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Roundup 10-19-2018

October 18, 2018

Contents

Referendum – Just the Beginning

— One More Thing

— Another Thing

Airport – Record

Ports – Growth

Westshore-ish – Midtown Hotel

Westshore – About the Mall

Ferry – Attraction

South Tampa – Howard Hotel

Downtown – Tampa Museum

Bayshore

— Closing

— Flash for Walking

Tampa Heights – The School

Tampa Heights – Interesting

Seminole Heights – Sure You Can

Downtown – Welcome to Encore

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Country

Meanwhile, In the Rest of North America

_____________________________________________


Referendum – Just the Beginning

Last week, we wrote about the transportation referendum.  In all honesty, we thought we would not say much more until the election, but then the Times ran a number of articles about it.  In particular was one entitled “Here’s how money from a sales tax hike would improve transportation in Hillsborough.”   After readings a number of comments on various fora, we decided to raise another point – something that many already know but is worth repeating. From the article:

The latest stab at an answer comes from a citizens group backed by business leaders grown weary of inaction by government leaders. They’ve succeeded in landing a proposal on the Nov. 6 general election ballot to raise the sales tax by one cent on the dollar and bring in $276 million a year for road and transit projects.

If approved, local government agencies say the money could be used to:

Other priorities include adding bus and express-bus routes in south Hillsborough, the restoration of bus routes that were cut by the cash-strapped Hillsborough Area Regional Transit authority, and more crosswalks and street lighting to make roads safer. 

To us, the key word is “could.”  The money could do all that or it could not (or it could do some). It all depends on who decides what exactly happens with the money. (Yes, the money is divided into various categories, but the exact projects are not determined.)

Later in the article, there is a focus on transit:

The plan proposed by All for Transportation includes mass transit linking the university area, downtown Tampa and Westshore, but does not commit the county to rail. Instead, the plan promises only a transit system that has its own right of way, meaning it could not be held up by road traffic.

Whether that would be rail, light-rail, bus rapid transit or a combination has yet to be determined. Still, the long range blueprint from the Metropolitan Planning Organization offers a few clues.

It shows that the segment between the university area and downtown Tampa would use an existing CSX rail corridor. Cost estimates in the plan assume the corridor will remain as rail. Adding a passenger service to the existing line would cost $296 million and another $54 million to run for the first 10 years, the plan says. Some of the funding would come from federal and state grants.

The link between downtown and Westshore would use track now traveled by the TECO Line Streetcar System as well as state Department of Transportation right-of-way along Interstate 275. The plan is based on building a modern streetcar line at a cost of $456 million. It would cost $57 million to run in the first 10 years.

Officials stress that any transit system has yet to be designed so no choice has been made. Whichever alternative is chosen, HART would build and run it.

From the Times – click on map for article

The map is interesting, but the key point is that no transit system has been designed.  No choices have been made.  Right now the only transit plan is the “BRT” plan (and some discussion of limited expansion of the streetcar).

Yes, there are ideas that can be referenced (and maybe even followed), but there is no actual plan and no guarantee that the referenced plans will be advanced. (That is the reason we wanted a list of initial projects) In other words, even if the referendum passes and there is money, that is only the beginning.  Those advocating for transit will still have a lot, actually most, of the work still to do.  All the decisions still have to be made.

We are not saying do not vote for the referendum.  We are saying that if you want transit – real, properly designed, useful transit – and other transportation alternatives (and even roads) do not think for a minute that just passing the referendum will get you what you want. (Just google “Miami 2002 Metrorail referendum”) There are all sorts of local, state, and federal issues to overcome and are/will be many factions vying for their projects and/or for a cut of the money.  And do not assume that all those who endorse the referendum want what you do.  (Many have supported every plan put forward, including the “BRT” plan and TBX.  Remember that MetroRapid was initially held out as BRT, too.  And remember that MetroRapid expansion was a main feature of Go Hillsborough, not any real BRT.)

We don’t know if the referendum will pass or not, but, if it passes, to make the referendum truly worthwhile, people will have to stay engaged for years.  If it passes, it will not be the time to settle.


— One More Thing

Last week we pointed out that the membership of the Oversight Board on transportation could not be announced because the composition of the organizations that would pick the members was still unknown (and, to a large degree, will be until after the election).   That is why it was odd to see this in an otherwise well-worded opinion piece by the Lightning owner:

Just as important, the authors and backers of the plan are intelligent and trustworthy. After collecting 77,000 citizen signatures in support of placing this plan on the November ballot, these civic leaders are now running the campaign. Should the plan pass, they will work alongside independent experts on an oversight committee dedicated to ensuring every single dollar is invested properly.

Because, at this point, if everything is functioning as it should, it would be very difficult to know who would be on the board or who would choose the members, we are going to assume for now that the Lightning owner just meant people who are engaged would probably get on the board.  However, if somehow the oversight committee has been “chosen,” the names should be made public, like the schools referendum oversight committee.


— Another Thing

The Times article had one other note:

The tax won’t go toward relieving the infamous traffic jams at “Malfunction Junction,” where Interstates 275 and 4 meet in Tampa, or for backups on the Veteran’s Expressway — both the responsibility of state and regional agencies.

Actually, nothing will go to fixing the Veterans specifically.  The Veterans was supposed to be fixed with express lanes (hint: it’s not).  There is no room and are no plans for anything else on that road.  That is just another reason why we need alternatives.


Airport – Record

The airport reached a major milestone this last fiscal year:

Tampa International Airport closed Fiscal Year 2018 after logging 21,013,788 passengers – the Airport’s first time surpassing the 20 million mark and an all-time record for TPA. The number represents a 9.3 percent increase over the previous year, beating earlier projections. TPA’s fiscal year runs from October 1 through the end of September.

Additionally:

The announcement followed last week’s news that United Airlines is doubling its Tampa-to-San Francisco service starting next June. Lufthansa also plans to increase its service from five to six days a week next summer, and on Halloween Norwegian Airlines will launch its nonstop service to London’s Gatwick Airport, marking the first time two airlines will fly to the same European city from TIA.

There is really nothing else to say but “great job,” and it is good that the aggressive airport advocates won the argument against those who supported complacency.

The airport also garnered another high-ranking, this time from Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards.  The airport came in fifth behind Indianapolis, Portland (OR), Hartford, and Minneapolis-St. Paul.  We have no idea why, but so be it.

Additionally, there will be a new commuter airline at the airport soon. (See here)

In further news, St Pete – Clearwater also broke records:

The airport saw 121,192 passengers, which is a 21 percent increase year over year. Year to date, it grew by 13 percent, according to the airport’s monthly passenger report.

The airport has experienced 1.7 million passengers thus far, but is expecting to see more as passenger levels are projected to increase to 2.1 million by fiscal year 2022.

The big downside to the St. Pete – Clearwater numbers is that they are reliant on one airline.  Nevertheless, good news.


Ports – Growth

The local ports seem to be humming along, at least relative to their previous performance.

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

Port Tampa Bay attributes FY18’s success to record cruise and container activity, new and expanded leases like the Port Logistics Cold Storage facility, and imports of increases in commodities such as petroleum, limestone, citrus, and sulfur.

That is very good and probably driven to a large degree by cruises (which had previously made up about 25% of the Port’s revenues).   We are all for growth in revenue. (We do not have the FY2018 container or other cargo count, but it would be interesting to see.  We would also be interested in how much, if any, of the fruit business moved from Port Manatee.)

Meanwhile, at Port Manatee:

Port Manatee also continues to break records. The Palmetto port handled a record high of more than 9.3 million tons during this fiscal year, up 19.1 percent from the previous fiscal year.

