, the point he makes regarding the money is valid.  But those things also can change.

Downtown/Hyde Park – Lafayette Place

Lafayette Place had its first hearing before the City Council last week. From URBN Tampa Bay:

BREAKING: The mixed-use project Lafayette Place received preliminary approval from the Tampa City Council tonight by a vote of 7-0.

The project will have its 2nd and final hearing on March 2nd.

Some added features of the project include a helipad on top of the main tower, a sky bridge connecting the main tower and the neighboring residential tower, and a large LED art light project on Lafayette Central’s garage that at night will look like a waterfall. 

We are not sure what the LED art lights will look like, but at least the developer now recognizes that the parking garages are huge and need some attention.  We wish it was more, but at least it is something.

Downtown – Chillin’ at the BK Lounge

This week, the City Council seems to have outdone itself.  In question was a proposed walled, free-standing Burger King with a drive thru right across the street from Perry Harvey Park at Scott and Jefferson.  As described by URBN Tampa Bay:

This Thursday a proposal for a freestanding Burger King at 801 Scott Street in Downtown Tampa goes before the Tampa City Council. The project needs a Special Use 2 permit. In it’s final staff report, the city’s Development Review & Compliance Staff recommended denial of the project. We also recommend denial.

The site plan is attached. As you can see the main feature of the site plan is a drive thru. The building is brought up to the street on zero sides of the lot. Maybe worst of all, this is right across the street from Perry Harvey Sr. Park, the largest urban park in Tampa. Also, notice the wall that will be built around the whole lot.

Here is a rendering of the varying height wall that surrounds the place:

From URBN Tampa Bay - click on the picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on the picture for Facebook page

And here is a site plan:

From URBN Tampa Bay - click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

Note how small the actual building is.

We did not see the hearing, but the City website indicates it was adopted on second reading, the City Council ignored their own staff’s recommendation to reject the and approved the permit.  The mere possibility that they might do so is absurd.  Not only is it not urban, it has a drive thru and is walled. Could something downtown be less inviting?

What’s even more interesting is reading the staff report and finding that drive-thru windows, with certain restrictions, are part of the code for the central business district near the interstate and actually promotes building walls. What, is it 1970?

Change the code and stop settling.

Bayshore – Virage

The project on the old Colonnade land released a new rendering and a new name:

The condominium tower under construction at the former site of the Colonnade restaurant on Bayshore Boulevard has a name: Virage Bayshore.

We’re not sure about it being under construction, but, regardless, here are the details:

The 24-story tower will include 71 units, most of which start at $1 million and range from 2,400 to 3,300 square feet. The top two floors will contain a single unit each, at 6,900 square feet, and be priced at just under $5 million. Below the two penthouses are four floors that will contain two 4,500-square-foot residences each.

From the Business Journal - click on picture for website

From the Business Journal – click on picture for website

We are sure the units will be very nice, but looking from the outside it is pretty much a standard looking condo.  We still wish it had a real connection to Bayshore, but it is what it is.

Transportation – About Routes

This week the nonstop Tampa-San Francisco flights began. And because we love their graphics:

From Tampa International - click on picture for Facebook page

From Tampa International – click on picture for Facebook page

It is a welcome addition.  Which leads to the question of what’s next. While it is not breaking news, there was an article about airports in Florida that include some comments about route development priorities in Tampa:

What are your key opportunities for route development?

Tampa International Airport has had tremendous success over the previous six years in recruiting international air services, more than doubling the number of international enplaned passengers.

However, Tampa Bay still maintains a comparative capacity to population deficit for international seats relative to other Florida markets. Scheduled service to Havana, which began in December, as well as Icelandair’s new service beginning in September 2017, will work to close that gap.

Additional opportunities for us include Mexico City and its beyond markets, where Tampa Bay maintains strong business ties, as well as additional European services, including to Manchester and Amsterdam.

On the domestic front we’re working to supplement United’s San Francisco service beginning in February with additional western capacity, including connectivity to San Diego, Portland and Salt Lake City and increased capacity into the Los Angeles market.

We have heard all that before, but the list is narrowed.  All those targets are solid. We shall see.

Transportation – More Tales of Biking

For the last few weeks, we have been discussing the effort by planners in Hillsborough to learn about flaws in the infrastructure.  This week the Times had an interesting article about Pinellas.

Time slowed down as Whit Blanton was launched over the handlebars of his bike, flew over the hood of a Honda Fit and crashed onto the surface of the Duke Energy Trail.

* * *

Moments before, Blanton was on his way to work as the executive director of Forward Pinellas, the county’s agency for coordinating transportation and land use plans.

Then he suddenly found himself lying on the ground near Old Coachman Road in front of Spectrum Field, waiting for paramedics to arrive.

The driver, a Philadelphia Phillies intern starting his first day of work, was pulling out of the spring training complex’s parking lot. He was trying to see whether Old Coachman Road was clear of traffic.

From the trail, biking along at 10 mph, Blanton said the car was invisible to him, blocked by hedges and a fence. Blanton later learned he wasn’t visible to the driver, either, as the Honda pulled forward onto the trail and into the bicycle’s path.

Blanton said Clearwater police gave the driver a ticket for failing to yield the right-of-way in that collision on Monday. But the 52-year-old transportation planner later wrote on his blog that “we all recognized that design problems contributed to this crash.”

Which is an unfortuante story (though we are told he was mostly ok), and it never should have happened.

Pinellas’ bike and pedestrian trails are a crowning achievement for the county, but Blanton said there’s still work to be done to make them safer. The trails were shoehorned into a sprawling, built-out county, and some segments have not been designed to mesh well with Pinellas’ busy roads.

“We spend a lot of energy on our trails under the guise that they’re the safe place to ride,” Blanton said, “but this is kind of an object lesson that the trail isn’t always the safe place.”

He said the safest place for a bicyclist may not always be on the trail. The road can be safer, he said, where the cyclist rides with the flow of traffic, is visible to drivers and controls the lane right down the middle.

Actually, protected bike lanes and trails which connect properly with roads are still the safest place.  If the intersection had not been obstructed, the accident could have been avoided – just cut the foliage and don’t put a fence in the way.  To do that requires people to actually look and care.

Rather than a lesson that riding in the road is best, this is a lesson that infrastructure needs to be properly planned and maintained. It is not enough to just build something to appear to be building something.  It needs to be done right.

Rowdies – Moving Forward

The St Pete City Council approved the first reading of moving forward with the Al Lang referendum. As tweeted by a Times :

Unanimous vote in favor of advancing @TampaBayRowdies May 2 referendum on Al Lang expansion. Final vote on March 2. #MLS2StPete

If (when) it gets past second reading, it will be interesting to see how it goes.

Landmarks – UFO Sightings

As most readers know, there is a landmark spaceship on Dale Mabry.  And there is a good chance you thought it was quite unique.  Well, if you did, last week disabused you of that notion. Here’s one in Austin:

From - click on picture for website

From – click on picture for website

And, not only that, but:

There are UFO sightings everyday, but they aren’t the kind you imagine.

Instead of alien spaceships flying high in the sky, we’re talking about Futuro Houses: UFO-shaped prefab homes originally built in the late 1960s. These rare homes are located all around the world, from Los Angeles to Antarctica and from New Jersey to Estonia.

According to—an extensive website dedicated to documenting the unique structures—at least 80 to 100 Futuros were manufactured, some were destroyed, and a handful are still waiting to be discovered.

But around 64 of the UFO houses are scattered in different countries, still standing and causing locals and visitors alike to do a double take. After all, it’s not often that you see a real-life UFO. 

Never fear, as far as we can tell, ours is the only one that is a strip club (this is Tampa, after all).

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

While we are discussing $6 billion for express lanes and some interchange improvements (the latter having been needed for decades), in Miami they are discussing other things:

Miami-Dade officials have just mapped out their overarching Strategic Miami Area Rapid Transit (SMART) plan, eliminating some key unknowns, but are still analyzing where to find money to fund its six corridors. For the first time, now plans include price tags, up to $3.6 billion.
Commission Chair Esteban Bovo Jr.’s Policy Council Committee, which he said was set up to discuss such pressing priorities, including transportation, met for the first time last week. For transportation, it’s important to speak about funding, Mr. Bovo said. “We already have a plan but need to know how to pay for it.”
Transportation chief Alice Bravo provided an overview of corridors and estimated cost, for the first time filling in major blanks of the SMART Plan. A key decision appears to be the mode of transit along each corridor.
As spelled out, corridors and their modes are:
■Miami Beach, a 3.3-mile elevated Metromover from Miami’s Museum Park Station to Fifth Street and Alton Road in Miami Beach.
■East-West, a 10-mile at-grade, partially elevated Metrorail extension mainly along State Road 836 from the Miami Intermodal Center to Florida International University.
■Kendall, a 10-mile, at-grade Metrorail along the Kendall Drive median from the Turnpike to the Dadeland North Metrorail Station.
■North, a 9.5-mile, at-grade Metrorail extension along the Northwest 27th Avenue median from 215th Street to the Martin Luther King Jr. Metrorail Station.
■Northeast, a 14-mile, at-grade commuter rail in the Florida East Coast Railway corridor from downtown Miami to Aventura using existing tracks.
■South, a 20-mile, at-grade Metrorail extension along the existing transitway.

You can look at the article for the details and how they think they might be able to pay for it.  We do not know if this will go anywhere, but it is interesting to compare approaches.

Roundup 2-10-2017

February 10, 2017


Transportation – The Partnership Lobbies

— Pasco

— Conclusion

Downtown/Channel District – An Actual Structure

Downtown/Transportation – Jackson Bike Thingy

Transportation/Planning – Clarity for Vision Zero

Rays – Location . . .

— Speaking of Location

Transportation – Airport News

— Here Come the Cabs

— Bahamasair

Economy – Florida Growth

Tourism – Back to Hillsborough Exceptionalism, And Then

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

List of the Week I

List of the Week II


Transportation – The Partnership Lobbies

After last week’s Roundup, it should come as no surprise to anyone that the Tampa Bay Partnership is now pushing two legislative goals:

The Tampa Bay Partnership is making transportation its top priority this year as lawmakers prepare to head into legislative session next month. The group’s 2017 policy agenda emphasizes regionalism as a key to connecting citizens and reducing traffic congestion.

* * *

The Partnership is putting it corporate might behind creating a multi-county Metropolitan Planning Organization rather than the existing patchwork of individual county-based MPOs.

“A regional MPO would make Tampa Bay more competitive in pursuing state and federal transportation funding, and facilitate in the process of making regional decisions about long-range transportation plans,” the group’s agenda explains in a recent white paper commissioned by the Tampa Bay Partnership.

The group also supports creating a regional structure for transit operations. Each county currently has its own public transportation organization. The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority and Hillsborough Area Rapid Transit are the two largest in the region, but function within the confines of geographic boundaries.

Right now tens of thousands of people commute between counties throughout the region with little access to public transportation options. PSTA and HART offer service across the Howard Frankland Bridge, but those routes are limited to peak travel times on weekdays.

As we noted last week, we think the merger of the transit agencies is more important than the merger of the MPO’s, which needs to be carefully done so as to still allow protection of neighborhoods that will be greatly damaged by things like TBX.  If it is done carefully, we are ok with merging MPO’s.

Speaking of TBX, it was also confirmed that the Partnership is all in:

The Partnership continues to support one of its top priorities from 2016 — a $6 billion transportation improvement plan. Tampa Bay Express, or TBX, is a comprehensive series of road and highway improvements throughout the region aimed at reducing traffic congestion.

Setting aside that some of TBX has useful improvements and the rest has more harm than good, we are not surprised by this because, as we noted previously, the CEO of the Partnership supported the removal of a free lane on the Howard Frankland.  Yet, with TBX somewhat in flux, now is the time to get a better plan that actually fixes the interstate without cutting a bigger gash through the urban neighborhoods and that actually serves the whole area, not just some who can afford very high tolls.  Like the Lightning owner said last week – how about HOV or HOT lanes done rationally and fixing the SR60/275 interchange and really fixing the bottleneck at the end of the Howard Frankland – not 3 lanes, 4 – first?  It is also time to figure out transit and coordinate it with roads.

There is an opportunity to be really constructive, if, unlike the County Commission, it is taken.

— Pasco

One area a unified MPO might prove useful, though contentious, is actually having a highway plan that makes sense.  We got another lesson in how ours does not this week.

State and Pasco County transportation planners are working on an interim fix for traffic congestion at the State Road 54/U.S. 41 intersection that is simpler and much less costly than a proposed $180 million elevated highway.

The flyover plan remains on hold amid community criticism and a county task force studying traffic improvements for the entire State Road 54 corridor. In the meantime, the state Department of Transportation has suggested that extended turn lanes could ease traffic flow at the intersection, which nearly 100,000 vehicles pass through daily. The improvements, if all are completed, carry a rough cost estimate of less than $1.4 million because no right of way is needed for the construction.

That really won’t do much, but it fits with Pasco, which loves its left turn lanes. You can read about the proposed 1000 ft turn lanes in the article (here).  More to the point, the interim solution because there is no real solution  because Pasco killed an east-west highway that would take cars out of Tampa (there’s an idea).

The DOT announced a year ago that it was hitting the brakes on the U.S. 41/SR 54 flyover plan until the county task force completed its work. At the time, the state had unveiled two proposals to carry SR 54 traffic on elevated lanes above the intersection. Cost estimates ranged up to $180 million and, under one scenario, 23 businesses, two homes and a Pasco County fire station near the intersection would be affected.

And that idea came up because the previously planned Pasco east-west road never happened.  And that was needed because:

A flyover at the intersection has been discussed for more than two decades, starting when the state pulled the plug on a planned east-west highway through Lutz to connect the Veterans Expressway and Interstate 75. Later, a new interchange at I-75 and SR 56 and the widening of both SR 54 and 56 to six lanes turned that stretch of highway into the de facto east-west route. Projections call for daily traffic through the intersection to more than double to 208,000 vehicles over the next 25 years.

Because regional thinking did not happen (just like on Gandy, even with some building possibly on both ends).  Would a northern east-west highway take all the cars off 275 in Tampa?  No. Would there still be congestion on 275?  Yes. (but there will be anyway, even with TBX, and it will be worse without a road to take cars around Tampa) Would we need something as damaging as TBX? No, especially if there was a transit component.  (And we don’t need TBX as it was presented anyway.)

— Conclusion

We get the Partnership thinking traffic is bad and $6-9 billion in investment is nice.  But what would be nicer is $6-9 billion in good investment that will help long-term and make the area actually more attractive to people they are trying to attract.  They have the chance to work for that and really make a positive difference.  It would be a shame if they did not take it.

Downtown/Channel District – An Actual Structure

The first actual design for the Lightning owner’s project has been posted on the City’s planning website (search “301 S Nebraska Ave”).  It is of the unified chiller plant where Nebraska and Jefferson intersect with Cumberland.  Here are some renderings courtesy of URBN Tampa Bay:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

And a site plan:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

First, we like the brick and some of the architectural features.  We like the windows on the ground floor.  The building should not look like one of those 60s and 70s phone switching buildings that are just basically bunkers. (See here  and here) We also like the brick wall on the east side.