Due largely to a more-than-tripling of phosphate rock imports, Port Manatee saw its dry bulk products rise 48.5 percent, reaching a record 1,970,340, while liquid bulk, the port’s largest sector, saw an 11.4 percent boost, to a record 6,207,219 tons.

We are not sure how that translates into actual money, but, generally, more business is a good thing.


Westshore-ish – Midtown Hotel

There was news about a proposed hotel for the Midtown complex between Dale Mabry and Himes north of Cypress. From URBN Tampa Bay:

Midtown Tampa, a massive mixed-use project at the Northeast corner of Dale Mabry and Cypress, is moving ahead with an Aloft and Element dual-flagged hotel. The hotel is 7 stories with 226 rooms and a solid 24,900 square feet of retail space.

Frankly, we were hoping for something a bit more ambitious in regards to the project’s hotel portion.

(You can see more here) While the picture is a little small, the hotel appears to be planned for the smaller rectangle in the middle of the complex:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

Here are some renderings:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for article

 

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for article

First, we like the retail and what appear to be awnings.  However, the retail/awnings cover the north and western sides of the building.  That leaves the southern and eastern side quite bland and uninviting.  Like URBN Tampa Bay, we were hoping for something a little more interesting both architecturally and, to some degree, in brand.  Then again, it is consistent with the other things we have seen with this project which seems determined to fill an ambitious plan with quite conventional elements.  We will have to see.


Westshore – About the Mall

There was interesting news from WestShore Plaza this week.

The ownership of WestShore Plaza confirmed to the Tampa Bay Business Journal that it has recaptured the space Sears leases, which takes up more than 2 acres on the northeast side of the mall.

Washington Prime Group (NYSE: WPG), the Ohio-based real estate investment trust that owns WestShore Plaza, “is in active negotiations to transform the Sears space currently occupied by Sears,” Kim Green, a spokeswoman for Washington Prime, wrote in an email.

WestShore Plaza is an interesting case of a shopping center that has gotten denser over the decades (here is an old picture ).  This could be one more step.  What are they considering?

A potential redevelopment of Sears’ real estate in Westshore has been speculated for years in commercial real estate circles, as Sears has been on the decline for more than a decade. With a $134 million loan payment due Monday, the department store is said to be preparing a bankruptcy filing, with its largest lenders urging for Chapter 7 liquidation.

While a few Sears (NASDAQ: SHLD) boxes around the Bay region have already been redeveloped, Sears’ location in Westshore was its best location in the Tampa area — it’s in an urban corridor, situated at one of the city’s busiest intersections. At Tyrone Square Mall in St. Petersburg, the Sears store was replaced by a lineup of smaller boxes, including Lucky’s Market and Five Below.

In Westshore, a redevelopment might look like a little different than bringing in different retailers. Real estate brokers expect a mixed-use redevelopment and say that a variety of property types — including retail, residential and office space — make sense for the site.

Mixed use is nice, but we are not sure they need to add more retail to the existing mall.  We would really like to see residential, though we shall see what they come up with.


Ferry – Attraction

There was news about the details of the Cross Bay Ferry service this year.

The Cross-Bay Ferry returns Nov. 1 with lower ticket prices and voyages that sail later for dinner-time and evening-out trips to Tampa and St. Petersburg.

One-way fares will be $8 for adults — $2 less than during the ferry’s first season two years ago — with discounts for children, seniors, college students and active or retired military.

The service will run Tuesday through Sunday, dropping Mondays, which had poor ridership, in favor of later hours. The idea is to allow passengers to have dinner or catch a hockey game across the bay and still catch the ferry home.

“We found out that there was very strong ridership in the evenings during the week and on weekends, so we’re tailoring this service to meet what customers’ demands and interests were,” said Ed Turanchik, an attorney for operator HMS Ferries (and a candidate for mayor of Tampa)

Additionally, the docking locations will change a bit:

In St. Petersburg, the ferry will dock at the North Yacht Basin. The dock, roughly at 418 Bayshore Drive NE, is near Straub Park and the Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort. The cheap option for parking, Turanchik said, will be at the SunDial garage, which will offer a shuttle to the ferry terminal. With proof of a ferry ticket, parking there will be free.

In Tampa, the ferry will dock behind the Florida Aquarium, 701 Channelside Drive, because of construction at the Tampa Convention Center. The board of Port Tampa Bay voted Tuesday to approve the berth and waive dockage charges and passenger fees.

That is all well and good, but it also makes clear that the ferry service is not really for transportation/transit.  It is an attraction.  No service that truly planned to serve as real transportation/transit would skip Mondays (real transportation would run all week).

As we have said for a while, we do not mind the Cross Bay Ferry, but it needs to treat as what it really is: a novelty.  It may be a nice ride and it may be fun, but it is not a real transportation system or transit.  And pretty soon it needs to not have subsidies.


South Tampa – Howard Hotel

Recently we discussed a proposal for a hotel across the street from the Epicurean.  At the time there was only what were essentially massing diagrams.  Now there are some more detailed drawings:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for article

 

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for article

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

As you can see from the site plan and the west elevation, much (if not most) of the building is actually off of Howard behind some existing buildings.  The part that does touch Howard has garage access, an entrance, and what appears to be a loading dock. In other words, most of the frontage is for cars and trucks.  That is disappointing.  We do not think that, given the specific location on Howard, the street needs crazy pedestrian activity.  A slightly more sedate development would be fine.  But that does not mean that driveways and exposed parking.  Of course, they need a way to get to the parking and a loading dock, but we think they can do, and the neighborhood should have, better.


Downtown – Tampa Museum

There was news about the Tampa Museum.

“The economy is strong, the downtown is growing. It’s an opportunity to move the project forward,” Tampa Museum of Art Executive Director Michael Tomor told the Tampa Bay Business Journal. “It speaks to the growth of the city, but it was something always on the horizon back in 2007, so this is a conversation that is now 12 years old and the timing is good.”

Tomor said the museum was meant to be built in two phases. The current building, built in 2010, was the first phase.

Now a second phase would address some of the building’s aging problems, including the storage facility being at capacity and problems with leaky roofs and flooding during inclement weather.

“It was clear a new facility needed to be created,” Tomor said.

We are not sure what the last comment refers to given that the museum is not that old.  We are also not sure why there are leaky roofs and flooding, but we have no reason to doubt that it is true (or that it needs to be fixed).  We definitely think expansion would be in order given that there really is not that much room for exhibits.  So what are they looking at?

The renovation could include an indoor event space rather than completely relying on the terrace.

* * *

Tomor said they’re also looking at creating a restaurant with a full kitchen and large spaces for overflow programming. The museum worked with Sono Café for a number of years, which is operated by Mise en Place in Tampa, but recently ended the contract and partnered with SaltBlock Hospitality to open its Riverwalk Cafe concept this year. But the vendor has to prepare food off site to cater to a large event; expanding with a kitchen would allow dishes to be made on site.

That’s not really what we were thinking.  But, anyway:

The museum wrapped up a six-month-long analysis on the master plan and reached out to more than 25 architectural firms. Now it has a shortlist and will start the interview process.

Expansion and renovations will be funded the same way the museum funds its operational costs — through philanthropy, individual and corporate foundations and government funding. The amount of the entire renovation was not disclosed as the feasibility of the project is ongoing.

To be honest, that makes us a bit nervous.

Although many of the renovations will take place inside the 66,000-square-foot museum, the building may structurally be expanded by 20,000 gross square feet along the Riverwalk while maintaining the same iconic look.

Whatever they build needs to be consistent with the building they have, but we shall see.  We also think they should focus on non-government money, especially if they are not expanding exhibit space. We are all for good museums, but we think the focus should be on the museum part.