However, there are two things we do not like.  First, it really could use windows (even if they are false) or something else where the second floor would be to break up the two stories of brick.  Right now it looks top-heavy, and doorless walls with looming blankness are not really pedestrian friendly. (And note that the cigar factories and other buildings in this area that are obviously referenced by that building tended to have windows).

Second, the brick wall covering the mechanical area in the back only runs up one side. On the west side there is a chain link fence, and there is another fence on the small north side. It would be much more aesthetically pleasing to just have a wall go all the way around.

We understand it is a utility building. We get that both the windows and walls cost a little money, but if you are going to spend $2 billion, it seems to us that you would want to cover the details.  Other than those two things, we find it encouraging.

Downtown/Transportation – Jackson Bike Thingy

A few months ago, we discussed a proposed protected bike lane on Jackson. (see “Downtown – The Jackson Conundrum”) It appears that FDOT has decided what it will do on Jackson:

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) will be building the first-ever cycle track on a state roadway this year in Downtown Tampa. The cycle track, which will run along the north side of Jackson Street (State Road 60) from Ashley Drive to Nebraska Avenue, is considered to be a type of “urban shared-use path,” and provides designated space on the roadway for bicycles traveling in both directions.

The cycle track will be ten feet wide and, unlike most conventional bike lanes, will physically separate bikes from motor vehicle traffic with a 4-foot raised island. At locations where driveways and side streets intersect with the bicycle pathway, special bright green pavement markings will alert drivers and cyclists to look out for each other.

In addition to constructing the new bicycle way, the state will also be upgrading pedestrian ramps, re-striping crosswalks, expanding sidewalk space at intersections, adding rapid flashing beacons at select locations and installing a new traffic signal at the intersection of Jackson St. and Governor St. (near the Hillsborough County School Board). The improvements will be built as part of a larger project to resurface the roadway. Construction will begin this fall and should be completed within one year.

The little bit in front of the Hilton will apparently look like this:

From Bike/Walk Tampa Bay - click on picture for website

From Bike/Walk Tampa Bay – click on picture for website

What is odd about this rendering is that the big question was how many lanes or parking spaces would disappear with this project.  The rendering seems to have it both ways, with parking right in front of the Hilton on both sides of the road and parking on the south side with a third lane in the north in the next block.  It is unclear if that is actually the plan or just the magic of renderings.

We don’t have anything against protected bike lanes or, in the right places, a cycle track.  In fact, we like them.   The rendering looks nice and the Jackson proposal is a connection of downtown to near the Channel District, though we why it stops at Nebraska and does not go all the way.  There are some other things, too. On the west end, it is not clear how the cycle track will get people over the river. (at least not in a protected bike lane) We can’t imagine it connects smoothly with either the Riverwalk or Kennedy Bridge from Jackson (maybe there should have been a bike lane on Kennedy, instead, or a corresponding one).  And it is not clear that this proposal ties into a bigger plan, especially a north-south route that is not the Riverwalk (which is not connected here).  Also, it is not clear how the streetcar would interact with all this if it were extended.  Not that it couldn’t be done, but it is not clear what the plan is (though maybe that extra lane between Franklin and Florida in the rendering may have something to do with it)

Overall, we like the idea of protected bike lanes and having a network, but we are not sure about the execution here, and we really question if Jackson is the best road for it.  We’d like to see the full plan (and any future network planned).  If they are going to spend the money, we would like to make sure they spend it well.

Transportation/Planning – Clarity for Vision Zero

Speaking of bicycles, last week, we discussed some Hillsborough planners walking around Town and Country to see what life was like for people trying to walk or bike (as though it isn’t obvious anyway).  This week, 83 Degrees Media also had an item on it.

“The intent of the safety audit was to raise a level of awareness about the lack of pedestrian facilities and the need for those facilities,” says Kalpakis.

“I feel like most people just aren’t thinking about it enough. When you really pay attention, you can recognize all the things that have been done right — and more importantly, where we’ve been missing opportunities to make the pedestrian and bicycle environment safer and more comfortable.”

It doesn’t take long to discover pedestrian woes. In a one block radius along Hillsborough Avenue: an unshaded bench along the highway serves as a meager bus stop with no shelter from the elements; pedestrian crosswalk buttons require an off-road trek into weedy, littered terrain; vegetation obstructs crucial pedestrian and motorist sight lines, crosswalk signals offer dangerously short timeframes for slower-moving pedestrians to cross six lanes of traffic — and the list goes on.

It doesn’t take long to discover it because not much is done correctly.  Some is done adequately.  Some is horrible.

Hillsborough MPO Planner Wade Reynolds notes that the stretch of highway observed by the Vision Zero teams is located within a one-mile radius of densely populated shopping centers and other businesses, as well as foot traffic-heavy attractors for local youth, including Skate World of Tampa, Webb Middle School, Dickenson Elementary, Berkeley Preparatory School and Sweetwater Organic Community Farm.

“As you’re headed from Veteran’s Expressway toward the library on Hillsborough Avenue, one of the first signs you see is a ‘Share the Road’ sign with a picture of a bicycle on it,” Reynolds says, “but I’m walking down Hillsborough and thinking to myself: ‘yeah right — as a cyclist, there’s no way I’m going to share this road with motorists. That’s terrifying.”

Reynolds’ observations:

“There are no proper bike facilities. The bus facilities aren’t very nice. There are incomplete sidewalk networks and areas where sidewalk simply disappears. There’s one long curb cut where you can drive off the road into a long driveway, just north of Hillsborough [Avenue] by a tire store. There’s no sidewalk for about 100 feet of that whole stretch — and no curb preventing motorists from pulling off the road.”

All that is not hidden.  Anyone could see it.  And as we have said numerous times, painting a stripe does not a bike lane make.  And not just on major roads. Now multiply the described conditions by pretty much the whole area, and you get the scale of the problem.  What one really has to wonder is how no one noticed before now.  It was all there to see.  Why wasn’t anyone looking?

In any event,

“Across Hillsborough County and in many places throughout this region, we have in the past designed solely for automobiles rather than multiple modes of travel — but I think that’s changing, and that’s part of what the Vision Zero effort is about. There are many things that can be done to improve safety, and roadway design is just part of it. A lot of it will have to do with culture change,” says Kalpakis.

Beyond its efforts to identify the most vital areas to direct resources toward mitigating bicyclist and pedestrian safety hazards, Vision Zero has committees whose primary goal is to work within the community to facilitate the cultural shift to which Kalpakis alludes.

The ‘One Message, Many Voices’ action track is focused on spreading the Vision Zero message and educating pedestrians and bicyclists, as well as motorists, about the best safe practices on Hillsborough’s developing multi-modal roadways.

And that is all fine.  We are all for the planners getting out and seeing the mess that has been built.  As we said last week, the County Commissioners and City Councils and Mayors should all get out of their cars and experience their handiwork.  That will all help.

And, rest assured, all pedestrian deaths are mapped:

Torres is referring to an FDOT digital resource available to the Hillsborough MPO, which identifies all reported traffic accidents in FDOT District 7 (Citrus, Hillsborough, Hernando, Pinellas and Pasco counties) on a Google Maps database. The Fatality and Injury Crash Map includes digital pins indicating the location of every reported crash, all injuries and fatalities, and crash reports from responding law enforcement – which can provide valuable insights into how the accident occurred.

* * *

“The major arterials carry a lot more traffic. There are a lot more conflict points and speeds are typically higher – contributing to those roads having the majority of the crashes from a statistical point of view,” says Frank Kalpakis, AICP, Principal with Renaissance Planning, the lead consultant for Vision Zero.

The map identifies Dale Mabry Highway, Fletcher Ave., Fowler Ave., Hillsborough Ave., and Nebraska Ave. among the deadliest roads in Hillsborough County.

“We had to narrow down the worst locations to see if something can be done. This map can help direct the efforts, time and money of our public works departments and educators,” Torres says.

Setting aside that it is pretty obvious that major roads are among the deadliest, fine. (It still amazes us that government has waited until deaths reached a certain threshold to make obvious improvements.)  We are fine with some fixes, assuming they are real fixes, which, given the history of FDOT and local government, one can never be sure.

Once again, we are all for planners being truly engaged.  We hope local elected officials become truly engaged, because they haven’t been.  And we are all for fixing some of the abominations that are local roads. Still, the bottom line is that, even with some road fixes (welcome as they are), to really address the issue we need to change the way buildings are built.  It is a comprehensive problem that requires a comprehensive solution.

Rays – Location . . .

With football over and baseball coming there have been a number of articles on the Rays recently.  One in the Business Journal caught our eye for a couple of reasons.  First, it was a relatively plain discussion of location:

[Rays President Brain] Auld praised booming development around Tropicana Field in downtown, the Edge District where the Trop sits and the Grand Central District. Downtown is experiencing a housing boom and Edge and Grand Central are becoming trendy hangouts rife with hip restaurants and craft breweries.

St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman is trying to tap into that growth to build an irrefutable pitch for the Rays to stay in downtown. That includes a development master plan for the 81-acre Trop site, which includes housing, office space and entertainment aimed at keeping the space activated almost all the time.

Auld said putting a plan like that into action does help and he’s not ruling out any location for a new stadium, but downtown St. Pete still faces a huge problem.

“If every person who moved into downtown St. Pete came to Rays games, we’d still have an attendance problem,” Auld said.

St. Pete is flanked by Tampa Bay on the east and the Gulf of Mexico on the west with the two meeting at the south. One of the key indicators of successful game day attendance is access to a large number of fans within a 30-minute drive of the stadium. Because people don’t live in water, St. Pete is geographically at a disadvantage.

Options for stadium locations across the bay have been narrowed down to two including one in the Channelside or Ybor area, according to Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan. Auld said he is aware of the stadium location ideas in Hillsborough, but isn’t picking favorites just yet. The site needs to be development ready and the team will require some sort of public subsidy on stadium costs.

Auld remains committed to staying within the Tampa Bay region, noting that elected officials on both sides of Tampa Bay have remained focused on the region.

As we said last week, downtown St. Pete is quite nice.  That does not make it a good place for a baseball stadium.

But setting that aside, even more interesting was this comment regarding transportation and growth:

The team joined the Tampa Bay Partnership in order to support regional transportation solutions, which Auld says are necessary for access no matter where a new stadium lands.

* * *

“The biggest governor we have on growth right now is transportation,” Auld said. “If we make this a place where growth can happen, we’re not going to be talking about an attendance problem.”

Indeed.  The biggest governor on growth – and the quality of growth – is transportation, and the quality of transportation.  And ours is not good.

— Speaking of Location

We also saw an interesting item in the Business Journal about downtown St. Pete:

The City of St. Petersburg wants to convert four of its one-way streets into two-way streets. Evan Mory, the city’s director of traffic and parking management, filed an appropriation request for $200,000 to begin the process.

The request affects 3rd and 4th Street and 8th and 9th Street through downtown St. Pete.

The request is for $200,000 to pay for a consultant to develop a plan addressing how to adapt infrastructure including changing traffic signals and interstate on-ramps.

Converting single direction thoroughfares in urban areas into two-way roads is part of a complete street strategy taking hold nationally that encourages pedestrian and bicycle use as well as stimulating the local economy by increasing access to businesses.

* * *

Two-way streets along the four roads would include pedestrian and bike paths, which the city argues creates a more active population and reduces vehicle miles driven. The two-way streets also provide a better transition to nearby areas like the Edge District and Grand Central by eliminating the need to pass destinations and circle back which is currently necessary under the grid of mostly one-way roads.

And that all may be true.  We are not going to argue that point.  What we will say is that St. Pete has chosen the 4 roads that many, if not most people, coming from Hillsborough County (and much of northern Pinellas) use to get and from to the Trop to put on a road diet. (see the map here)  That is fine.  But understand, making it harder to get there will not increase its attraction.

Transportation – Airport News

There was news from the airport this week.  First, slightly disappointing numbers:

TIA’s latest data (November 2016 versus November 2015) show an uptick in inbound and outbound passengers to 1,597,554, up just under 2 percent, or more than 29,000 fliers, in that period.

What drove those passenger gains at Tampa International? Discount airline Frontier boosted its passenger count by nearly 14,000 (more than 36 percent), adding new routes to Cincinnati and Las Vegas and seeing strong increases in passenger numbers on flights to Denver and Philadelphia.

Air Canada Rouge, the vacation airline subsidiary of Air Canada, also gained passengers after switching to a widebody 767 on its Toronto flights from a narrow-body Airbus.

Southwest, the No. 1 carrier at TIA, along with American and Delta all posted passenger gains, as well.

A few airlines saw declines. British Airways, in the year of Brexit and sharp drops in the value of the British pound, cut back by five flights, resulting in a 13 percent decline in passengers. Its passenger count at Orlando was also down 12 percent. Cayman Airways and low-cost Canadian carrier WestJet also registered double digit percentage declines at TIA, though neither airline operates a high-volume business here.

Aside from British Airways, we are not sure about the reasons for the others.

As for the next months:

December ridership was down 0.4 percent compared to 2015, with 1,650,321 travelers. International ridership also dipped by 0.2 percent to 72,876 passengers.

January, however, was a record breaker. The day after the College Football Playoff National Championship, 910 planes landed and took off from Tampa International — more than any other day in almost a decade.

Nevertheless, there was still year over year growth. As we have said before, growth is never completely consistent.  What counts is a longer term trend, which, aside from the recession, has so far been good.  Hopefully, we will more growth over time.

As for the major construction project:

At the monthly meeting of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority which governs TIA, Al Illustrato, vice president of facilities and administration, told the board that the new rental car facility will open to the public in early 2018 instead of fall of this year as originally intended.

* * *

Bad weather delayed the complicated nature of the work.

“The station has to be completely done before Mitsubishi can come in” to install the people mover trains, Lopano said. The 1.4-mile, 12-car automated people mover named SkyConnect is being built by Mitsubishi at a cost of $417 million.

Once again, that is fine.  Small delays in major construction happen. (It could be much worse.)

— Here Come the Cabs

And, in the wake of the ridesharing agreement at the (hopefully soon to be abolished) PTC,

Upset with ridesharing companies getting free access to the airport, Yellow Cab president Louis Minardi wants to rework the company’s contract with Tampa International Airport, which costs roughly $35,000 a month, paid for by an additional airport fee by taxi riders.

“I don’t mind paying as long as everyone pays,” he told the board of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority meeting Thursday morning. “To have another service in here picking up for free, I have a problem with that.”

Under Yellow Cab’s current contract with the airport it pays a fee for each passenger who steps off a plane at TIA. Uber and Lyft, who have been operating without a contract, are undercutting their prices because they don’t have to pay that fee and are taking customers from the cab companies, Minardi said

And there is an argument there. (You also have to wonder how much profit there is in the airport cab market if one cab company will pay $35,000 a month):

In a cordial back-and-forth with Hillsborough County Commissioner and former Public Transportation Commission (PTC) chairman Victor Crist, Minardi explained that he wanted a system where his company would rather pay per ride than per plane passenger. He said they would agree to certain audit provisions that are included in the county’s deal with the ridesharing companies.

Which also has some logic. But,

Aviation Authority chief executive Joe Lopano said “we can’t change the payment plan” because of the budget has already been set for the fiscal year, which ends in September. Yellow Cab’s contract was first signed in 2004 and is in place through Feb. 28, 2018.