Bayshore


– Closing

A while back we discussed a condo proposal for Bayshore.  The preliminary drawings resembled a ziggurat and were, shall we say, not good.  This week, the developer closed on the land between Howard and DeSoto.   The proposal still would need to make it through the architectural review process.  This is one of the early drawings:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

There are a couple of others and they are not better.  What did the developer have to say?

“We’re confident in the site and our ability to get through” the public process, said Brian Van Slyke, one of Kolter’s development executives.

“We’ve gotten positive zoning review from the city staff, and we believe there’s a path forward through the ARC,” Van Slyke said.

We agree.  There is a path forward.  Change the design.  To wit:

The initial drawings submitted to the city are preliminary, Van Slyke said, and will likely change as the project advances.  Kolter is beginning to refine the design and floor plans, he said, and anticipate “some back and forth” on the architecture with ARC.

That is fine, though, to be fine, we construe “some” very liberally.  We are not opposed to a condo near Howard on Bayshore.  We are opposed to an ugly condo near Howard on Bayshore.  Hopefully, the developer will really redo the design and come forward with something we all can like.


– Flash for Walking

Speaking of Bayshore:

The City of Tampa will be installing Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons (RRFBs) and enhanced crosswalks to four additional locations on Bayshore Blvd. south of Howard Ave. to enhance pedestrian safety. These crosswalks will be located near the intersections of W. Alline Ave., W. Knights Ave., W. Euclid Ave., and S. Carolina Ave. Work on these installations is expected to be completed before the end of the year.

The four new RRFB locations are an extension of ongoing safety efforts by the City of Tampa, including work underway to install three RRFBs at S. Delaware Ave., S. Dakota Ave., and midblock between S. Brevard Ave. and W. Swann Ave. These three locations will be activated on Wednesday, October 24, 2018.

This is the area.

We agree with URBN Tampa Bay in this assessment:

An RRFB is a flashing crosswalk, there is no pedestrian activated red light to halt traffic. They are a design compromise, which compared to other crossing options, trades some pedestrian safety for higher traffic flow and lower build cost. The pedestrian still must wait for passing traffic to clear, or for that traffic to voluntarily stop and let the pedestrian cross. It works about as well for pedestrians as one would expect from a device designed to make the pedestrian the #3 priority behind traffic flow and cost.

We would much rather see a light with a crosswalk at Euclid (which should not be a problem, especially if the City really is lowering the speed limit on Bayshore).  Then, maybe a crosswalk about halfway between Euclid and Gandy would be useful.  While they have become very popular in this area and are ok in limited use, just tossing up RRFB’s does not make for a good walking environment and is not a substitute for good planning (not to mention they are ugly).  And RRFB’s are no substitute for a light where traffic knows it may have to stop.


Tampa Heights – The School

Following up on last week’s discussion of Lee Elementary,

Things have come full circle as the Hillsborough County School District moves ahead to rebuild fire-ravaged Lee Elementary School.

The board on Tuesday unanimously approved a plan that the district negotiated with its insurers that pays full cost of building the century-old elementary school at its current location at 305 E Columbus Drive.

We are glad they are rebuilding the school.


Tampa Heights – Interesting

There was news this week that the Salvation Army is planning to consolidate its Tampa Heights properties into one building at 1603 N. Florida Ave.   It wants to sell three other properties:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

Tampa Heights is a hot area right now, so we assume there will be a lot of interest. For now, though, it is a wait and see situation.


Seminole Heights – Sure You Can

There was news about one of the urban developments on Florida in Seminole Heights.

Two boutique businesses that got their respective starts in downtown Tampa and downtown St. Petersburg will join forces in the same mixed-use development in Seminole Heights.

Grassroots Kava House and Duckweed Urban Market have both committed to storefronts on the ground level of the Avenue Lofts, an apartment-and-retail development at 5236 N. Florida Ave. It has 52 apartments above the storefronts and a three-story parking garage with 100 spaces on the property.

Developer Wesley Burdette said Grassroots has leased an 1,800-square-foot endcap and Duckweed has taken a 3,600-square-foot space. Duckweed has two locations in downtown Tampa and the Channel district; Grassroots is in downtown St. Pete on Central Avenue.

First, good for Seminole Heights and the redevelopment of Florida.  Florida is primed to be a key urban corridor.

Second, it just shows why there should be no excuses about market conditions or the like, especially regarding major corridors and street retail.  More importantly, the City Council needs to take notice and really require developers to activate the streets of their projects.


Downtown – Welcome to Encore

The storage project requests keep coming.  From URBN Tampa Bay:

A developer is asking for a special use permit (SU-2) to build an 11 story A/C storage facility at 1301 North Jefferson Street in Downtown Tampa. The project would feature a rooftop “private recreation facility” on top floor. The project is asking for a parking waiver as well: 24 spaces are required and the developer proposes 12 parking spaces.

As with all these storage requests, we think it should be rejected.  Not only is it a storage building, it is only a storage building (we don’t really care about the private recreation facility” on the top floor.)  We care about nothing happening on the street.  We care about what appears to be a surface parking lot.  We care that this is across the street from a park and near Encore (See here.  Never mind that the City approved the ridiculous Burger King drive through.  That was bad enough. There is no reason to compound the mistake)

Storage buildings do not belong in a downtown the City claims it is trying to revitalize.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of Country

A reader sent us a link to a YouTube video about the ill-fated Cleveland Balloonfest of 1986.

 

If you never heard of it, watch the video.  Even if you have heard of it, watch the video.  Pay particular attention beginning at 2:10.  “Why?” you might ask.  Because you will hear some very familiar sounding phrases applied to Cleveland in 1986.  You are free to do with that what you will.  However, while acknowledging that we are not Cleveland in 1986, it is just another reason why we do not buy into hype.  Talk is not an achievement.  Actual achievements are achievements.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of North America

The Guardian (UK) had an interesting article on building a pedestrian/bike bridge in Calgary. We’ll just highlight this snippet as a teaser.

Bringing in a big name didn’t change people’s opinions, however. For the opening of the bridge, councillor Farrell was escorted by four bodyguards. Even Farrell’s brother had to endure the ire directed at the Peace Bridge when a dinner guest discovered their relation and said to him: “You tell your sister that if we wanted beauty, we’d travel to Paris. In Calgary we just need it to work.”

“It was the first piece of significant infrastructure predominantly for active mobility,” Farrell explains. “If it had been for vehicles, we would not have had any debate, and it would not have been controversial.”

It is worth reading.

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Roundup 10-12-2018

October 12, 2018

Contents

Referenda – It’s Time

— Our Opinion

Transportation — Another Example

Downtown – Riverwalk Place

Downtown/West Tampa – By a Park Down By the River

Hyde Park – What?

Airport – Bringing the Boxes

Economy – Tourism

Tampa Heights/Seminole Heights – Lee Elementary

Pasco – How Not To Do It

Please Consider Helping

_________________________________________


Referenda – It’s Time

As anyone interested would know, this year’s election will feature two referenda for tax increases: a one cent increase for transportation and a half-cent for the school board.  Unsurprisingly, there is news about both.

First, the school tax includes a provision for an oversight board, as does the transportation plan.  For a variety of reasons (including it is not clear yet who will sit on the government bodies that would choose its members) the transportation board has not been named.  The school oversight board is a little easier.

Earl Lennard, who was Superintendent of the Hillsborough County Public Schools for almost a decade before serving as Supervisor of Elections, has agreed to join a committee that will oversee spending if a schools tax referendum prevails on Nov. 6. 