“I think the relationship between us and the taxis has been fairly transparent,” he said. The deal with Uber and Lyft, meanwhile, “is in the hands of the PTC.”

It will be interesting to see how this unfolds, though something can probably be worked out.

“If we were to move forward expeditiously to create a method that is more fair, that would certainly lower the risk of us possibly having a lawsuit, right?” Crist asked.

“I’m sure of that,” Minardi responded.

“Working with you guys, I’m sure of that too,” Crist said.

We’ll see.

— Bahamasair

A while back we wondered what was up with Bahamasair posting flights to Tampa a few times without any announcements and then pulled them.  We noted that Bahamasair had posted that it would start flights in April this year but that you could not buy tickets.  We have an update:

Bahamasair in recent schedule update further revised planned Nassau – Tampa launch, previously scheduled to begin on 03APR17. This new service, 2 weekly ATR42 operation, is now scheduled to commence on 23JUN17.

It is definitely not a big service, but we are all for more service.  We also are just wondering what the deal is.

Economy – Florida Growth

Checking in with the economy, how is Florida doing? Per the Times:

Florida’s real GDP ranked 29th among U.S. states in the third quarter of 2016, growing 3.6 percent — a hair above the national U.S. growth in real gross domestic product of 3.5 percent.

* * *

Data released Thursday by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis show Florida’s real GDP rose in the third quarter of last year from its 2.3 percent pace in the second quarter of the same year. But real GDP fell sharply in the third quarter, the latest period that such growth figures are available, when compared to the 4.7 percent growth pace in same third quarter of 2015.

In other words, pretty average.

Five states ranked by GDP growth that often compete with Florida: (10) North Carolina, 4.5 percent; (12) Texas, 4.3 percent; (22) Ohio, 3.8 percent; (28) New York, 3.6 percent; (29) Florida, 3.6 percent, and (34) California, 3.3 percent.

Unfortunately, the article does not give us the per capita GDP of those states so we can compare.  But it does give us this:

The lesson: population growth does not equal economic growth when a lot a state’s economy relies heavily on low-paying and service-sector jobs. Real GDP measures the value of economic output adjusted for inflation.


Tourism – Back to Hillsborough Exceptionalism, And Then

Tourism in this area is doing quite well.  On the other hand, the Legislature is apparently very concerned with spending on promoting tourism, so they asked for information from local tourism promotion agencies.

Last month, Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, requested from 13 local tourist development councils their fiscal year 2016 revenue and expense reports. In addition to advertising expenses and economic development projects, the demands included a list of employees and their salaries and every expenditure on food and travel down to the penny, according to a copy of the letter sent to localities obtained by the Tampa Bay Times.

Of the 13 jurisdictions, Hillsborough County was the only one that did not fully comply with the request, Corcoran said.


Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill provided Corcoran some details. The county, however, contracts out its $10.7 million tourism marketing budget to Visit Tampa Bay, a nonprofit organization that considers much of that information private.

And so far, Visit Tampa Bay has said it doesn’t have to share anything else — putting the agency at odds with Corcoran and in a precarious political position weeks before the start of the 2017 legislative session.

Santiago Corrada, president and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay, said the letter wasn’t sent to his organization and he was not responsible for the response. But he said he saw the information Hills­borough County provided and thought it was “very detailed.”

“I’m pretty certain all 13 counties responded and all responses were similar,” Corrada said.

That reasoning may be technically true, but it also may be too clever by half, because later:

After a lawsuit threat from House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Visit Tampa Bay released records Wednesday that showed the organization gave out $295,000 in bonuses last year, including $66,000 to its top executive.

The disclosure was the first glimpse into financial information that Visit Tampa Bay has long insisted is private, even though the nonprofit organization’s budget is largely paid for with Hillsborough County taxes.

“Lets just get it out there,” president and CEO Santiago Corrada told the Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday. “There’s nothing to hide. We just want to put it to rest.”

We just don’t really understand the shenanigans or what Visit Tampa Bay thought it was going to accomplish by messing with the Speaker of the House.  As noted in a Times editorial:

Visit Tampa Bay, the tourism agency for Hillsborough County, finally forked over records on Wednesday that House Speaker Richard Corcoran requested last month. It shouldn’t have taken an exchange of words and the threat of a lawsuit by the House for Visit Tampa Bay to act. The speaker is questioning the value of millions in state money spent on tourism marketing, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out his intent in examining a local taxpayer-subsidized marketing tool for the hotel, restaurant and entertainment industries. Visit Tampa Bay is a nonprofit spending public money for a public purpose, and Corcoran and the public are entitled to see how it spends tax money.

* * *

There is no sense playing a game of jurisdictional jujitsu with the speaker. Regardless of where Corcoran’s request was routed, the agency should have recognized it had a proactive role to play in furnishing the House with the records it requested. It shouldn’t have taken a second letter and a threat of a lawsuit from Corcoran for the agency to act. While Visit Tampa Bay is a nonprofit, it receives about $12 million from the county bed tax, which comprises 88 percent of the agency’s budget.

Exactly.  Outside of the black box of Tampa/Hillsborough politics, the behavior really makes no sense.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

A few weeks ago we discussed Apple manufacturing in Arizona.  This week, it’s Intel’s turn:

Intel chief executive Brian Krzanich met with President Donald Trump on Wednesday, where the company announced it will invest $7 billion in a factory employing up to 3,000 people.

The factory will be in Chandler, Arizona, the company said, and over 10,000 people in the Arizona area will support the factory. Krzanich confirmed to CNBC that the investment over the next three to four years would be to complete a previous plant, Fab 42, that was started and then left vacant.

* * *

It comes as the technology industry has pushed back against the Trump administration, amid mounting pressure to move manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. There will be no incentives from the federal government for the Intel project, the White House said.

Intel was one of more than 100 companies that joined together to file a legal brief opposing Trump’s temporary travel ban on people from seven Muslim-majority nations.

(Chandler is a suburb of Phoenix).  In a sense it is not a new announcement:

The factory, which will complement two other Intel semiconductor plants in Chandler, Ariz., had been under consideration for several years.

But, for our purposes, that does not matter. For a place without much water, a lot of dust and no ports, Arizona gets a surprising amount of tech manufacturing.  It sure would be nice to get a piece of that.

List of the Week I

Our first list this week was first noted in the Business Journal, as is latest cost-of-living data from the Council for Community and Economic Research.  It is not really a list.  It is an index. As the Business Journal tells us:

Tampa is among the more affordable cities in America and the second-most affordable in Florida, according to the latest cost-of-living data from the Council for Community and Economic Research.

Based on data from the first three quarters of 2016, Tampa had a cost-of-living composite score of 91.5, as compared to the national average of 100. Sarasota, on the other hand, ranked above the national average with a score of 104.3.

By comparison NYC was 228.2, Seattle was 145.1, San Diego 144.1, Baltimore 115.6, Miami 111, Denver 110.4, Minneapolis 105.6, Houston 98.8, Atlanta 98.7, Cleveland 98.7, Charlotte 94.8, Orlando 94.2, and Pittsburgh 94.

We have always known that this area sells itself to a large degree by its low cost of living (and, to employers, low wages). But the numbers in this index seem extreme to us, so we checked out their methodology, which is very extensive an interesting (and can be found in their manual here).  For instance, the transportation numbers are generated using two factors 1) price of tire balancing and 2) price of gas. (pg 24 of the pdf)   Not the price of gas times the number of miles you might drive – just the price of gas.  Nothing to do with how much a car might cost or auto insurance versus transit usage.  Just tire balancing and price of gas.  On page 21 of the manual, we are told that home taxes and insurance costs are also not included in housing costs.  Finally, on page 3, we are told:

Household income is in the top quintile (20%) for the area. Because salaries vary geographically as a function of living cost differences (which is a key reason this project exists), we can’t specify a particular salary range that fits all locales. However, in most parts of the country in the 21st century, the specified household will generally have an annual income between $70,000 and $100,000. The appropriate income range will be higher in traditionally high-cost places like New York, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego metropolitan areas, and it will often be somewhat lower in small metropolitan or non-metropolitan places. 

In other words, they take into account different incomes a bit, but they are not really looking at the cost of living of most people and the income consideration is limited.  And they tell us so:

The Cost of Living Index is designed to provide the best possible measure of relative differences among urban areas in the cost of consumer goods and services appropriate for professional and managerial households in the top income quintile.

Of course, if you limit and cap the variation on wages, the relative cheapness of an area will be exaggerated.  For high income people, the cost of living in/affordability our area is quite low, especially if you take out real transportation costs and home insurance.  On the other hand, that says nothing about the affordability of the area for the average resident.

As with most lists of this sort, you can do with it what you will.

List of the Week II

Our second list of this week is US News’ 100 Best Places to Live in the US. The methodology, which is pretty standard for these type of lists is here.  Here’s the Top 40:

Coming in first is Austin, followed by Denver, San Jose, 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, Grand Rapids, Houston, Sarasota, San Diego, San Antonio, Richmond, Omaha, Portland (ME), Charleston (SC), Syracuse, Greenville (SC), Albany, Hartford, Portland (OR), Buffalo, Harrisburg, Tampa, OKC, Winston-Salem, Little Rock, Rochester (NY), and Orlando.

Tampa did well with “net migration” and “desireability.”   It did not do very well with “value” – which is a blend of income and cost of living (see above).  It also did not do that well with “job market” (which takes into account income) and “quality of life” (which includes education and commuting, among other things).

Just like the previous list, do with it what you will.

Roundup 2-3-2017

February 3, 2017


Transportation – Transport-palooza

– Transit, the Editorial

— Lightning Owner, The Interview

— Reports, The Partnership

—  Lessons, The Senator

— Money, If You Don’t Have It, You Don’t Have . . .

— Conclusion

Transportation – Meanwhile Back in the County Center

— One More Thing

Transportation – A Look at Walking

Downtown/Channel District/USF – Renderings

Transportation – Good/Bad Ferry

— That Other Ferry

Rowdies, Rays, Regions, and Reality


Transportation – Transport-palooza

– Transit, the Editorial

Last week, we addressed HART and PSTA’s slumping ridership and an argument by some that the slump showed that choice riders did not want to use transit.  We noted:

Setting aside that it has nothing to do with reasons to oppose Go Hillsborough (of which there were many others), the tea party advocate is right to a degree.  As transit in this area exists today, which is underfunded, with limited service, only buses stuck in traffic, and being constantly opposed by certain political factions plus the poor planning and built environment in this area, it makes sense that if gas prices go down more people will choose to drive.

However, her argument is a self-fulfilling prophesy.  If you work hard to make transit as unpleasant as possible and restrict it to a service really for people who have no choice (see this from the Tribune in 2011 ), it is not surprising that people who do have a choice will be less likely to use transit.  If it were properly planned and properly funded in an area with proper planning, it would likely be a bit different – though certainly a percentage of choice riders would choose to drive with lower gas prices.

This week, the Times ran an editorial that echoed that view:

These inventive programs promise easier travel for those who already rely on the bus. But it’s hard to see how they will attract many new riders who are willing to give up driving their cars. And that’s what transit agencies need, the audience they call “choice riders” — people who choose to take the bus even though they could drive. But they won’t do it to save money. PSTA has the highest fares in Florida. And they won’t do it for convenience. More than half of PSTA’s routes run no more than once an hour. (Even PSTA CEO Brad Miller acknowledges that hourly bus service isn’t real mass transit; it’s a service for people with no other options.) Both HART and PSTA have smaller budgets than most major metro bus systems in the country. That leaves Tampa Bay transit at the vortex of a self-fulfilling spiral — without more money, fares go up and service is cut, which makes it a less attractive option for commuters. There always are ways to save money by becoming more efficient, from cutting little-used routes to the positive efforts by HART and PSTA to look at combining some operations. But more investment is needed.

Setting aside the bus focus, exactly.  If you provide a product that is not, for whatever reason, targeted at a specific market, it should not be surprising when it does not do well in that market.  For a variety of reasons which are mostly political, our transit services are not aimed at choice riders (quite the contrary), so they should not be expected to do well in the choice rider market.

Tampa Bay cannot do without transit. While overall ridership fell last year — mirroring state and national trends [ed. but, as noted last week, not for rail]— bus usage among low-income people hit a record high. Tourist routes, such as the trolley service in downtown St. Petersburg and the Pinellas beaches, were bustling. What the region has always lacked is a viable, more robust system for commuters and other choice riders who need more reasons to leave their cars at home. Without that, traffic congestion and sprawl will only worsen.

And that is really the point, plus the fact the question we always ask: If someone can go anywhere, and with other places that already provide amenities that they want, why should they come here?

If there are no real choices provided here, people who can will get them elsewhere.

— Lightning Owner, The Interview

Which brings us to a wide-ranging interview in Tampa Magazine (somewhat fluffy) with the Mayor and the Lightning owner.  One thing that stood out in that interview was this:

VINIK: I’m co-chairing a committee for the Tampa Bay Partnership. The Tampa Bay Partnership represents the business community of the whole Tampa Bay area, so I’m co-chairing a committee there looking at transportation.

There’s a premium transit study going on for the whole region going on right now. Jacobs Engineering is leading that effort. It’s [Florida Department of Transportation]-funded. Looking at our transportation system for the whole eight-county region, and you know how bullish I am on economic growth in this area, I think we have the potential from here through Orlando, even to Daytona, but especially over on this side of the state, to be the fastest-growing major economic region in the country over the next 10 to 20 years.

That opportunity is there, and in my opinion, what could screw that up or constrain that would be transportation – roadways too clogged, inability for people to get from point A to point B, people stop moving in because they no longer have confidence that they can get around. As a leader in the business community, I’m going to be one who’s trying to look at all possible solutions for helping out on that subject.

I think, as this study is underway, I’m encouraged to hear that they’re looking at all possible solutions. You’ve got to talk about the streetcars, as the mayor said. You’ve got to include autonomous vehicles and ride-sharing. Bus rapid transit is not talked about much, but it could be a very effective form of transportation. Clearly light rail needs to be part of the discussion.

BUCKHORN: HOV lanes [high-occupancy vehicle lanes].

VINIK: Yes, HOV lanes. I’m optimistic about this study, which is really going to look at all these different solutions to try to figure out what’s best and most flexible for our region. Looking out at our long-term horizon, I’m really hopeful. Talking to business people and others in the community, I really sense that people understand what a critical issue [transportation] is. However that evolves and whether there’s another referendum or not or however that goes on, I think the region understands how important this is, and action will be taken in the years ahead to really enable us to have this growth.

There are a few things here.  First, note, again, that the Lightning owner who has invested and wants to invest a lot more of his money in a very large project downtown and is trying to attract actual businesses and residents downtown keeps bringing up rail.  That is not a political point.  It is practical.

The second thing is that the transit study to date has not been coordinated with the TBX or other highway plans, which is a major flaw in the process.  The transit study is good (and should have been done at the beginning of the TLC/Go Hillsborough process if not before), but transportation planning should have been coordinated.  That is the only way to maximize the utility of various options.

Third, we are all for HOV lanes (even HOT lanes) provided they do not destroy neighborhoods, but that is not going to happen under TBX (the whole point of the “X” being express lanes).  While HOV and HOT lanes promote carpooling which reduces the number of cars on the road, express lanes just encourage people to not use the new lanes built by pricing them out of usefulness to most people.  The Tampa Bay Partnership, through a website and its CEO, has been out front supporting TBX, including taking a free lane from the Howard Frankland:

Rick Homans of the Tampa Bay Partnership, a strong advocate for TBX, said business executives care more about the bottleneck at Westshore, where four lanes currently narrow to two, than the number of lanes on the bridge. The plan aims to fix that by adding an extra through lane at the interchange.

(We addressed the flaws in that reasoning in “Transportation – Willful Ignorance”)

The Lightning owner has spoken in favor of TBX in the past (as has the Mayor), though we have long thought it is because the Lightning owner just wants some investment in the highways, which do need investment, and that was the only thing on offer. The comments about HOV lanes seems to support that view.  (And there is always the point that while executives that may be possible tenants of his project may be able to use express lanes getting to and from work, they also need their employees to get to and from work and most of them will not be able to afford TBX by design. HOV/HOT lanes, on the hand, would help.)

The bottom line is that this area needs to invest in real transportation options to form a coordinated transportation system, not just for the people already here but to compete for the companies and talent that we want to get.

— Reports, The Partnership

That brings us to a Tampa Bay Partnership sponsored report on reorganizing some governance:

Forget the ballot box for now. This is about reorganizing some of the existing key players to think, restructure and then act regionally.

“A one-county approach does very little to solve the regional challenge — the real challenge,” Tampa Bay Partnership CEO Rick Homans said in an interview.

To lend credibility and detail to the notion of taking a regional approach to transportation, the Tampa Bay Partnership today is officially releasing a study titled “The Need for Regional Governance in Tampa Bay” and meeting with nearly two dozen state legislators from this region to discuss the findings. Two business leaders — Tampa Bay Lightning owner and real estate developer Jeff Vinik and Vology CEO Barry Shevlin — are heading the Partnership’s transportation working group on this matter.

The study was prepared for the Partnership by researchers at the Eno Center for Transportation, a long established, non-partisan think-tank in Washington, D.C. that promotes innovative policies in transportation. Eno is named for William Phelps Eno, who a century or so ago helped modernize traffic plans for such major cities as New York, London, and Paris, and was among inventors to popularize stop signs, taxi stands and pedestrian safety islands among other transit features still popular today.

So what does it say?  This is where the coverage focused:

The 18-page study concludes that some core issues — namely transportation, environment, poverty and crime — do not stop at artificial county borders and outstrip the resources of individual cities. Broader solutions are called for.

“The Tampa Bay region needs to reform its transportation governance in response to these trends,” the Eno study concludes. It warns a county-driven transit approach is “out-of-step” with how people and goods move throughout a region. Too many local projects end up competing for too little money, it states, and run counter to federal and state efforts to encourage thinking and action on a regional scale.

The Eno study urges Tampa Bay embrace a regional approach while there seems to be a groundswell of civic, corporate and political willingness to try bolder ideas. “This presents a generational opportunity for real change,” Eno researchers stated. “The region should not miss out on that opportunity.”

Among the study’s recommendations is a merger of the Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco county level metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), along with those in certain nearby counties. The result would be a single regional MPO, which is the norm these days in the vast majority of major metros in the country.

The study’s arrival did not happen in a vacuum. A regional transit feasibility plan backed by the Florida Department of Transportation is also under way that will offer more concrete transportation ideas. The goal, said Homans, is to have a regional vision for transit in the area by some time in 2018, and a plan to phase it in over time.

Setting aside the TBX plan is not done in concert with the transit study yet the Partnership still seems fully behind TBX (whatever it will be) and that going regional is contrary to the city tax idea that seems to never die (and never get passed), if the MPOs and other officials don’t even know what is in proposals (see TBX and Howard Frankland), even merging the MPO’s will not accomplish much.

But that goes to another issue, which is bigger:

If Tampa Bay wants a modern regional transit system, then it needs to modernize the organizations that will govern it, Homans said. “We are at the beginning of a long and challenging process.

Our biggest hurdle,” he acknowledged, “is trust. Creating a regional structure involves building trust between the leaders of the involved counties.”

In other words, the problem is the officials’ lack of political will to actually act regionally and set aside the bickering among various political factions (not parties, factions), not to mention the aforementioned failure of local officials to pay attention to the major issues in the first place.

—  Lessons, The Senator

Which brings us to the thoughts of a State Senator – the same one who was talking about HART and PSTA merging a few years ago .  Setting the scene:

About two dozen area legislators met Wednesday to confirm the need for a regional approach to transportation infrastructure and policy going forward. The two-hour roundtable discussion at Ruth Eckerd Hall was in response to a study released by advocacy group Tampa Bay Partnership that stressed the weak coordination between the counties and barriers to achieving a regional mass transit.

Chairing the Partnership’s working group on the transit effort, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Vology CEO Barry Shevlin said the issue is vital in preparing for area’s projected population growth over the next decade.

“The roads are only going to get more clogged in the years ahead,” Vinik said. “If we wait another five, ten years as a community to make decisions on this, it’s going to constrain our growth.”

Shevlin said all municipalities must begin thinking in a regional mindset and not as insulated units.

Setting aside that once again this argues against the city tax, yes, local officials (like local residents) need to think regionally.  On the other hand, we are going to have at least a few year to wait because of the transit studies.  In any event, the Senator pointed to the past to show that it is possible to have a regional organization that actually does something:

After Pinellas County purchased land in Pasco in 1976 to drill wells and pump water back to its residents, Pinellas’ population boom over the next 20 years took a toll on the supply.

Lakes and wells literally went dry, prompting a massive legal battle in 1994 between Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties without much relief for consumers.

“Lawyers were making millions of dollars in legal fees and really nothing was being accomplished,” Latvala said.

But with collaboration and urgency, elected officials pushed for the creation of Tampa Bay Water in 1998, the regional nonprofit water supply authority that owns the region’s water sources, sells the water to six member governments and has the oversight to prevent the environmental damage that Pinellas’ overpumping once caused Pasco.

The same collaboration and unified effort used to end the water wars must be applied to building a mass transportation system or else the region could face its own transportation disaster.

“If we hadn’t had Tampa Bay Water, we were facing the potential of a building moratorium,” Latvala said. “If we don’t solve some sort of regional transportation problem…that’s going to bog down the continued growth for our region.”

And that makes sense.  It also intersects nicely with this, going back to the Partnership study:

A centerpiece of the Partnership’s study, conducted by the non-partisan Washington, D.C., think tank Eno Center, states Tampa Bay should voluntarily merge its county-based MPO (metropolitan planning organization) structure to a single, independent organization not housed by a single local government.

Poor coordination between the counties is also misguiding services, the study shows. For example, on weekends the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit has 14 buses going from Dover, in eastern Hillsborough County, to Downtown Tampa but “absolutely no weekend service between Downtown Tampa and St. Petersburg or Clearwater, the other two large cities in Tampa Bay.”

That is a great argument to merge HART and PSTA and have a sensible, coordinated transit system for the region.  But, as we discussed previously, Hillsborough officials run like hell from that idea.

— Money, If You Don’t Have It, You Don’t Have . . .

The Tampa Bay water discussion goes to another important point.  While, among other things, they approve plans and act as a gateway to projects getting done, MPO’s do not implement or fund projects.   (Based on past plans, if they did, we would already have a real transit network. And note that state law provides, if they choose, for both coordinating of local MPO’s and having inter-local agreement between them to work on “regionally significant” projects. If local officials wanted to work together, they already could. We are not opposed to merged MPO’s, but one does how a regional MPO would protect neighborhoods from being bulldozed.)

In contrast, Tampa Bay Water has money and authority, which was the whole point.  Applying that to transportation, it seems more logical to us to have a regional system that has to get approval from local MPO’s.  And, even with a regional MPO, the fact is that unless the actual operator of transportation, especially transit, is regional, you won’t have regional transportation.  (That could even involve a regional entity running regional systems that overlays and coordinates with more local entities – which is done in some other areas, like BART and Muni in San Francisco – but you need something with real power.)   As with Tampa Bay Water, to make any regional system really work, the entity charged with making it work needs money and authority to do it.  (The recently discussed HART/PSTA agreement is a small step, but even there, HART is running from any mention of merger so getting it to agree to an overarching agency seems a stretch.)  We think that should be where the focus is.

And the brings us to the part of the Partnership report that most media reports did not focus on:

Similar to the region’s MPOs, the two major transit agencies in Tampa Bay—Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA)—are county-based. Pasco County’s transportation agency is a county department. As a result, among the 20 largest urban areas in the U.S., Tampa Bay is one of only two that do not have any transit operator capturing the majority of market share.[] Furthermore, among the 20 largest metropolitan areas, Tampa Bay ranks, on a per capita basis, last or next-to-last in the most relevant indicators of transit supply and demand, such as revenue miles, unlinked passenger trips, and passenger miles.[]

When transit service is fragmented, or not connected seamlessly, the result can be sub-optimal transit service across the region, including burdensome fare penalties and difficulty for commuters when they transfer to other services.

* * *

This paper recommends that the region’s leaders seek to create a regional governance structure for the operation of transit agencies in the Tampa-St. Petersburg Urbanized Area, which includes the counties of Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco. A governance structure that should be considered strongly is an umbrella or coordinating agency, in the form of a Regional Transit Authority, under which the county-based authorities and/or agencies would function. And, to facilitate development of even more regional transit, this new regional authority would be enabled to create inter-local agreements with transit agencies in the neighboring counties of the Tampa Bay region.

* * *

Florida law created regional transportation authorities (RTA) in order to spearhead coordination and public transit operation. The South Florida RTA was created to serve as the owner and operator of Tri-Rail. In greater Orlando, the Central Florida RTA was created to serve as the owner/operator of the transit agency known as Lynx. In the panhandle, the Northwest Florida Transportation Corridor Authority was created to provide roadway corridor planning along the coast. The legislature would need to create a regional transportation authority for Tampa Bay, but there is ample precedent for doing so. One idea that merits further investigation: TBARTA has already been enabled by the legislature with most of the functions that a transit agency needs, but it would need to be repurposed and refocused on a specific geographic area and its board governance restructured accordingly.

(You can find the report here, see pages 14 and 15) And then it gets into other structural options.  It is interesting to note that other parts of Florida have moved in this direction.  The closest we have come is TBARTA, which has been starved for funding, and, to be honest, attention. (We highly recommend reading this article and this article, both from 2007.  )

— Conclusion

It is clear our transit is inadequate because, among other reasons, it is planned for need riders.  That, along with poor planning and a still inadequate road system, makes our transportation system threatens to (and probably to a degree already does) hold our area back.  To fix that, we agree with the spirit of the Partnership report, we need to have a truly regional approach, which is a major change. The Partnership report raises some interesting ideas – nothing ground-breaking, but interesting nonetheless. However, without a real change in political culture, we will not get the material changes we need.  And that is where the Partnership push can really make a difference.

Transportation – Meanwhile Back in the County Center

Speaking of our political culture and transportation, when last we checked in with the County Commission, they managed to find a hidden $600 million to throw at the roads.

Hillsborough County Commissioners took the next step in a $600 million transportation plan aimed at reducing traffic congestion and making roads safer.

Commissioners nearly unanimously approved scheduling a public hearing to update the Capital Improvement Plan with priorities as well as a workshop to discuss funding options for expediting projects.

Funding for transportation was approved in October with a plan to span the $600 million investment over the next decade. Deliberations Wednesday served as the first step in fast tracking some of the more troublesome projects.

Those include improvements to Skipper Road, Lithia Pinecrest, Sam Allen Road, Davis Road, 42nd and 46th streets, Van Dyke Road, a portion of 131st Avenue near Nebraska Avenue and some parts of Westshore Boulevard.

The 131st Avenue project was slated for $15 million to widen the road, but was cut to $1.5 million to pay for a study. The remaining funds for that project will instead pay for improvements on Skipper Road and 42nd and 46th streets.

Sadly, the County Commission is determined to not take up their chance to actually methodically work on transportation (rather than the silly PLC/TED/Go Hillsborough process mess) and come up with a comprehensive plan for the future.

Under the approved plan, which the public will weigh in on March 1, congestion projects that would have begun late in the 10-year span of funding will instead be started within the first several years.

Sadly, almost nothing listed will really relieve congestion (even the County’s own list puts it a $346 million out of $600 million); it will more likely just move it. The project list has a lot of resurfacing – which is routine maintenance the County should have been doing for years.  And then there is widening a few roads mostly on the periphery of the area so developers can build sprawling subdivisions and fill up the roads and push cars more quickly to the more congested central areas. There is nothing to deal with where the real congestion is (even the $2 million for Westshore is just making it nicer, not handle more cars or move people around more efficiently, which is fine but not congestion relief), and there is no plan to deal with that. (see this list)   And they still aren’t charging developers the real cost of improvements.

— One More Thing

There are some real oddities, like widening Van Dyke by two lanes near the Suncoast Parkway has a land acquisition cost of $14 million? The construction cost is only  $20 million.  Same for Lithia-Pinecrest – widening it cost $40 million in land acquisition and $49 million to build? (And realigning the Big Bend off ramp has $5.8 million in acquisition costs?) Did no one plan to widen these roads in the first place? Wasn’t that quite foreseeable and that if you really needed to widen them the land values would have gone up substantially?  What kind of planning is that?

Sometimes you really have to wonder.

Transportation – A Look at Walking

There was an interesting article in the Times regarding Hillsborough County planners and walkability.

They stood on the sidewalk of the busy intersection, their fluorescent vests and clipboards catching the attention of passing drivers.

The group, composed of a dozen or so transportation planners, engineers, politicians and law enforcement, scanned the roadway looking for any way to make it safer for those who walk or ride a bike.

To start with, the sidewalk’s steep slope wasn’t compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act regulations. The crosswalk was slanted, not perpendicular to the curb, which is preferred. Across the street, a sidewalk stopped abruptly, leaving nowhere to go for walkers. Bushes, signs and a large green metal box made it difficult for drivers at the stoplight to see people who might cross in front of them.

“There’s no way that driver can see us from that angle,” said Danielle Joyce, director of traffic services for the engineering firm GPI. “It’s a huge safety concern.”

It is good that someone is actually trying to experience the mess that has been created.  Of course, this is the picture in from the Times:

From the Times - click on picture for article

From the Times – click on picture for article

Needless to say, most people crossing the street do not do it with such a large group wearing brightly colored vests and with a Sheriff escort.  Maybe if they did, there would be less chance of being ignored by drivers.  We suggest that, to get the true experience, the planners should walk in smaller groups without vests.  Anyway, what was this all about?

Joyce was one of about 60 people who met Tuesday at the Town ‘N Country Regional Public Library in northwest Hillsborough County. They split into four smaller groups for a Hillsborough County workshop on improving bike and pedestrian safety.

The event was part of Vision Zero, an international initiative dedicated to designing safer roads. The group says that how governments build streets is just as much to blame for pedestrians’ deaths as the decisions of the pedestrians themselves.

In fact, some people do behave carelessly, but that does not change the horrible walking environment in Hillsborough County (and most of the area overall).