Lennard, now retired, joins former Florida education commissioner Betty Castor, Sheriff Chad Chronister and these other members who were announced Wednesday: Bonnie Carr, chief financial officer of Hillsborough Community College; Ed Narain, a former state representative; and Jose Valiente, a certified public accountant who is past commerce chairman for the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. The school district will appoint a seventh member.

Naming the board is a prudent step by advocates of the school tax.  Another prudent step is providing a list of projects that will be funded.

The Hillsborough County School District on Friday released a long-awaited, school-by-school list of 1,785 projects to be funded by a proposed half-cent sales tax hike.

The list, now on the district website, includes playgrounds for Anderson Elementary School, carpets and floors for Chiles Elementary, new stage lights and a repaved parking lot for Madison Middle School, and hundreds of air conditioning upgrades countywide.

District spokesman Grayson Kamm said $637 million is earmarked for air conditioning systems. That’s nearly half the $1.31 billion the tax would be expected to raise over 10 years.

You can read the list here.

Of course, unlike transportation issues, giving kids air conditioning in school is not that contentious.  In fact, it is so lacking in contentiousness that the County Commission is considering getting involved.

The text messages from his daughter’s middle school about the air-conditioning breaking down have come too often for Commissioner Ken Hagan.

* * *

Hagan on Wednesday proposed that the county step in to help the district tackle its air-conditioning crisis and pay for other critical maintenance. Commissioners agreed with Hagan’s idea that the county offer its AAA bond rating to either borrow money on behalf of the school district or to guarantee bonds issued by the district.

The offer should be made regardless of whether a half-penny referendum to raise money for capital repairs to schools passes on Nov. 6, Hagan said.

While, for fiscal reasons, the school board may not take them up on it (it’s in the article here), it is still amazing how the County Commission comes up with resources when they want to.

Nevertheless, the transportation referendum does not have a list of projects, or even a partial list.  We would like a partial list (a beginning list), but it is what it is.

In any event, the Times has supported passing both the school and transportation referenda. We are not going to go into depth on what they say as they repeat the pro-referendum arguments for both.  Additionally, as we would expect, the transportation referendum was endorsed by the Lightning, Rays and Bucs and Visit Tampa Bay.

Additionally, as anyone who watches TV probably knows, All for Transportation has released an ad for the transportation referendum:

 

The ad is relatively well made, which we would expect for the money raised. Interestingly, as noted by Florida Politics:

The All for Transportation campaign launched its first television commercial Thursday, asking voters to approve Hillsborough County Referendum No. 2 raising sales tax 1 percent to fund billions in transportation and transit improvements.

The ad highlights all the benefits and, in a strategic move, doesn’t mention the tax increase.

We are not sure what the polling and market surveys said, but not mentioning the actual tax is clearly, as the quote says, strategic.  What is also interesting is how much the ad downplays transit and focuses on roads, including, like this screenshot:

Screenshot from All for Transportation ad – click on picture for YouTube video

While it is true that the referendum plan has a limited amount of money for new roads (potentially more than some think), it is interesting that the ad focuses on roads.

Finally, URBN Tampa Bay has a screenshot of how the transportation referendum will appear on the ballot:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

We have to admit, we find it a bit odd that they listed some areas but not others. We would not have done it that way but, once again, we have to assume there is some strategy based on polling or surveys.


— Our Opinion

Some might wonder why we have not said more about the referendum. The fact is that we have written a number of pieces on the referendum only to decide to not post them in the Roundup.  One reason for that is that while there is much to like in the language – the bike and walking improvements, the split spending, the increase in transit spending, the dedicated lane/fixed guideway concept, and others – the language has some issues.  We deleted most of what we wrote because, in all honesty, we like the general intent of the referendum and see no reason to publicly share ways to undermine it.  (Of course, if the loopholes were intentional, those who wrote it that way already know it.)

But even setting that aside, the reality is that, if the referendum passes, the key factor to its success of failure will be the functioning of the Oversight Board.  We completely get the idea of an oversight board, but in an area where the political officials (and political factions related to them) have ignored problems, settled, inflated accomplishments, and failed to stick to plans so often – and will be the organizations deciding how to spend the money in the first place – how the board functions is a concern. (How the various government entities function is also a concern, but that is not specific to this referendum.)

Our concern is not lessened by the fact that many of the organizations that will choose the Oversight Board endorsed (some quite enthusiastically) TBX and have decided that the very flawed “BRT” plan is the kind of transit we really need.  (Will the Oversight Board say that running a bus on a highway shoulder, or even an express lane, is a dedicated lane?)  Even plans involving the aspects of the referendum we like, like bike lanes, are routinely fudged by local governments.

That is why we wish there was a preliminary list of projects to be funded.  It would be nice to know that, at least at first, the money would not be spent on poor projects and there would be time to get the Oversight Board working properly.  But there is no list.  That means that, to a large degree, the proper implementation of the referendum’s intent is based on faith that the Oversight Board does its job properly and remains independent of the various local political factions.  We hope it will, but that is, admittedly, aspirational.

Thankfully, past performance by our local officials is not a guarantee of future returns.  On the other hand, there is no guarantee they won’t perform as in the past (or the present).

In sum, we like the referendum’s intent.  We like much of the structure.  The language has some flaws, some of them major.  And it all depends on whether the intent will actually be implemented or the process will be hijacked by politics and rife with settling.

All that being said, the status quo is not really sustainable.

Now, it is time for the election.


Transportation — Another Example

Sadly, we have yet more examples of why operating on the interstate or in the shoulder is a bad idea.

From October 5, and sadly involving another death on the highway:

A fatal crash on Interstate 275 blocked southbound traffic at 28th Street in St. Petersburg for several hours this afternoon.

Florida Highway Patrol troopers said the crash involved a dump truck that did not stay in its lane and hit a second vehicle. The dump truck went through the median and overturned, spilling dirt on the road, and the driver was ejected.

Also from October 5:

A Tampa woman was seriously injured Friday morning when she struck the back of a disabled semi-trailer on Interstate 4, forcing the temporary closure of all eastbound lanes.

The crash occurred just before 5 a.m. near Exit 10, just east of Interstate 75, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

Troopers say Lud Blitz Widg Payoute, 34, of Hollywood, was traveling eastbound when he suffered a flat tire and pulled onto the outside travel lane for repairs.

We need options including transit, but not just any transit.  We need transit done properly.  The “BRT” plan is not it.


Downtown – Riverwalk Place

Riverwalk Place is now on the (admittedly not so firm) clock.  From URBN Tampa Bay:

Riverwalk Place Tampa received its building permit this week. The building permit expires April 6, 2019, so the project must begin construction before then or apply for another permit.

Let’s hope it starts during this permitting period.


Downtown/West Tampa – By a Park Down By the River

There was preliminary news about a proposal for across the street from Julian Lane Park (listed as 904 Boulevard in Accela).  From URBN Tampa Bay:

SoHo Capital, the developer of The Heights District, is proposing a mixed-use development for the land directly across Boulevard from Julian B. Lane Park and Tampa Prep. The project is two lots, pictured below.

The north lot (in red) will have:

400 residential units
30,000 square feet of office space
30,000 square feet of retail space

The south lot (in blue) will have:

240 residential units OR 520 “beds” of student housing
120 hotel rooms

From Florida Future at SkycraperCity – click on picture for post

Right now, the lots are covered by suburban style apartments.  While we don’t have any design details of the proposal (and therefore can’t say much about the proposal), the lots, especially the north lot, frames Julian Lane Park.  Whatever gets built there needs to have significant density and true street activation (not just a 4-6 story stick building with nothing on the street).  The City invested a lot of money in the park.  The land immediately surrounding it is no place to settle for a generic apartment building.