Tuesday’s event was the second of four workshops scheduled this year as part of the Vision Zero initiative. The goal is to put together an action plan of five or six realistic changes that can be made in the next two to five years to improve safety for all those who use the roads.

Workshop members discuss everything from short-term solutions, such as adding mid-block crosswalks so people don’t have to walk half a mile to the nearest stoplight to cross, to long-term solutions such as redesigning a street to add buffered bike lanes. 

Those are short-term solutions.  What is really needed is a change in mentality and a change in how things are built.  And while we have nothing against these workshops and it is good for planners to see the mess, what would be much better is if the County Commissioners (and other local officials because it is not exclusive to the County) got out of their cars and started really experiencing their creation.  After having their sidewalk disappear into a swamp because it just ends for no reason or almost being run over trying to cross a street or having to walk in the street because they neglected to provide for a sidewalk or even a curb, maybe they would do things a little differently.

Downtown/Channel District/USF – Renderings

USF finally released renderings of the planned Med School downtown.

The renderings offer an early look at USF’s future facility, which will house a medical school and a cardiovascular research institute. The $152.6-million building is part of the 50-plus acre redevelopment of downtown Tampa, spearheaded by Strategic Property Partners, a real estate firm backed by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Bill Gates’ Cascade Investment.

Skanska/HOK is the design and build team constructing the new facility, which features ample windows to allow reflective light into work and learning spaces.

* * *

The USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and the USF Health Heart Institute will host an estimated 2,275 faculty, staff and students when it opens in 2019. The building will include learning and conference spaces, an auditorium, laboratories, faculty offices and a clinical research and care unit. This new location better positions USF to its primary teaching hospital, Tampa General and the USF Health Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation, on Davis Island.

From USF - click on picture for article

From USF – click on picture for article

From USF - click on picture for article

From USF – click on picture for article

From USF - click on picture for article

From USF – click on picture for article

Setting aside that we are not sure why the rendering made the Channelside/Meridian/Beneficial intersection wider than it already is (six lanes is pretty wide for a road-dieted, walkability-centered neighborhood and, from what we have been told, will scare pedestrians) and that the sun looks like it is rising in the north in the last rendering (but funny lighting and buildings made to look much more towering than they really are is standard for renderings), our initial impression is that the building is not bad (though we’d like to see more detail), and certainly better than the Hyatt Centric project  for the lot across from City Hall or anything we could think of on USF’s campus.

We are assuming the large structure in the back is a big parking garage (which is not that good), and it is not clear if there is really any treatment of the street such as retail (we assume that will be planned for future buildings.)  It is also hard to tell how the glass box office building to the left works in the whole plan or if that is just a place holder in the drawing.  That being said, it’s going to be built anyway, and it definitely could be worse.  What is the timetable?

Construction is expected to begin in August and the building will open in late 2019. The medical school and heart institute will be built with a combination of state and private funding.

Hopefully, some other parts of the Lightning owner’s project will be finishing up by then. That would make this much better.

Transportation – Good/Bad Ferry

There was an item about the trial ferry service in the Times website.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist said Wednesday that the ferry connecting St. Petersburg and Tampa is “wonderful.”

But …

“I’ve been unimpressed with the lack of volume of people using it,” Crist added.

Crist blamed what he saw as poor ridership on a “lack of adequate promotion campaign.” He said there’s not enough signage or advertising letting people know it’s there to use.

As it is, Crist, who has a background in advertising, wants the county’s tourism marketing organization Visit Tampa Bay involved from the start as Hillsborough County moves ahead with plans to connect MacDill Air Force Base and Apollo Beach by ferry.

Fine, but the bigger problems are limited schedule, high price, and limited connectivity to other efficient transit (kind of like the streetcar).  Others see it differently:

Ferry organizers have said ridership is strong, growing from 4,700 tickets sold in November to 5,400 in December.

Commissioner Pat Kemp took issue with Crist’s characterization of the Cross Bay Ferry, saying it has yielded a strong return on investment for a transit project.

“Our ferry project now between the downtowns has been extremely successful,” Kemp said.

The funny part is that no one really knows.  Success is relative.  If some people like it, that could be success.  If the boats are only half (or quarter) full, that could be not a success.  What is the measure?  (And it is hard to tell how good a trial is since no one is going to change their lifestyle for an expensive, rare, boat trial, but people might try it.)

As we noted a few weeks ago, the numbers for December were thus: averaging about 175 people a day on ferries with 149 seats usually making four trips (two round-trips) a day (“Transportation – Ferry Numbers” ) which makes it roughly 30% (plus or minus a few percentage points for the vagaries of holiday scheduling) of the seats taken.

The Cross Bay Ferry is a six-month pilot project gauging user support. HMS Ferries, the company facilitating the project, has recorded what it describes as strong ridership. But even ferry supporters acknowledge the number of paying passengers would not support a privately run service without a public subsidy.

What will be more interesting is how much money the operator will want to keep running the service, if they want to keep running it.

— That Other Ferry

There was also news about the other ferry – the proposed one from South County to MacDill.

Ferry service connecting South Hillsborough County to MacDill Air Force Base may soon be coming, after Hillsborough County Commissioners said they plan to spend $750,000 on a professional design and engineering study to begin the process of creating a route. 

Soon is also relative, but more on that below.  There was also more:

Commissioner Sandra Murman took the matter even further, proposing the county should create a ferry route, along with ancillary transportation service to connect riders from their home or office to the dock.

Both motions were approved unanimously.

First, if you are going to have the service, you should also make it easier for people to use it, so that is fine. As for the money for the design and engineering,

Commissioners also voted Wednesday to prioritize a $750,000 design and engineering study to be paid from the $600 million it has set aside over the next decade for transportation projects.

Setting aside that the Commission somehow seems to have money lying around for roads and ferries, but not transit for the vast majority of residents, ok.

The design study for the ferry will tackle two key questions.

The first is how to get residents to the ferry launch spot, a location yet to be determined. The second is how to properly screen passengers headed to MacDill, where security is tight.

Just hold onto the point that they still do not have a docking point.

Then there is also this:

Hillsborough County may say “thanks, but no thanks” to millions of federal dollars already earmarked for a ferry to connect MacDill Air Force Base and south county.

Instead, county commissioners want to see if Hillsborough can pay for the project itself, and maybe get it into the water much sooner.

Significant hurdles remain to fulfill the obligations required to unlock the $4.8 million federal grant to operate a south county ferry. On Wednesday, commissioners asked staffers to study what steps could be skipped if they turn down the federal government’s money and how that could affect the time line for launching boats.

There could be some cost savings, too, in avoiding certain studies and permits necessary to fulfill the grant requirements. But it won’t be anywhere near $4.8 million, meaning the county would have to find money to replace the federal government’s contribution.

The county was already on the hook for about $24 million to build the docks and parking lots and buy the ferries. Commissioner Ken Hagan suggested the $22.8 million still in reserve from the BP oil spill settlement could help pay for the project.

It seems that when South County is involved the County has money to spare.

The $4.8 million grant was announced with much fanfare in 2014 by U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor and celebrated as a victory by ferry advocates, including Ed Turanchik, the former commissioner who now represents the companies behind the ferry project, HMS Ferries Inc. and South Swell Development Group LLC.

But now Turanchik says it may make sense to forgo the federal money.

“It’s probably the difference between three years and as many as seven years,” Turanchik said.

It may make sense, but it may not. We get that the company is not concerned about the funding as long as there is funding and it comes sooner rather than later.  That is a logical business position for them.  The question is whether it makes sense for the County.  And the first question we have is just exactly where is the ferry going to dock?  So far, that has been an unanswered question that has wasted a lot of time, much for political reasons.  If there is still no known location, who is to say that determining the location will not waste more time making foregoing the $4.8 million just a complete waste of money?

Our position is pretty straight-forward.  We think the South County-MacDill ferry idea definitely has some potential merit.  However, the County, which claims to be so short of transportation money, should not pass on the federal money unless it is absolutely clear that doing so will significantly speed up the process.  And it should also put some money into real transit in the other parts of the County.

Rowdies, Rays, Regions, and Reality

This week, the Rowdies submitted a bid for one of four (two this year and to sometime in the future) MLS expansion teams. As part of the bid/campaign was little flash in Times Square:

From Empire of Soccer - click on picture for article

From Empire of Soccer – click on picture for article

The other cities bidding for teams are Charlotte, Cincinnati, Nashville, Indianapolis, Detroit, Phoenix, St. Louis, Raleigh/Durham, San Antonio, Sacramento, and San Diego.

Which brings us to an interesting column in the Times about the Rowdies, Rays, St. Pete, and, really attitudes in the area.  We’ll skip the first part of the column which related to the Rowdies sales pitch and get to the meat:

Here are my questions: If the Rays, which own last place in Major League Baseball season attendance in recent years, do eventually opt to pursue a new stadium elsewhere, perhaps in Tampa or Hillsborough County, do the Rowdies then become St. Pete’s “hometown” team? That would leave the Tampa side of this metro market with the Rays, the Bucs and the Bolts as home to all three top tier sports franchises. St. Pete has a “Save the Rays” campaign called Baseball Forever intended to show solidarity for the Rays to stay in St. Petersburg (presumably with a new stadium).

But now the Rowdies are knocking on the doors of the very same area businesses, many of them modest in size, to support their MLS quest.

Many of the larger companies in St. Petersburg and Pinellas County already support the Bucs and the Lightning in Tampa. Pro football fever runs high in Tampa Bay and has picked up since the arrival of quarterback Jameis Winston and signs of improving play jn the field. The Lightning, often contenders for the playoffs, are considered one of the best run sports franchises in the country.

First, none of the teams should be “St. Pete’s ‘hometown’” team.  They should all be hometown teams for the region (that’s why they should be “Tampa Bay” not “Tampa” or “St. Pete.” In fact, there is an online petition regarding just that issue and the Rowdies name here.)  The last thing any of these teams really wants to do is limit their market.

Will some businesses be forced to choose between the Rays and Rowdies? Can area residents support baseball and soccer in a hometown city with population of 260,000?

The simple answer is “No,” which is why major league sports don’t go to cities of 260,000.  They go to cities with larger metro areas and regional populations that can support teams.  St Pete is part of the Tampa-St Pete-Clearwater metropolitan area and the 11th largest media market in the US. That is why the Rays are there now and the Rowdies might get to MLS.

Traditionalist fans argue the Rays, as an MLB franchise, are an important icon for the greater Tampa Bay economy and represent a long history of baseball in this part of Florida. But that does not explain the team’s weak attendance and growing criticism of aging Tropicana Field in an era of competitive stadiums.

The weak attendance is due to location.  That was made clear, again, in a Business Journal article on the Mayor of St. Pete visiting the MLB Commissioner this week with this pitch:

“To me it was important to try and get him to understand what the future potentially holds for that site,” Kriseman said.

He ran through renderings from HKS Architects, the New York-based firm commissioned to develop a site plan for the 85 acres of land currently occupied by Tropicana Field and a sea of asphalt. The plans include a “placeholder” for a stadium, but no specifics. Instead, it focuses on developing the rest of the site with office space, retail, residential and hospitality.

“The team has expressed some disappointment in the season ticket sales,” Kriseman said. “When you look at what could be with a stadium surrounded by activity that’s 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, all are potential fans and ticket holders, which isn’t there now.”

Which is fine, but for 82 games a year, that does not change this:

The Tropicana Field site lacks access to fans within a 30-minute drive of Tropicana Field. Sites in Tampa are central to more people.

Nor will it change in the foreseeable future. Even if the Trop gets redeveloped, other locations (including some in north St. Pete) will be more central.  So, you ask, can the Rowdies think it might work in downtown St. Pete?  Simply put, there are fewer games and fewer seats per game.  They do not need as many people to cross the Bay to go to games (though they definitely need people to cross the Bay to go to games to succeed)

And none of this is to say that St. Pete is not a nice place with a nice downtown.  It is and has developed admirably.  But there are demographic and geographic realities.  Ignoring them or acting like St Pete (or Tampa) will truly succeed as a stand-alone entity (without its County or the area as a whole), in this or many other areas, is silly and counterproductive.

Roundup 1-27-2017

January 27, 2017


Transportation – FDOT, TBX, Ambiguity

Transportation – Buses, Stats, and Agreements

— Speaking of Which

— Tying It All Together

Port – If They Can Do It . . .

Downtown – Another Apartment Proposal

Tampa Heights – Armature Delay

Economic Development – DoD Conference

Transportation – Wondering About the Ferry

Planning App for the People

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

— Port Everglades

— Brightline

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

— What $3.5 Billion Gets You These Days

— Slow Decline of the Mall

List of the Week


Transportation – FDOT, TBX, Ambiguity

Given that just last week, they made a presentation about the “new” TBX , there was some interesting news from FDOT:

Florida Secretary of Transportation Jim Boxold will resign from the department on Feb. 3 to work as a lobbyist for Capital City Consulting.

DOT Assistant Secretary for Finance and Administration Rachel Cone will take over as interim secretary starting Feb. 4.

The bulk of Cone’s experience is in communications, not transportation. She previously served as Gov. Rick Scott’s deputy chief of staff, communications director at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and as a reporter at the Florida Times-Union. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Auburn University.

We have no idea what that means for TBX.  Nor do we know what this about the new Howard Frankland plan might mean:

Two extra lanes means the price tag for construction will go up. Jones said the numbers haven’t been worked out yet, but the agency is considering where additional funding can be found. 

If they need more money then it seems that the express lanes aren’t paying for the project.  Given that and the problems with the overall plan, maybe FDOT should rethink the plan and get it coordinated with the transit study, like it should have been in the first place – just like they should never have had a plan to remove a free lane and local officials should never have gone along with such a plan.  But, even with the changes at FDOT, it seems that the one constant is that express lanes are a priority, so, if it involves express lanes, we feel confident that FDOT will find some money somewhere.

Transportation – Buses, Stats, and Agreements

There was news this week that bus ridership of both HART and PSTA had a big drop last year:

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority saw the steepest decline, dropping 10 percent. The agency provided about 1.5 million fewer passenger trips, falling to 13.4 million trips from fiscal year 2015 to 2016.

“Plummeted might be the right word,” said PSTA CEO Brad Miller.

Across the bay, the slide was smaller but still substantial, with Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority ridership falling more than 6 percent to just over 14 million rides. That’s nearly 1 million trips fewer than in fiscal year 2015.

It was a sudden drop for the Tampa Bay region after six straight years of growth. The two agencies last year logged the fewest passenger trips since 2011.

That is interesting.  There are the numbers from the Times article (here):

Year HART PSTA Total
2009 11,638,548 12,179,776 23,818,324
2010 12,264,357 12,093,484 24,357,841
2011 13,730,705 13,103,206 26,833,911
2012 14,314,610 14,018,330 28,332,940
2013 14,732,525 14,467,510 29,200,035
2014 15,057,033 14,503,349 29,560,382
2015 15,003,289 14,898,825 29,902,114
2016 14,081,260 13,384,223 27,465,483

Setting aside that both systems still were above their 2011 (and before) numbers, what are the probable causes of the recent drop?

Transportation experts attribute this to a number of factors: lower gas prices, a still-rebounding economy and service cuts. 

And what are people saying?