The Heights has so far been a good project so that gives us some hope for this proposal. We look forward to finding out what they plan and seeing the City not settle (hopefully, it won’t even be asked to).


Hyde Park – What?

There was an unfortunately not that odd article in the Business Journal this week about Hyde Park Village.

The redevelopment of a vacant block in Hyde Park Village is stuck in a holding pattern after residents in the village protested plans for the former LA Fitness space along Swann Avenue.

WS Development, the Boston-based developer of Hyde Park, sought a substantial change determination from the city in April to make way for a slew of new storefronts, including a new fitness facility, a hybrid restaurant/retail concept and a restaurant, ranging in size from just under 2,000 square feet to more than 4,000 square feet.

Abbye Feeley, the city’s planning and development director, notified WS in late September that the changes to that block of Hyde Park were considered a non-substantial change and wouldn’t be subject to a public hearing. But after a petition for review was filed by a resident in the village, city council will hold a public hearing on the petition on Dec. 6.

* * *

The petition was filed by Mel Trustees LLC, which owns a condo at 1641 W. Snow Circle, above bartaco. In 2017, Mel Trustees filed a lawsuit against bartaco, WS and the Hyde Park condo association, alleging that the noise from bartaco has made it “difficult if not impossible” to live in or lease the condo.

What is the cause of the excessive noise?

“Unlike Ybor City and maybe even Howard Avenue, old Hyde Park Village was not set up to be an entertainment district,” Orcutt said. “It’s mixed-use, retail and residential, and it was never intended to have multiple restaurants and bars.”

We are not going to judge the merits of a specific lawsuit, but we can comment on what is in the article. Hyde Park Village has been there since the 80’s and has always had bars and restaurants (not to mention movie theaters), with bartaco in the former location of the Cactus Club (which wasn’t the quietest place).

We get people want quiet and if there is something outrageous going on it should be fixed, but Hyde Park Village has been there a long time in pretty much the same set-up, if not quite as successful at certain times. During all that, the neighborhood has done pretty well.


Airport – Bringing the Boxes

As is clear from just going to the airport, the cargo business is booming.

Thanks largely to Amazon, Tampa International Airport’s cargo business is booming, with 42 percent more cargo in August than in the same month last year.

* * *

In August, the airport handled nearly 36.3 million pounds of cargo, not including mail, with a little more than half of that coming into the airport. For the 12 months ending in June, TIA saw 392 million pounds of cargo, a 104 percent increase from 2015. The airport is second only to Cincinnati for cargo growth from 2010 to 2017.

During the peak winter months, FedEx flies eight planes a day through TIA, with another seven coming from UPS and six from Amazon.

And it is also clear from all the planes at hard stands that the airport needs more cargo facilities.  It is just another area where the airport has really made progress after previous administrations really did very little.

So on Thursday the airport’s board moved to hire a firm to design and build a big expansion of cargo facilities on 70 acres east of the main terminal.

* * *

The cargo expansion project has an estimated budget of $72.3 million, but that could change as the board approves various phases of design and construction in the future. No money was allocated to the project on Thursday.

The Middlesex Corp., headquartered in Littleton, Mass., was the top-ranked of the six firms that responded to the airport’s request for qualifications. The cargo expansion has been envisioned as part of the airport’s $2 billion master plan. Construction could start late next year.

The airport plans to clear the site, remove old pavement, then put in taxiways, connectors, roads and other common-use facilities for potential cargo tenants that could include Amazon, FedEx and UPS, which moved to TIA from St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport last year.

Airport officials are working to bring back a contract from their real estate department that addresses Amazon’s agreement with TIA, said Jeff Siddle, the airport’s vice president of planning and design. The airport’s intent, he said, is for Amazon to build its building and related facilities, such as a parking lot. UPS could end up in a building of 20,000 to 30,000 square feet, though that’s still under discussion.

That seems to be a reasonable plan.  It makes sense to make a cargo cluster near the present FedEx facility.  Maybe it will also help attract more regular general cargo service.


Economy – Tourism

The national tourism boom continues, as does the boom locally:

The Tampa Bay area has set a new record for tourism revenue.

Hillsborough County collected nearly $34 million in Tourist Development Tax in the budget year that ended Sept. 30, Visit Tampa Bay reported on Oct. 4.

That amounted to a 10.8 percent jump from 2017, when the county collected $30.5 million. Ten of the 12 months of 2018 were record months for Tourist Development Tax revenue, which those funds support Raymond James Stadium, Amalie Arena and Tampa Convention Center.

* * *

Over the past 12 months, Hillsborough County saw hotel revenues grow 8.5 percent to more than $718 million for the fiscal year with a 4 percent rise in the county’s supply of hotel rooms. Revenue per available room, or RevPAR, an indicator of hotel profitability, grew by 5.8 percent for the 12-month period, according to industry analyst STR Inc., the news release states.

* * *

Florida’s tourism as a whole is on pace to set an annual record, with an estimated 65.5 million people traveling to the state during the first half of the year.

That is all good.  We are wondering when the County Commission will add the optional percentage point of bed tax.  The option exists for a reason.  Why they have failed to act is a mystery.


Tampa Heights/Seminole Heights – Lee Elementary

There was news about Lee Elementary which, as you may remember, was greatly damaged in a fire.

District officials say they will bring a plan to the board Oct. 16 to reopen Lee Elementary at its original location, 305 E Columbus Drive in Tampa Heights.

Contractors will preserve the school’s red brick exterior walls, spokeswoman Tanya Arja said. The inside will be redesigned to comply with modern building standards, with wider hallways and a larger cafeteria and media center.

Given that the building was old and lacked sprinklers, it is probably a good idea.

Under the scenario described Friday, money will be paid directly to Fleischmann-Garcia Architects and Planners, and JE Dunn Construction, a team the board hired at its last meeting on Tuesday.

The district’s insurance carrier will pay the full cost, but only if the school is rebuilt, officials said Friday. If the district chose not to build, it would receive about 10 percent of the insurance money, to cover lost classroom materials and equipment.

Setting aside that the insurance policy seems a bit odd, we are all for rebuilding the school and preserving the façade.  The neighborhood it served deserves to have both the attractive façade and a modern facility.  Of course, how good it actually is depends on the specifics of the plan.


Pasco – How Not To Do It

When Pasco instituted its mobility fee scheme in place of impact fees, it garnered a number of accolades.  And the idea was good.  Of course, details matter.

Commissioner Kathryn Starkey wonders if Pasco County is being too hospitable to the hospitality industry.

Specifically, she wants to end the lucrative perk of waiving road construction costs for the new hotels coming to the county. But the response to her pitch was nearly universal: Don’t roll up the welcome mat on a booming industry.

Starkey made her sentiments known during a Sept. 25 workshop in Dade City in which staff members and a consultant briefed commissioners on updating the county’s mobility fees. Those assessments, first adopted in 2011 and revised in 2014, are charged to most new development to pay for road construction and transit costs tied to growth.

In an effort to reinvigorate a then-struggling economy, the 2011 formula waived fees for industrial development, new office buildings and hotels, and subsidized their associated transportation costs with property taxes.

“It’s a very, very healthy business,’’ said Starkey. “I don’t know if we need to incentivize. I think they’re going to come anyway.’’

* * *

“Do they really need an incentive for them to come here at zero?’’ asked Starkey. “We need to have good roads for those people (hotel guests) to drive on, and that’s where that money goes.’’ 

Not surprisingly, that drew a response:

During the workshop, Commissioners Jack Mariano and Ron Oakley both panned Starkey’s proposal. In an interview afterward, Mike Cox,a member of the Pasco Planning Commission and one of the original investors in the Holiday Inn Express and Suites in Trinity, offered similar sentiment.

“The market’s going to dictate what hotels get built and don’t get built,’’ said Cox. “Mobility fee incentives would help them on the front end getting started, but ultimately they have to have heads in beds.”

“It’s working,’’ said Cox. “I wouldn’t change it.’’

For decades this area has been creating fee systems to have developers pay for the impact of their development, then not enforcing them. (The results are obvious in Hillsborough.)  It is clear that doing so does not work in the long run, though it helps the developers.  And, more to the point, if it is the market and not incentives that determine where people build, then there is no harm in charging the proper fee and having money for infrastructure.

The Pasco County Planning Commission is scheduled to consider the mobility fee ordinance in October, and county commissioners must hold two public hearings before adopting the revised fee schedule, which is largely unchanged for most categories. The new ordinance will be in effect until an update in 2023.

That’s all well and good, but it won’t matter if the county government does not enforce it. (Pasco should have learned that from Hillsborough’s errors.)


Please Consider Helping

With the destruction caused by Hurricane Michael, please consider donating for relief efforts.  There are many ways to do so.  One of them is the Red Cross, the donation page is here.

 

Roundup 10-5-2018

October 4, 2018

Context

Transportation – Some More

— Brightline

— The Opinion

— Westshore Transportation Plan

— When You Want To

— Downtowner

— Another Example

Tampa Heights – More Heights

Hyde Park – Another Hotel

Downtown – Still Underwhelming

Airport – Cheap In a Good Way and More

Rays/Rowdies – Interesting

MOSI – Better

Downtown/Channel District – Cranes

Meanwhile, in the Rest of the Country

Woz Not Woz

________________________________________


Transportation – Some More


— Brightline

There has been much speculation regarding what Brightline’s potential plans for a line between Tampa and Orlando might be.  St. Pete Catalyst had a report that provided some more information from the vice president of government affairs for Brightline:

A train to Tampa would stop downtown and would not run to Tampa International Airport or St. Petersburg, O’Malley said.  A train to St. Petersburg would be too expensive, he said.

But connections to other points in the Tampa Bay area are important, he said, and Brightline is counting on public initiatives, such as planned bus rapid transit routes,  to provide that service.

* * *

Although Brightline does not plan to bring a high-speed train to St. Petersburg, the city plays a key role in Brightline’s expansion plans for Tampa.

“St. Pete is an important market. We think a lot of our travelers will want to come from Orlando to the Tampa Bay area to go to St. Pete Beach,” said Bob O’Malley, vice president of government affairs for Brightline, a privately owned and operated rail system based in Miami.

Setting aside for a moment what you might think of the “BRT” plan, as we have pointed out previously (See “Transportation – All Over — Brightline”), two of the three discussed sites for a downtown Tampa station are not particularly near the proposed “BRT” route.  (That is really one on the issues with the interstate based “BRT” plan.)

“We want to work with the region to improve connectivity from downtown Tampa to St. Pete Beach, so we’ll be part of the conversations on regional BRT or whatever premium transit opportunities there are,” O’Malley told St. Pete Catalyst. “We have partnerships with Lyft and we’re always looking to find other ways to improve connectivity to our stations.”

We would suggest telling officials to, at a minimum, build real BRT, but, as we said, we are setting that aside for the moment.

In any event,

A Brightline trip between Tampa and the Orlando airport, where Brightline plans a stop, would take about 60 minutes, compared to driving, which can range from 90 minutes to three hours, depending on traffic, O’Malley said. The train would run at about 125 miles an hour, and he expects about 16 trains a day between the two cities. The price would be comparable to the cost of driving, taking into account both the cost of gas and hidden expenses such as wear-and-tear on a car.

* * *

But rail is still a “lightning rod” for controversy, and an Orlando-to-Tampa route is far from a done deal, O’Malley cautioned, citing several challenges that remain to be overcome.

Among them, an agreement from the state of Florida to use right-of-way in the Interstate 4 corridor. “They are accepting bids from other companies and they will evaluate those and negotiate with whoever they deem to be the best,” he said.

While there’s a lot of interest in the investment community for the private activity bonds, and the initial offering was oversubscribed, the next round of bonds has yet to be sold, he cautioned.

We will find out what the state decides in November, though we still think by far the most likely outcome is Brightline winning the route.


— The Opinion

The Times ran an opinion piece by the Mayor of Tampa entitled: “Buckhorn: Tampa Bay needs higher-speed rail”  which advocated in favor of Brightline connecting to Tampa. It began like this:

Eight years ago, Florida missed an opportunity to connect Tampa and Orlando with a high-speed rail system. We cannot afford to make the same mistake again.

Traffic congestion and reliable means of transportation are two of the top concerns of almost every citizen I meet. Long commutes affect people’s lives, taking away time from their families, and lack of connectivity to jobs limits their opportunities. The city of Tampa is working with public and private sector partners to improve mobility. Making the right decisions today will keep Tampa moving in the right direction for decades to come.

Which is also fine, except long commutes have little to do with inter-city rail. (Unless he is saying that I-4 will be less congested – which it won’t.  As best, especially with all the population growth and without local transportation alternatives not reliant on that road, the congestion will just increase more slowly.) Implying that Brightline inter-city rail will go towards fixing local transit/transportation issues risks confusing the two issues, which are related but separate.

A little later the piece said this:

I wanted to ride Brightline to see how it could meet our transportation needs, and I was extremely impressed. The trains and the stations were modern, comfortable and clean. Brightline would be a valuable addition to our region’s transportation system. I was also impressed with the transit-oriented development happening near the Brightline stations.

And that, too, is fine.  But then we get to this:

Connecting Tampa and Orlando would increase job growth and workforce connectivity. Furthermore, having Florida’s three largest cities connected by higher-speed rail will be good for the entire state’s economy.

And it is true that connecting Tampa and Orlando would do those things, though Brightline, like the previous high-speed rail proposal, really will not connect Tampa and Orlando.  It will connect Tampa and Orlando’s airport, which has decent access to Lake Nona but more time-consuming and complicated access to Orlando proper.  (Real inter-city rail is between cities, like Brightline is in South Florida.) While we are for the Brightline connection (more for the connections to the rest of the state), the failure to be truly city-to-city is an obvious weakness in the plan as it relates to Orlando.

Speaking more generally, it is actually counterproductive to create unrealistic expectations because when those unrealistic expectations are not met, support for other important projects will lessen.  Additionally, as we said above, when local transportation needs are conflated with a system that has little to do with them, it leads to more confusion (as if there could be more) in the discussion and consideration of transportation issues.  That makes getting things done even harder.

We are for connecting to Brightline, but the discussion should be kept clear.


— Westshore Transportation Plan

We did not get to this when it first came out, but now seems a good time.  The Westshore Alliance is asking the MPO to integrate a (modest) transportation plan into the bigger plan. First, the rhetoric:

The Westshore Alliance plans include a series of road improvements paired with mobility options on transit, bikes and through walkable corridors. The multifaceted approach is a staple in urban planning, where officials must balance the needs of people commuting by car with those who favor multimodal options, which accounts for a growing portion of young professionals.

That is pretty standard fare.  So what is in it?

The plan, which the Alliance will present during the Wednesday MPO meeting, shows three major changes that incorporate transit and walkability features. One slide shows Cypress Point Park as a transit hub with bike racks, bike share and potential ferry dock.

While Cypress Point Park is along a trail the goes to the Courtney Campbell Causeway, it really is not particularly near most of the development in the Westshore area, which makes it a slightly odd place to have a transit hub.  If a ferry did land there a hub would make a little more sense, but it is also an odd place to have a ferry land because 1) it is a park where people go in the water/swim (which is not safe); 2) the water is very shallow; and 3) as noted, it is kind of far from most things in Westshore (though it is close to the airport).  If ferries to Westshore are a priority (for us they are not), aside from the airport access, there are other areas south of the Howard Frankland, near the Mariner office park land, that seem to make more sense (though the ferry would have to go by some houses).