Transit advocates say not to fear: This is a blip on the radar and all other indicators show bus ridership will rebound and continue to grow in future years. But for those who have spent years opposing increased sales taxes to pay for bus and rail, this is more evidence for why the region should spend less on transit and focus more on roads.

There’s little contesting the causes. Experts agree it’s a combination of the drop in gas prices along with many transit agencies having to reduce routes and frequency during the Great Recession.

“When you have a combination of reduced gas prices, which makes driving more attractive, and service cuts that make some trips more difficult, that leads to shifts in use,” said Darnell Grisby, director of policy development and research at the American Public Transportation Association.

But Hillsborough County Tea Party co-founder Sharon Calvert, who opposed attempts to raise the sales tax to fund transit in 2010 and 2016, said those factors don’t do enough to account for the fact that most people, when given the choice, don’t want to take the bus.

“I’m sure the gas prices have something to do with it, but the bottom line is the choice riders, their choice is not taking the bus,” she said. “They’re driving.”

She said the numbers also validate last year’s decision by Hillsborough County commissioners to not put a sales-tax increase on the ballot in November. The 30-year measure would’ve increased the sales tax by half a penny to raise money for road maintenance, bike and pedestrian improvements, and transit options such as increased bus service and a light rail between downtown Tampa and the airport. 

Setting aside that it has nothing to do with reasons to oppose Go Hillsborough (of which there were many others), the tea party advocate is right to a degree.  As transit in this area exists today, which is underfunded, with limited service, only buses stuck in traffic, and being constantly opposed by certain political factions plus the poor planning and built environment in this area, it makes sense that if gas prices go down more people will choose to drive.

However, her argument is a self-fulfilling prophesy.  If you work hard to make transit as unpleasant as possible and restrict it to a service really for people who have no choice (see this from the Tribune in 2011 ), it is not surprising that people who do have a choice will be less likely to use transit.  If it were properly planned and properly funded in an area with proper planning, it would likely be a bit different – though certainly a percentage of choice riders would choose to drive with lower gas prices.

One thing to note in all this is:

Grisby said it’s unfair to make decisions about funding and the worth of a system based on one year’s ridership numbers. Before 2016, bus ridership had been rising steadily over the past decade. And, though it doesn’t affect Tampa Bay, rail ridership has either stayed steady or increased nationwide. 

How can that be? (The lasts numbers from the APTA are here and long-term numbers here) Probably because if you give people decent transit, even if there are some ups and down in ridership (and the hardcore opponents may never use it), over time, more will choose to use it.

Of course, not since the streetcars were ripped up has this area really tried that.

— Speaking of Which

Which brings us to HART and PSTA cooperating, from Stpetersblog:

A Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) committee approved a Memorandum of Understanding with the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) on Monday for further collaboration between the two Bay area transit agencies, but not before some members had to tamp down the notion that the agreement could ultimately lead to a merger — and perhaps a tax increase for transit.

* * *

At a meeting of PSTA’s executive meeting held earlier this month in discussing the MOU, PSTA executive director Brad Miller laid out a timeline of how both agencies could approve the MOU in time for himself and Eagan to travel to Tallahassee to present to Tampa Bay area legislators in early February.

That timeline is a concern to Tea Party activist Sharon Calvert, who told HART committee board members on Monday that “all of this merger and regional orchestration has been done … in quiet discussions, without much transparency or time for the public to weigh in.” She called on officials to clearly state in the MOU that “this was not a merger.”

* * *

Board member Karen Jaroch also appeared uncomfortable with the language in the MOU, questioning the need for such “a big, binding agreement,” and expressed concerns about the trip to Tallahassee being planned by PSTA’s Miller next month. 

Setting aside that none of this is surprising, given past statements, (see “Transportation – HART/PSTA, Whatever” and “PSTA/HART – Record Ridership For This Bulwark Against the UN”), it’s not a merger. But even if there is a merger, what is wrong with a merger if it eliminates duplication of bureaucracy and facilities and allows for more efficient use of funds for actual transportation (we’re not saying that is a plan, but that would be the real reason for a merger)?  That would be running government more like a business and serving the area better at the same time, which is what we are told (and to some degree, though not completely, it is true) government should do. Unless, of course, maintaining waste and bad service serves another agenda.

— Tying It All Together

Finally, HART’s emphatic denial that there will be any merger makes us wonder about this from a Times editorial, which involves our first two items this week:

Boxold’s departure [from FDOT] also clouds an effort pushed by Pinellas County Commission chair Janet Long to create a regional structure for coordinating and implementing mass transit, which could include merging bus systems and transportation planning. That effort is gaining support and could require legislation this spring to study it. But the effort also will need support from DOT, which could include the study in its work plan. 

We are all for regional coordination and we think the highway plan should be coordinated with the transit study (because that is real planning), but one still has to wonder if, after years of saying that regionalism is the goal and is coming (TBARTA anyone) without real results, there is actually the political will to really get something done regionally regardless of what committees are created and the good intent of those coming up with the idea.  While there are many questions about FDOT, there are far bigger questions locally.

Port – If They Can Do It . . .

Last week, the Port had its State of the Port presentation, which partially focused on the challenges facing ports these days.

Anderson said that several issues, like the consolidation of global carriers, uncertainty following the U.S. presidential election and new regulations placed on the commodities industry made 2016 a tough year to navigate.

Because of this, the port’s annual revenue dropped to $49 million from $51 million, and total cargo remained flat at 37 million tons. But port staff took proactive and strategic steps toward creating opportunities for future growth.

* * *

. . . there are challenges still ahead. The new cranes, which have been operational since this summer, have yet to service a ship the size they were meant to lure to Tampa Bay. No new cars are flowing into Port Tampa Bay from Mexico yet either. And the future of that business is uncertain under President-elect Donald Trump, who has said he wants to impose a 35 percent tariff on cars imported from Mexico.

There is also the odd relationship with Port Manatee and the seeming competition between the two on things like car and fruit imports, and more. (See here, here, here, and here)

Given all that, URBN Tampa Bay noted an interesting item from regarding Seattle and Tacoma:

In the annals of local economic development strategies, cooperating with your closest competitor might rank among the more Herculean tasks of local politicians. But that’s exactly what the ports of Seattle and Tacoma, Washington, managed to pull off a few years ago.

Facilities nestled in the picturesque waters of Puget Sound—Seattle to the north, Tacoma to the south—had long jostled with each other for the business of big, ocean-going ships. So in 2015, they created the Northwest Seaport Alliance, a company that now runs two harbors under one aegis.

Leaders of both ports had surveyed the consolidating shipping industry and saw a grim outlook. Shipping lines were growing bigger and cooperating with each other, increasing their negotiating muscle with the port operators whom they pay to load and unload ships of containers and other cargo.

“All of that change is driving ports to look at our business models differently and adjust to the changes we’re seeing globally,” says John Wolfe, CEO of the alliance.

The seaport alliance, though still in its infancy, is a local attempt to solve a global problem. Ports need major investments and workforces need to be ready for the changes. If the partnership succeeds, it won’t eliminate the ups and downs of a notoriously volatile industry, but it may take the edge off.

And clearly, they made some effort to protect the official’s positions:

It took some years, but the Northwest Seaport Alliance scooped the facilities run by port commissioners (who are elected officials, by the way) in both cities into a single company. However, it preserved the existence of the commissions, which have to sign off on major decisions.

We are sure there are a number of different models that our area could follow, but the general idea seems quite sound.  It makes little sense to have two ports so close to each other competing with each other (and investing in duplicative facilities) rather than pooling resources to compete with other areas on behalf of our area, especially since that competition with other areas is not going to decrease anytime soon if ever. For most people living here, it makes no difference if a ship comes to the port in Tampa or just across the county line in Manatee.  What counts is business coming into the area and the opportunity that comes with it.

If local officials really believe in regionalism, they need to start really working toward it in substantive ways – like the ports.  And if people really oppose government waste and favor economic opportunity, they should work on it, too.

Downtown – Another Apartment Proposal

There is another proposal for downtown, just across the street from the Straz in what is now a surface parking lot for the Times building. From URBN Tampa Bay:

Orlando developer Mill Creek is asking for a variance for the Times parking lot to remove a grand oak tree. Mill Creek plans to build a 9 story, 275 unit apartment project with ground floor retail in it’s place. The hearing date is set for April 11th.

We think the variance should be rejected until the project has a better ground level. The project appears to only have one corner of retail on the southeast portion of the lot, and that part is currently a park. We also think the project is lacking density in general.

The site plan is attached. Renderings and elevations have not yet been released.

From URBN Tampa Bay - click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

As far as we can tell from the documents filed to date, this building will wrap around the Times building to the west and south (so most of the floors in that building will lose their views to the south and west). There will be ground floor parking covered on the street facing west by “townhouses.” (we assume some of the spaces will be for the Times building and may be used by Straz patrons, but that is just our assumption, not a stated fact.) On the far north corner, there will be a garage, though it is not clear exactly how tall.  The rest of the project will have apartments above the first floor, where facing south there will be a lobby and the retail.

As noted by URBN Tampa Bay, it could be denser, but so be it.  Additionally, there is the loss of the green space where the retail will go.  Right now that green space may seem like wasted space but, if a relatively large building were built, it would frame that little space nicely.  It also seems an odd place to put retail, given that it is the farthest location from the Riverwalk and Straz (though it is closer to the rest of downtown) and really sits basically at the end of a highway exit. But, while we would like the green space to remain and just have the building be a little taller, we do not see that as a deal killer in this particular case.

Of course, our view is just a preliminary impression. We would need more to really decide about this project.

Tampa Heights – Armature Delay

There was an article in the Times about the Armature Works renovation.

Since Soho Capital announced their latest plans for the Heights property last year, the company has been marketing the Armature Works building as a premier event and wedding venue and taking bookings for the 2017 year.

“The Armature Works project remains on track. In December, we decided to push back reservations until late summer,” said Adam Harden, principal of the real estate company, in a statement. “However, in an abundance of caution, we decided it would be best to eliminate the possibility that we might have to give someone a relatively short timeframe to change their venue if there were any delays in opening. With this in mind, we let the people who made reservations for events in May know we would help them find an alternative venue.”

Harden declined to comment on how many events were canceled or rescheduled or respond to any questions beyond an emailed statement.

You can read the story for more on the canceled weddings/receptions, but the story raises two issues.  First is the delay in the work.  What is the cause and will it hold back to project?  The second is whether the cancellations will lead to a loss of good will once it opens.  The project, when finished, should be nice, so hopefully it will recover quickly from any less than favorable press once people can actually see it.  More of a concern is whether the delays are big or not and whether they will be one-off or are run of the mill delays or signs of another, larger issue.  The article does not really tell us anything substantive about the delays.

Economic Development – DoD Conference

There was interesting news in the Business Journal:

After five years in Austin, the Department of Defense Innovation Summit is moving to Tampa.

The summit, expected to draw more than 2,000 people, is an opportunity for Tampa Bay entrepreneurs and innovators to showcase their companies and technology.

The Department of Defense chose Tampa for the event because of the innovation economy growing in the region and proximity to the United States Special Operations Command and MacDill Air Force Base, said Marc Blumenthal, CEO of Florida Funders. 

While we tend to think that the move is less about local innovation and more the presence of SOCOM and CENTCOM (and we would not be surprised if maybe there was some deal on meeting space and/or hotel rooms), it does not really matter to us.  We are happy the conference is coming here.  Hopefully, it will lead to more companies related to such work having a bigger permanent presence in our area.  While there are many that have some presence, we could always use more and any spin-off work.

Transportation – Wondering About the Ferry

As most people know, there is a trial ferry service between downtown Tampa and downtown St. Pete going on right now.  We have previously noted that the schedule is very limited and the price quite high for a trial service.  Recently, we have started to wonder about something else regarding the practicality of the service.  First, during the college championship festivities, the ferry was not able to run at certain times of greatest activity in downtown Tampa.

. . . it turns out the bay area’s big weekend means increased demand for dock space near the Tampa Convention Center, and as a result the ferry won’t be running Saturday.

“Due to increased boat traffic by the convention center this weekend, the dock the ferry typically uses is not available on Saturday,” Rich Mullins, a spokesman for the ferry, said in an email Thursday. “A backup dock was also not available due to other operations. The online ticket system has a note that alerts travelers to the change. All other runs are still on schedule: Friday, Sunday and Monday.”

The ferry loads and unloads passengers at a dock owned and operated by the Yacht StarShip dinner cruises charter. Yacht StarShip has provided the dock to the ferry at no charge subject to availability, owner Troy Manthey said, and the dock has two sides, so usually the ferry and Yacht StarShip can use it at the same time.

And now, for the biggest event of the year in Tampa, the ferry also will not be running:

The Cross-Bay Ferry won’t  run  during Saturday’s annual Gasparilla Invasion and Parade of the Pirates, when tens of thousands flock to the biggest event in Tampa Bay.

* * *

[Lack of docking space is] also the problem for Gasparilla. But the Coast Guard also sent out a directive warning vessels that are not part of Gasparilla’s annual boating activities to stay away, officials said.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman tried to work out an arrangement with Tampa for the ferry to dock during Gasparilla, but the Coast Guard’s directive put an end to those discussions with Tampa officials, said the mayor’s spokesman Ben Kirby.

In any event, Kirby said the mayor knew going into the pilot project, which ends in April, that the ferry would likely not be able to run during Gasparilla.

We understand the issue, but the ferry’s inability to run on the days it would really be useful and likely have most demand makes us wonder a little more about its utility, especially given that on most normal days there is a lack of useful transit connection at each end for commuters.  On the other hand, there probably is a work around for the docking issue if people put their minds to it.

Once again, we are all for the trial.  It is good because it reveals issues like this, but it is still an issue.

Planning App for the People

There was an article in the Guardian (UK) about an interesting app.

CitySwipe presents local residents with images of potential scenarios and simple yes/no questions, encouraging people to swipe through the options, as if assessing prospective partners. For the time being, it’s fairly basic: a photo of some street art appears with a caption asking: “Do you want more of this?” Folding cafe tables and chairs are shown next to pink park benches, asking: “Which do you prefer?”

It might sound superficial, but the questions move on to attitudes towards walking, bike lanes, housing and beyond. It makes the consultation process effortless, compared with the usual feedback mechanisms of filling in lengthy mailed-out response forms, downloading wordy PDFs, or being accosted by a chirpy volunteer with a clipboard.

It is one of the many tech tools cropping up in the world of town planning, in a bid to make what has always been an opaque and notoriously confusing system more transparent, inclusive and efficient for the public, planners and developers alike.

You can check out more of the article here and the app here.

We admit that we are not totally sold on this idea because there is always the risk of a lot of knee-jerk reactions or having it hijacked by people with specific agendas and not be representative. It is also not clear how it will fit into other planning procedures.  On the other hand, we are all for getting more people engaged.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

— Port Everglades

There is news from Port Everglades in Ft. Lauderdale:

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will halt work on dredging Port Everglades while it takes another look at potential environmental damage, according to federal court filings last week.

The decision comes after environmentalists and recreational divers sued last year, saying the Corps relied on the same faulty assessment that left a mile-wide swath of dead coral around the PortMiami dredge, far more than originally predicted in the $205 million project completed last year. The Corps said it would hold off work while it considers “new environmental information” and new protections given to five rare corals that might be damaged by the massive dredge. The agency will also provide the court with progress reports on work every 90 days.