The Alliance proposes a bike boulevard along Gray Street and Grady Avenue as a neighborhood trail.

In theory, that is a fine idea.  East of Westshore, Gray goes almost all the way downtown (though not all the way, and not to Cypress Point Park, though some changes to SR60 may make that possible in the future, though likely not on Gray which runs into the mall.).  But what exactly are they talking about?

Gray Street now:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

The Plan:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

Grady now:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

The Plan:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

First, the changes to Gray Street portrayed are exactly the kind of bike infrastructure we don’t like.  Simply painting some pictures on a road, even a residential street, does not make it a bike trail.  Moreover, the Gray Street “after” picture above has a lot of grass between the road and the sidewalk.  If a bike trail is ok, why not put a real bike lane there?  Additionally, Gray Street has speed bumps, which is hardly optimal. (Neither is dealing with all the driveways).  And the other question: did anyone ask the residents of Gray Street, which is a predominantly residential road, if they want a major bike path going down their street? (Presumably, the speed humps are because residents did not want cut-through traffic on their road. Maybe they don’t care about funnel bikes down their street, but that is not clear.) Not to mention, once you get to Westshore on your bike, what do you do?

We like the Grady concept more, at least in the picture.  It is much more a trail, though it does not seem to really go anywhere to be useful.

We are in no way opposed to the idea of creating useful bike infrastructure in Westshore. (Actually, we are all for it.) We just want it to be useful.

The first phase of the Alliance’s project is already underway and is expected to continue through 2020 with construction on approved projects launching in 2021. In the meantime, the Alliance is raising public awareness by meeting with employers and residents.

The group also plans to promote circulator and express bus options that would support transit and transportation in the district as well as partner with local businesses to offer rideshare discounts or vouchers to employees.

Construction on the Alliance’s proposed projects is expected to take five years.

We are unclear what the first phase (or other phases are).  We do not have any theoretical problem with either circulators or express buses.  Once again, the devil is in the details.

The biggest problem is that Westshore is not built to be walkable/bikeable.  The buildings themselves (including the new ones) are far too car-centric.  We get that you have to start somewhere and we are not opposed to the general concepts of the plan as presented in the article, but the implementation needs to be useful and there needs to be far more focus on the actual built environment.


— When You Want To

Speaking of bike routes, there was news about the western leg of the Green Spine project:

Downtown Tampa’s protected bikeway, the Green Spine cycle-track, will be extended sooner than expected into West Tampa.

A new stormwater improvement assessment fee approved by Tampa City Council in September allows the city to proceed with its Cypress Street Outfall Extension project.

To avoid ripping up the road twice, the City of Tampa has decided to build the Green Spine at the same time it installs a new box culvert that will drain the road after heavy rains.

That is Phase 2 on this map:

From North Hyde Park Alliance – click on picture for Facebook page

First, doing everything at once makes sense.  There is no reason to rip up the road twice, and the project is definitely worthwhile.  Some more detail:

The project is located on Cass Street between Rome and Boulevard, and along Rome Avenue from Kennedy to Cass.

Added bonus:

By tying Green Spine Phase 2 in with the stormwater work, the opportunity has been created for the Green Spine Phase 3B segment to be next in line for available grant funds.

Phase 3B will run along Nuccio Parkway from Nebraska Avenue to 7th Avenue and now prioritized as the first segment to be funded for construction.

Those things are good.

On a side note, the merit of doing it all at once does not change the oddness that, a few months ago, Tampa was looking at a deficit and now they are moving forward with the project.  We are sure it did not hurt that both redeveloping West Tampa/West River/North Hyde Park and promoting biking are close to the Mayor’s heart.  Nor did it hurt that doing it early may create the opportunity to get grants for other phases faster.  And it does not change in any way that doing it now is a good idea and makes sense.  It just goes to the bigger idea that it is amazing what happens when something is truly prioritized (as this project should be).

In any event, in this instance, good for the City. (Though we would be remiss if we did not point out that this is just another reason to insist on retail in new projects along Rome.)


— Downtowner

Along with the Downtown Special Service District, the Downtowner, has expanded.

The Tampa Heights neighborhood is now part of Tampa’s Downtown Special Services District, opening up more connections and business opportunities.

* * *

This allows businesses such as Armature Works and The Hall on Franklin to have enhanced services like the district’s downtown clean team, beautification efforts, transportation planning and urban design.

“That includes the ever-popular Downtowner service, which is starting in the Tampa Heights area today,” Remund said.

The free electric Downtowner shuttle has more than 350,000 passengers to date; that’s about 500 passengers a day. The extended line will allow it to service areas north of Interstate 275.  

That is a positive thing.  Of course, it would have been better if the original private service had been allowed to thrive rather than killed by government only to be reborn as a tax supported service, but it is good nonetheless.

The main hubs for the Downtowner will be the Hall on Franklin and between Ulele and Armature Works, said Karen Kress, a transportation expert with the Tampa Downtown Partnership, while riding the trolley. She said they will start shifting their focus on having more parking options as well as pick-up/drop-off designated areas for ridesharing companies.

That is logical enough for now.  As the area changes, the service will obviously have to change, especially if the streetcar is ever expanded and modernized.


— Another Example

It’s time for another of the depressingly regular examples of why running on the highway or on shoulders is a bad idea (and also a good reason not to spend all our money on roads and road based transit options).  Sadly, our example this week involves a very bad accident that involved a death and multiple serious injuries.

From Tuesday:

All lanes of I-75 and Fowler Avenue are closed in both directions due to a fiery crash, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

FHP says that a tractor-trailer hauling tomatoes was traveling southbound on I-75 around 4:08 p.m. Tuesday when the driver lost control, resulting in a crash at I-75 and Fowler Avenue. The tractor-trailer continued off the interstate, down onto Fowler Avenue, according to FHP.

It is I-75, but crazy and tragic stuff happens on all our highways.


Tampa Heights – More Heights

Last week we discussed the first proposed office building in the Heights.  This week, there is more news about proposals for one block south.  From UBRN Tampa Bay:

Last week it was reported that The Heights District would be pursuing development entitlements for two office buildings. They have now filed the request for those entitlements. In addition, however, The Heights has filed for a 30,000 square foot grocery store, 7,400 square feet of retail space, and a hotel. The site plan is attached.

Here is a site plan:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post and a bigger version

We are not sure about the detail (what grocery store, what hotel), but looking at the site plan, it appears (though we are not complete sure yet) that there will be some type of garage connected to the retail/hotel elements.  We will have to see more details to develop a full opinion, but it looks promising (and we are sure many people will be very happy for the grocery store).


Hyde Park – Another Hotel

Per URBN Tampa Bay:

A new hotel is being proposed across from The Epicurean Hotel, Autograph Collection in SoHo.

The hotel project is being proposed for 1232 South Howard Ave. The project includes 56 hotel rooms in two structures: a 4-story hotel directly across Howard from The Epicurean and a 2-story guest house concept which will be called “The Mansion.” The project features 106 parking spaces (105 required) which will provide parking for the hotel rooms, the existing apartments on the site, Bern’s Steak House, and a small amount of storage space.

There are massing/general layout drawings, but not real renderings:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post and a bigger version

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post and a bigger version

And a site plan of sorts:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post and a bigger version

You can see more here.