What exactly is the work being done?

The $374 million Port Everglades dredge will deepen the channel from 42 to 50 feet and widen its entrance to make way for massive new ships sailing through an expanded Panama Canal.

The channel in Tampa Bay is 43 feet, though there are long-term plans to consider making it deeper according to the Port’s Vision 2030 plan (starting pg 22 of the pdf – listed as page 20 in the document), where we are told:


Almost all of the Port’s public and private facilities will eventually face limitations on vessel size as global fleet upsizing continues. The cost-versus-benefit analysis for deepening and widening is especially complicated, but without change the Port may lose some opportunity in the long-term 

Indeed, it is complicated.  But, as we noted last week, it is also a question of what we are going to do about it and what we want the port to be long-term: a business maintainer or a growth engine.

— Brightline

There was news about the Brightline rail service connecting Miami to Orlando:

Brightline, the Miami-to-Orlando passenger train service, began track testing Thursday.

Spanning 500 feet, the BrightBlue train will traverse a test track between Park Place in West Palm Beach and Lantana, about 10 miles away, says All Aboard Florida, the company developing Brightline. Traffic impacts are not anticipated. Click on the slideshow to view Brightline’s Jan. 11 unveiling in West Palm Beach.

* * *

“The start of dynamic testing for our first trainset brings us another step closer to the launch of our express, inter-city service this summer,” Brightline President Michael Reininger said.

The southern portion of Brightline, transporting passengers through three stops in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, is slated to begin operating this summer. All Aboard Florida expects the second phase of the project, running between West Palm Beach and Orlando International Airport, to begin operating before year-end.

We do not know if there are behind the scenes machinations, but there is still no real news about whether this area is going to be connected at some point to the network.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

— What $3.5 Billion Gets You These Days

As part of our continuing series in large developments, this week we visit Philadelphia.

Drexel University president John Fry wanted his campus to expand into an adjacent neighborhood of innovative businesses, bustling retail, manicured parks, and soaring residential towers.

* * *

The 125-year-old school is teaming with developer Brandywine Realty Trust to transform an expanse of parking lots and industrial buildings between its campus and 30th Street Station into a dense new addition to Philadelphia’s University City district of educational, medical, and research institutions.

The expansion – to be called Schuylkill Yards – is meant to accommodate a student body that has grown from fewer than 7,000 in the mid-1990s to about 26,000 today, while attracting tech firms, biomed labs, and forward-thinking start-ups to the area, Fry said in an interview before Wednesday afternoon’s announcement of the project.

* * *

The development is the latest – and perhaps most prominent – major project in a burst of real estate activity in and around University City.

The University City Science Center, a business incubator and research hub, and developer Wexford Science & Technology are building most of their uCity Square project on a 10-acre parcel just west of Drexel’s campus.

The University of Pennsylvania, meanwhile, is redeveloping a former industrial site across the Schuylkill south of its campus into a complex of offices, labs, and studios called Pennovation Works. 

From - click on picture for article

From – click on picture for article

The idea is in the review/approval stage.

We have no idea if this plan, which is supposed to take decades, will ever get built or, if built, be built as rendered.  Like most mega-projects, there are a lot of variables.  But it is just another sign that there are a lot of cities putting a lot of effort trying to attract tech, biomed, and other innovation to urban areas.  While we are all for the Lightning owner’s project, it should never be forgotten that it has a lot of competition.

— Slow Decline of the Mall

There was an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about the state of the mall business and mall owners walking away from their properties.  We are not going to get into the details.  You can read it here.  It is just another sign of the changes that area planning is ill-equipped to deal with.

List of the Week

The new Trip Advisor Travelers’ Choice Awards for Hotels list is out.   Actually, it is a number of top 25 lists of various hotel categories, like overall top hotels, small hotels, bargain hotels, bnb and inns, family, etc.  As far as we could tell, we did not make any of them this year, which is a bit surprising given all the tourist numbers.


Roundup 1-20-2017

January 20, 2017


Transportation – The New/Old TBX

Transportation – Who Is Driving This Show

— One More Thing

— And Another Thing

Transportation – PTC

Port – Cruise Control

Tampa Heights – Pearl Breaks Ground

Hyde Park – Rebuilding

Transportation – A Flight Mystery

Planning – Cool Feature from the MPO

St. Pete – Nice to Be Noticed

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

List of the Week I

List of the Week II


Transportation – The New/Old TBX

The first news of the revised TBX plan has started to come out:

Bill Jones, the recently hired director of transportation development for DOT’s local office, told Tampa City Council members at a community redevelopment area meeting that the state has devised a new plan for rebuilding the northbound span of the main bridge connecting Tampa and St. Petersburg.

Unlike a previous version that faced harsh political blowback last fall, this plan will not convert an existing free lane to a toll lane, leaving just three free lanes on the northbound and southbound spans.

“The recommended concept has changed,” Jones said, “and we are now having four non-toll lanes in either direction as well as the express lanes on the Howard Frankland Bridge.”

The department will hold a public hearing to review the plan sometime this spring, he said.

That is about what we expected: save all the free lanes and add express lanes, because express lanes are what FDOT really wants.  We doubt FDOT will address anything else, like how TBX rips up the urban core, mostly because most local officials don’t seem to care (as exemplified by so many of local officials supporting TBX before even bothering to find out what was in it as revealed by the Howard Frankland issue).

Nor do we think FDOT will wait until the transit studies are done to try to create a comprehensive transportation system.  It did not do that before and local officials did not care.  Why start now?  As for the public hearings, we doubt there will be much change there either.

Basically, the only change to TBX we foresee FDOT making is giving us more of it.  We could be (hope to be) pleasantly surprised, but, given past events, there is little reason to expect it.

Transportation – Who Is Driving This Show

There is a lot of talk these days about autonomous vehicles and how they will transform transportation.  While it is not really clear when they will be fully ready for the roads, there are also indicators that there are still some issues with them, like a number of issues in San Francisco. In the event, California told Uber that its cars did not meet California requirements, so Uber moved the program to Arizona, which has very limited regulations.

So does Florida,

“Hey @Uber, unlike California we in Florida welcome driverless cars — no permit required. #OpenForBusiness #FlaPol,” Brandes tweeted Dec. 22.

Brandes, who has been advocating for laws to allow driverless cars, is correct that Florida does not require a permit to operate or test a driverless car. But that doesn’t mean people should expect to hitch an automated ride any time soon.

* * *

“Florida has the least restrictive active state laws for the operation of autonomous vehicles,” said John Terwilleger, an attorney at Gunster law firm in West Palm Beach. Terwilleger represents a company that’s involved in developing and using autonomous vehicles in Florida.

In 2012, the Florida Legislature passed a law co-sponsored by Brandes that allowed a person with a valid driver’s license to operate an autonomous vehicle. Before companies could test autonomous cars, they had to submit proof that they had $5 million in insurance.

But in 2016, the Florida Legislature passed new rules that eliminated some of the previous requirements, including the $5 million in insurance. The new law also got rid of the requirement that a human operator be present in the vehicle, as long as an operator can be alerted in case of technology failure and stop the vehicle.

Since there is no permit for autonomous vehicles, the state has no information regarding how many Floridians own one, said Beth Frady, spokeswoman for the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

Florida law treats an autonomous vehicle in the same manner as any other motor vehicle operating on its roads, said Chris Spencer, a spokesman for Brandes.

Given that it is an unproven and potentially lethal technology, we are not sure that really is the best idea.  We are not saying that our rules should be as strict as California.  But, until the technology is proven safe (and even afterward), there should probably be some rules and oversight.  Testing is not the same as daily operating. And that is not even getting into the question of liability if there is an accident. We are all for pushing technology and creating an environment for having it developed and tested here.  However, there are responsible ways to do it.

There is also this:

Another hurdle to Uber’s autonomous cars in Florida is that Uber’s human-driven cars are not everywhere in Florida. Only a handful of jurisdictions specifically allow Uber: Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Hillsborough counties, as well as the cities of Gainesville and Tallahassee.

Correoso said that Uber wants a statewide law to allow for Uber before it would move ahead with driverless cars in Florida.

Statewide rules would take care of that.  But they would not take care of the fact that having anyone operate an autonomous car without any oversight regarding the autonomy part is questionable.  They may prove to be quite safe, but we would like someone to make sure.

— One More Thing

There was a reminder of how important getting this right is was given this week:

Amazon was awarded a patent for a network that manages a very specific aspect of the self-driving experience: How autonomous cars navigate reversible lanes.

Reversible lanes indicate a change in direction of traffic with an overhead signal, making it a potential disaster zone for self-driving cars that haven’t yet been programmed to understand those signals.

In the patent, Amazon outlines a network that can communicate with self-driving vehicles so they can adjust to the change in traffic flow. That’s particularly important for self-driving vehicles traveling across state lines onto new roads with unfamiliar traffic laws.

In December, the online retailer bought up thousands of its own truck trailers to deliver goods from one Amazon warehouse to another. It’s likely Amazon is thinking about its own self-driving ambitions — particularly since autonomous delivery trucks would eliminate the cost of hiring drivers.

We are not opposed to the idea of autonomous trucks.  However, consider being on the road with autonomous trucks rolling around in a very heavy Florida thunderstorm with very limited regulation and oversight.

— And Another Thing

Many, often those who are also slowest to do anything substantial about transportation, say we do not need mass transit because ridesharing will take of it.  Interestingly, Uber does not seem to agree.  In an article on Citylab, the Uber head of transportation, after studying their data, tells us:

“There’s no way in any system that Uber and any sharing models can move as many people as rail trains can, and I think we’ve demonstrated that with the shutdown,” Salzberg told reporters afterward. “If you look at the data for that day, you get a dramatic increase in congestion when rail transit doesn’t run. That’s one reason we’re putting this data out there—to be helpful in policy arguments around how to use these [road] spaces effectively.”

Surely ridesharing and autonomous vehicles will help move people around today and in the future, but they are still cars on roads, which take up space. Even if autonomous cars are moving around constantly, the main improvements they likely will make are reduced need for parking (and thus allowing greater density) and hopefully (though not necessarily) reduced costs for transportation.   When you need to get a lot of people around in a limited amount of space, cars will still not be the best way.

Transportation – PTC

We really don’t feel like writing much about the PTC anymore.  So we’ll keep it short. The PTC has avoided an FDLE investigation (though there is another investigation involving former PTC personnel), but, regardless, it seems that even the PTC is getting resigned to being abolished.

Port – Cruise Control

There was an interesting article in the Times regarding the cruise industry in the Port.  While it probably in anticipation of the State of Port speech where we learned

. . . that several issues, like the consolidation of global carriers, uncertainty following the U.S. presidential election and new regulations placed on the commodities industry made 2016 a tough year to navigate.

Because of this, the port’s annual revenue dropped to $49 million from $51 million, and total cargo remained flat at 37 million tons. But port staff took proactive and strategic steps toward creating opportunities for future growth.

The port purchased two $25 million Post Panamax cranes earlier this year, which allows the port to handle larger ships and build upon its cargo container business with the expansion of the Panama Canal. The port is already underway on building a 130,000-square-foot cold storage facility to receive and ship perishable goods. The port opened a brand new eastern berth that was made using fill dirt from dredging. Other plans are in the works to build upon its car import business from Mexico and luring new cruise ships. Port staff also outlined its longer term goals for its business through 2030 in an updated master plan.

On the other hand:

But there are challenges still ahead. The new cranes, which have been operational since this summer, have yet to service a ship the size they were meant to lure to Tampa Bay. No new cars are flowing into Port Tampa Bay from Mexico yet either. And the future of that business is uncertain under President-elect Donald Trump, who has said he wants to impose a 35 percent tariff on cars imported from Mexico.

So not much has happened with that yet.  We’ll see what happens.

But we digress.  We want to talk about the cruise article.

Port Tampa Bay may have finally found a formula that works to grow its long-limited cruise business.

The port is poised to serve 1 million cruise passengers for the first time this year, a sizeable feat considering the height limitations of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and competition from larger, more active cruise ports better positioned around Florida.

It’s making the leap not by bringing in the top-of-the-line megaships, but rather relying on refurbished, smaller ships, a growing population and easy-to-reach destinations. 


In 2016, Port Tampa Bay handled 813,800 passengers. For the first quarter of the 2017 fiscal year — which falls in line with the busy winter cruise season — the port welcomed 239,301 passengers, a 3 percent increase over 2016. More ships will set sail out of Tampa Bay this year, too — the number of cruise liners have grown from five seasonal and year-round ships to seven this year, including the addition of the Royal Caribbean Empress of the Seas, which will be among the first to sail to Havana, Cuba, beginning in April.

“We’ve been projecting for years that we’d see a short-term ramp up in cruise business, and that’s what we’re seeing now,” said Edward Miyagishima, vice president of communications and external affairs at Port Tampa Bay. “But the cruise business is a big part of what we do here, and it will play a major role in what we do going forward.”

And, in FY 2015:

The number of cruise ship passengers, however, fell slightly at 2 percent to 867,114 from 888,343 in the prior fiscal year. The port directly employs 135; indirect and related jobs reach about 80,000, according to TBBJ research.

These are the numbers since 2010, with the number of calls in parentheses (from the Port stats here):

FY2010: 807,082 (187)

FY2011: 875,611 (199)

FY2012: 974,259 (213)

FY2013: 854,260 (187)

FY2014: 888,343 (198)

FY2015: 867,114 (206)

FY2016: 813,800 (180)

Assuming that the economy holds up and the number of ships increases, yes, the number of passengers will increase. But in 2012, this was the concern:

Still, Wainio said, if Tampa doesn’t do something, changes in the cruise industry could make the port less and less attractive to the cruise industry. In other words, the cruise ship industry could begin to bypass Tampa’s port, which already is considered a secondary market. “If we are not satisfied with our limited market growth potential, we must be thinking ahead,” Wainio said. The Port of Tampa handles nearly 1 million cruise passengers annually. That number could grow to 1.5 million if more year-around ships are recruited, but that may be the limit with midsized ships.

So what is the plan now given those existing concerns?

The master plan forecasts a robust growth period ahead for Tampa’s cruise business, with annual revenues from passengers potentially nearing $1.4 million by 2030 compared to about $900,00 recorded in 2015. The forecast considered the limitations of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

That would seem to basically be what was discussed in 2012.  And then there is the market from which those passengers are drawn:

The plan isn’t to try to compete with the mega ships and bigger ports, said Wade Elliott, vice president of marketing and business development at Port Tampa Bay, it’s to create a niche market in Tampa Bay.

“A lot of the new demand we’re seeing for cruise traffic is connected to the population growth in Florida and the I-4 corridor,” Elliott said, noting that the majority of Port Tampa Bay’s cruise traffic come from Floridians and other “drive-in” markets like Alabama, South Carolina and Georgia. “Now that we’ve added new ships that serve some new destinations, the goal will be to make those seasonal itineraries year-round.”

Which also speaks to this concern from 2012:

“Tampa gets very little of the tourism dollar,” Crist said. “When you study the data, it’s clear travelers who book on the megaships tend to come in a day early and stay a day after, enjoying the port of call, something we don’t get now serving midsized ships.”

In other words, setting aside decreasing numbers in an era of record tourism (we set that aside mainly because we think more ships will mean more passengers, though not necessarily almost doubling the numbers any time soon), nothing material seems to have changed since the questions about the long term future were raised in 2012.

There is one additional factor:

Where Tampa falls short at times is that the amount of ships we have here is based on seasonality,” said Julio Soto, director of group product operations and sales for The Auto Group in Tampa. He noted that more than 60 percent of his company’s group travel bookings are for cruises. “In the winter, we’re fully booked. In the summer the ships leave because of hurricanes, and it cuts the amount of options in half. Year-round cruising at that same volume would be tremendous for Tampa Bay.”

Soto said that travelers are lured to Tampa Bay over other cruise destinations because they don’t want to be one of 5,000 people aboard one ship. Cruises that sail from Tampa are smaller and more personal, and they’re not so crowded.

Clearly, having more cruises means more passengers.  Full year round schedules increase numbers.  And what happens in Cuba may also change things a bit.

The bottom line is that cruise passengers bring in a substantial chunk of the Port’s revenue. (in 2012, it was a quarter of the revenue.)  We hope the business keeps growing.  However, right now there is a clear ceiling created by the Skyway and the channel.  It is the same with cargo ships.  Nothing in the plan seems to be much different from the thinking in 2012.

We understand that there are no easy answers and nothing is going to happen about the major impediments to growth soon, however, the question is whether local officials are just resigned to the problems or they are actually looking into changing, even at some time in the far future, the conditions that will restrict our growth.  The real question is what attitude will the Port, which is a main economic engine of this area, have as a Port (not a developer).  Is it the old airport attitude of just playing up incremental steps or the new attitude of making what improvements can be made while aggressively pursuing the future  even if there are issues and occasional setbacks?

Tampa Heights – Pearl Breaks Ground

While work has been under way on it for a little while, the Pearl in the Heights development has finally officially broken ground.

Developers, city and county officials pulled up in Infinitis, BMWs and Escalades for a walk through the dust and dirt. They grinned with golden shovels in their hands as they took part in the symbolic start of construction on a $68 million apartment complex — 314 units in four buildings, called the Pearl — that’s one of the main pieces of the neighborhood’s grand revitalization project.

What about Mercedes and Maseratti?  Anyway, jsut to refresh your memory, this is a rendering:

From Pure Properties Group - click on picture for website

From Pure Properties Group – click on picture for website

After a number of plans have come and gone, finally there is real development on a mixed use project in Tampa Heights.  Hopefully, it will get built out (without the surface parking in the plans shown to date).  That is definitely something to be happy about.

Hyde Park – Rebuilding

Work to rebuild Hyde Park Village is proceeding, per the Business Journal:

WS Development, the Boston-based owner of Hyde Park Village, confirmed Tuesday that demolition began this week on Block H, the vacant building across West Snow Avenue from French restaurant Piquant Epicure & Cuisine.

* * *

The demolition and rebuilding of that portion of the South Tampa shopping district has been planned for years. The new building will be 37,543 square feet, replacing a 44,250-square-foot building, according to plans filed with the city. That space includes a 6,000-square-foot restaurant and 22,234 square feet of retail, as well as loading and storage space.

Because there are many pieces to the project, this is the exact building in question:

Block H is the building between Snow and Dakota avenues that is home to Nature’s Table, adjacent to the southernmost parking garage on the property.

* * *

The only confirmed tenant for that space is Meat Market, a South Florida steakhouse concept that will likely have about 175 seats. Meat Market will be on the northern point of the new building, where Snow and Dakota avenues meet.

This is the old building:

From the Business Journal - click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

This is the new proposal:

From the Business Journal - click on pciture for article

From the Business Journal – click on pciture for article

We are a little confused how a two story building is significantly smaller than a one story building (unless the footprint is much smaller).  And while we like the street parking, we hope the sidewalks are not made too narrow by it.

Nevertheless, we are all for bringing Old Hyde Park Village back.  It was really the first modern attempt at developing walkability in area. While it was controversial when built, it was a very successful and nice area – and there is no reason it couldn’t be again.  (It is just too bad that the concept of walkability was not extended down Swann towards Howard rather then what was actually built there, which was much more sprawling.  At least that is being slowly changed a bit.)

We look forward to seeing the new Old Hyde Park Village.

Transportation – A Flight Mystery

A while back, there was news that Bahamasair had posted flight from Tampa to Nassau on a flight database.  Those flights then disappeared without explanation.  Then, in December, the flight was back with news you can make reservations.  However, if you go to the Bahamasair website, Tampa is not listed as a destination.  On the other hand, if you search the various websites for tickets, you can find the flights (with a flight number).  While it is not a huge service announcement if we get a Bahamasair flight, we can’t help but wondering what the deal is.

Planning – Cool Feature from the MPO

We saw an 83 Degrees Media article on a cool tool from the MPO:

Thanks to a new, citizen-driven app created by the Hillsborough MPO, Tampa Bay area pedestrians and bicyclists can help the county identify problem areas and pedestrian woes that may otherwise slip between the sidewalk cracks. 

* * *

The new interactive map is meant to collect data that picks up on those smaller details the MPO might otherwise overlook: incomplete sidewalks, bus stops that are difficult to access, and spots with heavy motorist speeding patterns, in spite of pedestrian density, are some of the prime concerns.

“We know that in those high traffic corridors in our crash database, it isn’t feasible to stop traffic for an entire day, or two, to paint the road — but we can do just that, and really create an impact, in some of the spots that are being identified on the Vision Zero map,” Torres says. 

The Vision Zero interactive map runs on the Wikimapping engine, a public engagement tool used by planners, governments and nonprofits across the U.S. to “crowdsource” input on a map to identify safety concerns in a region. Hillsborough MPO added the Wikimapping platform to the Vision Zero project page in early November.  

You can check out the MPO website here, and the interactive map is easier to use here.   Note that you can add new items or click on items that are already there and provide a comment (like it or dislike it). Of course, there is a risk of just having some out there ideas put on the map, but it is a really interesting tool.  It will be interesting to see what comes of it.

St. Pete – Nice to Be Noticed

There was a recent item on entitled “16 U.S. museums with outstanding architecture.”  It listed a number of very cool buildings in LA, San Francisco, DC, and various other places.  It also included the Dali in St. Pete.  In fact, the lead picture in the item was of the Dali.  While we would not necessarily put it in the same category as the Guggenheim in New York, it is nice to be noticed, especially in an area that lacks much architecture of note.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

As we have said for a number of years, despite the best efforts of some to make it so, rail transit is not a partisan issue.  There was recently another indication of that from Texas:

This month, the Federal Transit Administration signed an agreement with the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, or The T,  to provide a $499 million grant for the TEX Rail project. The other half is being paid for with local and state money, officials said.

* * *

The rail line will span nearly 27 miles, with nine stops in Fort Worth, North Richland Hills, Grapevine and DFW Airport. From the airport’s Terminal B, passengers can move to Terminal A, where they can catch a train to Dallas via the Orange Line operated by Dallas Area Rapid Transit.

TEX Rail will share two stations with another commuter rail line, the Trinity Railway Express, which runs parallel to Interstate 30 from Dallas to Fort Worth. The T and DART operate that route together.

The T’s new line is the western half of what is known as the Cotton Belt rail corridor. This year, the DART board approved plans to develop its portion, running from DFW Airport to Plano, in the next decade. 

From the Dallas Morning News - click on map for article

From the Dallas Morning News – click on map for article

Some would say that Dallas, with a very developed rail network, is a much bigger and denser are than we are, but Ft. Worth, which has less developed rail but wants more, is not nearly as much so.  Nor is it particularly liberal (nor is the Texas legislature).  And, even more interesting was this:

Paul Ballard, chief executive officer of The T, said the rail line is critical for the long-term economic viability of the Fort Worth area.

“Business today is global, and as businesses look to where they would locate or relocate, one of the check-offs on their list is, does the city and the county have a rail connection to the airport?” Ballard said. “And there are businesses that if you don’t have that connection, they move on to the next city.”

And that is definitely true . . . and should be remembered in this area.

List of the Week I

With all the talk of how attractive we are to Millennials and STEM jobs, this week’s first list is Wallethub’s “2017’s Best & Worst Metro Areas for STEM Professionals.”  You can see the methodology here.  One of the key things to note is that it is not clear what the definition of a STEM job actually is.  (Sometimes it includes tech customer service.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  We are not sure about this list.)

Because we are 39th, here are the top 39: Seattle; followed by San Jose; San Francisco; Boston; Springfield (MA); Austin; Minneapolis-St. Paul; Atlanta; Washington; Pittsburgh; Salt Lake City; Harrisburg (PA); Denver; Cincinnati; Albany-Schenectady-Troy; Madison (WI); Dayton; St. Louis; Sacramento; Hartford; Columbus; Grand Rapids; Rochester (NY); Baltimore; Raleigh; Houston; Syracuse (NY); Colorado Springs; Dallas-Fort Worth; Charlotte; Cleveland; New York; Orlando; Knoxville; San Diego; Greenville (SC); Richmond; Detroit; Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater

It is an interesting list, with some odd inclusions above us (Dayton? Harrisburg? Rochester?) and some odd ones below us, like LA and Portland (OR).

As the Business Journal noted:

The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metro area has dramatically increased its standing among communities nationwide in terms of STEM-related jobs.

The Tampa metro came in No. 39 on WalletHub’s Jan. 10 list of 100 best and worst areas for STEM professionals.

That’s a big bump up from the No. 65 spot the Tampa metro held on the same list a year ago.

Two other Tampa Bay area metros also moved up the ranks but remain near the bottom of the list.

That is a bump, which is good, though we are reticent to celebrate being 39th.  We did ok (30) on opportunities, though that is still not great.  What really hurt was “STEM friendliness” which has these factors:

  Mathematics Performance*: Full Weight (~5.00 Points)
Note: This metric considers standardized math test scores of fourth and eighth graders.

  Share of Best Engineering Schools: Full Weight (~5.00 Points)
Note: This metric measures the number of engineering universities in the top 100 of U.S. News & World Report’s Best Engineering Schools ranking.

  Quality of Engineering Universities: Full Weight (~5.00 Points)
Note: This metric is based on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Engineering Schools ranking.

  Housing Affordability: Full Weight (~5.00 Points)
Note: This metric was calculated as follows: Annual Median Wage for STEM Workers / Median Gross Rent.

  Transit Accessibility of Workplace: Full Weight (~5.00 Points)
Note: This metric measures the number of jobs accessible within 30 minutes by transit held by workers with at least a bachelor’s degree divided by number of workers with at least a bachelor’s degree.

  Recreation-Friendliness: Half Weight (~2.50 Points)
Note: This metric is based on WalletHub’s Best & Worst Cities for Recreation ranking.

  Family-Friendliness: Half Weight (~2.50 Points) 

We suspect that housing affordability (based on low wages) and lack of transit did not really help.

As with all lists, this one is not definitive.  Nevertheless, hopefully, the improvement will continue.

List of the Week II

The second list is in a way even more speculative, but so be it.  The Business Journal had an article regarding population projections:

Business First has developed a computer formula that uses 15 years of demographic data to estimate the population of any community at any given moment. It focuses primarily on the 108 markets with more than 500,000 residents, which are defined as major metros.

The formula has generated each area’s populations for the beginning and end of 2017, as well as the anticipated dates when specific milestones might be reached. 

The article included a database of the projections, so we played with it and came up with a list of areas (we admit the choices were subjective but we included most of those around our size, as well as some usual suspects).


Metro area
Population (1/1/2017)
Rank Population (1/1/2018) Rank Raw change Percent change
Houston 6,871,608 5 7,017,872 5 146,264 2.10%
Miami-Fort Lauderdale 6,114,927 7 6,183,978 7 69,051 1.10%
Atlanta 5,832,478 9 5,914,659 9 82,181 1.40%
Phoenix 4,683,802 12 4,757,755 12 73,953 1.60%
Riverside-San Bernardino 4,590,259 13 4,658,607 13 68,348 1.50%
Detroit 4,298,157 14 4,295,580 14 -2,577 -0.10%
Seattle 3,810,303 15 3,862,087 15 51,784 1.40%
Minneapolis-St. Paul 3,572,458 16 3,604,588 16 32,130 0.90%
San Diego 3,354,826 17 3,392,039 17 37,213 1.10%
Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater 3,030,953 18 3,068,511 18 37,558 1.20%
Denver 2,888,820 19 2,939,339 19 50,519 1.70%
Baltimore 2,820,185 20 2,835,403 20 15,218 0.50%
St. Louis 2,816,670 21 2,820,048 21 3,378 0.10%
Charlotte 2,489,479 22 2,532,268 22 42,789 1.70%
Orlando 2,464,477 23 2,517,181 23 52,704 2.10%
San Antonio 2,454,061 24 2,501,637 24 47,576 1.90%
Portland (OR) 2,434,704 25 2,465,360 25 30,656 1.30%
Pittsburgh 2,345,962 26 2,341,273 27 -4,689 -0.20%
Sacramento 2,315,068 27 2,342,599 26 27,531 1.20%
Cincinnati 2,171,054 28 2,179,949 29 8,895 0.40%
Las Vegas 2,163,070 29 2,195,710 28 32,640 1.50%
Kansas City 2,109,513 30 2,124,270 31 14,757 0.70%
Austin 2,087,345 31 2,146,793 30 59,448 2.80%
Columbus 2,057,967 32 2,082,440 32 24,473 1.20%
Nashville 1,877,123 36 1,908,824 36 31,701 1.70%
Jacksonville 1,482,345 40 1,504,565 40 22,220 1.50%

Keep in mind that these numbers are speculation about the future, though it is interesting to compare the projections of the usual suspects with the projections for us.  Feel free to play with database here.

The last estimated population from the census bureau for our area (released in 2016 giving estimates from 2015) is 2975225.  We assume we are now somewhere near our 2017 population number in the chart above. We’ll know the actual numbers soon enough.

Roundup 1-13-2017

January 13, 2017


Transportation – HART/PSTA Revisited

Transportation – TBX Questions

Transportation – Ferry Numbers

Built Environment – More on Walking

Economic Development – Venture Capital

Economy – Housing Costs

— The Developers Speak

Downtown/Hyde Park – The Tribune Lot Project Move Forward

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

Transportation – The Other Airport

Rowdies – Chamber on Board

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country


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

Transportation – HART/PSTA Revisited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

Transportation – TBX Questions

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transportation – Ferry Numbers

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Built Environment – More on Walking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

Economic Development – Venture Capital

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

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

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

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

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

Economy – Housing Costs

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

* * *

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

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

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

From - click on chart for article

From – click on chart for article

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

From - click on chart for article

From – click on chart for article

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

From - click on chart for article

From – click on chart for article

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

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

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

— The Developers Speak

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

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

* * *

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

So what brings them here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Downtown/Hyde Park – The Tribune Lot Project Move Forward

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

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

* * *

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

From the Business Journal - click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

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

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

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

We shall see.

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

Transportation – The Other Airport

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rowdies – Chamber on Board

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

There was news about Apple in Phoenix:

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

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

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

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