It is a bit difficult to see what is going on in the drawings, but it appears that the ground floor on Howard will include an entrance (and maybe something more, though it is not clear). As a general concept, we are ok with another project built to the street with some ground floor activation across from the Epicurean.  However, it is hard to have a real opinion when the information is a bit thin.  We look forward to seeing more.


Downtown – Still Underwhelming

There was news about a townhouse project in the north end of downtown:

A small townhouse development along one of downtown Tampa’s most active construction corridors is moving forward.

Ariel Homes has closed on two vacant parcels of land at 205 E. Fortune St., between North Franklin and North Tampa streets. The builder paid $2.15 million for the property, which is around 18,000 square feet.

The group is planning 14 four-story townhouses on the site with open rooftop decks, according to plans filed with the city. The homes will range from 1,600 to 3,000 square feet and be priced from the $700,000s to $1.2 million, a representative from Ariel Homes said Tuesday.

This is the view from Tampa Street:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

The developer described it like this:

“Though per the current zoning code, a more intense project could be constructed at this location, the developer’s interest is in designing and constructing a high quality, for-sale project that is in scale and compatible with its nearest neighbors,” the builder wrote in plans filed with the city.

When this project first came up we said this:

Built somewhere else, this project could be fine (assuming the details were ok).  However, given this is in downtown (not even north of the Interstate), it is probably out of place (even though there are a few townhouses just to the south on Franklin, we still think it is probably out of place) And we totally agree with URBN Tampa Bay about the driveways.  (And note, it touches Tampa Street, though it does not face it.  Rather, it just puts has walls and an alley.  We do not think that really is what Tampa Street downtown should be)

While we are dubious, we reserve final judgment until we see the whole thing. However, it would be better to just rework it into a truly urban proposal and be done with it.

(See “Downtown – Underwhelming”)

Regardless of their explanation, it appears that nothing has changed either in the size or the design.  Consequently, our view has not changed.


Airport – Cheap In a Good Way and More

We ran across an article regarding airport parking rates.  Apparently, Tampa International’s rates are quite the bargain:

While the price of paid transportation options like taxis and Uber tends to be more or less the same in most parts of the country, the price of airport parking varies widely.

Just how widely? A new report from TravelBank ranked the country’s most and least expensive airports, based on a combination of their rates for both short-term and long-term parking.

First, the airports with sky-high rates …

The Most Expensive Airport Parking

1. New York LaGuardia – $59/day short term; $39/day long term
2. Boston Logan – $70/day short term; $26/day long term
3. Seattle-Tacoma – $37/day short term; $30/day long term
4. San Francisco – $36/day short term; $25/day long term
5. (Tie) New York Kennedy – $39/day short term; $18/day long term
5. (Tie) Newark Liberty – $39/day short term; $18/day long term

And, at the other end of the cost spectrum …

The Least Expensive Airport Parking
1. (Tie) Orlando – $17/day short term; $10/day long term
1. (Tie) Charlotte Douglas – $20/day short term; $7/day long term
2. Houston George Bush – $22/day short term; $6/day long term
3. Baltimore Washington – $22/day short term; $8/day long term
4. (Tie) Tampa – $22/day short term; $10/day long term
4. (Tie) Denver – $24/day short term; $8/day long term
5. Honolulu – $18/day short term; $15/day long term

We just thought you might be interested.

In other news, Contour Airlines announced plans for service to Macon.  You can get the details here.


Rays/Rowdies – Interesting

As people who follow sports will know, there was news that the Rays are buying the Rowdies.

The Rays struck a surprising and curious deal to buy the Rowdies they say was made only to get into the soccer business and has no connection to the effort to find new home for their baseball team.

Of course, the announcement led to speculation about the Rays efforts to move to Ybor and about the future of the Rowdies in St. Pete.

The deal includes at least short-term control of downtown waterfront Al Lang Stadium. The Rays tried a decade ago to get a new baseball stadium built there and never fully let go of the idea — which is why there was immediate speculation there was more to the Rays-Rowdies deal than just control of a soccer team.

Most pointedly, were the Rays seeking an alternative St. Petersburg stadium site to their proposed new home in Ybor City, where talks have been ongoing to bridge the funding gap in completing that $892 million deal to build a Tampa ballpark?

Another possibility: Were the Rays considering moving their spring training base back to St. Petersburg from Port Charlotte, or perhaps moving in a minor-league team?

Rays president Brian Auld told St. Petersburg officials it was none of the above. This was just an opportunity to buy the soccer team from businessman Bill Edwards and grow their overall business.

We tend to believe that for a number of reasons nicely laid out in a Times column:

It’s true the Rowdies’ lease at Al Lang Stadium is up in 2020, and so the soccer team would be free to move to Tampa if the Ybor stadium opens as scheduled in 2023. But there would likely be logistical problems with the artificial turf, not to mention scheduling problems for sports that overlap.

* * *

The Ybor stadium still has massive financial hurdles that must be navigated, but that does not change the dynamics that killed the St. Pete waterfront plan proposed by the Rays in 2008. It would take a referendum to allow new construction on the Al Lang site, the stadium would have to be crammed in a small area, and there’s still the question of whether St. Pete can support Major League Baseball.

So where does that leave us?

With a much more boring explanation.

It’s possible this was a deal the Rays simply could not pass up. No one is talking publicly about the purchase price, but there are whispers the Rowdies were sold dirt cheap.

If that’s the case, the purchase makes more sense. The Rays have experience running a sports franchise, and already have infrastructure in place for marketing, ticketing, training staff and other departments. That would seemingly give them a better shot at turning a profit than Rowdies owner Bill Edwards.

There is not much to add to that (except the Rowdies should go back to their iconic traditional uniforms.  See number 2 here). The purchase is interesting, but, at least for now, really nothing more than that. (If you are interested, you can read more here, here, and here)


MOSI – Better

While we are all waiting to see when (not if) MOSI will move downtown, its financial picture has improved:

The Museum of Science and Industry has made a major turnaround and is about to close on the year with more than $500,000 in surplus.

In 2016, MOSI closed with a $1.5 million loss. In FY 2017, under new CEO Julian Mackenzie’s leadership, it delivered a $90,000 profit despite closing for six weeks during the year.

* * *

He attributes the success to a combination of multiple factors such as having a conservative budget and the result of being in a smaller footprint.

MOSI has made significant changes since Mackenzie’s arrival. The museum decreased its physical footprint by nearly 90 percent and concentrated on bringing in new exhibits. “The team and I went through and decided what we wanted to keep and not keep,” Mackenzie said.  

While it is good to have an improved bottom line, the purpose of a museum is not just to make money (though we are not downplaying balancing the books). We are curious how the attendance is doing.


Downtown/Channel District – Cranes

Because we can, here is a picture of the tower cranes at the JW Marriott site:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

It is nice to see.

And some promotional material from Water Street with a rendering of the full final product:

From Tampa’s Time at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post and a bigger version

From Tampa’s Time at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post and a bigger version

Very nice.


Meanwhile, in the Rest of the Country

There was an interesting article in the Seattle Times (here) regarding transit usage in Seattle.

The number of area residents commuting by transit has surged to a record high in 2017, new census data show.

More than 200,000 people in our metro area — a little more than 10 percent of the workforce — typically commuted by public transit last year. Since 2010, we’ve experienced the second-biggest increase in the share of transit commuters among the 50 largest U.S. metro areas, behind San Francisco.

* * *

The reason that Seattle is bucking the trend is no mystery. We’ve invested more heavily in transit than any other region, and it’s paying off. Even before the passage of the Sound Transit 3 package, the Seattle area was spending more, per capita, on new transit projects than any city in the country.

* * *

“There’s a theory out there that in the PNW, we have retained a better cross section of income levels on public transit than other cities, aiding our ability to garner public support to invest,” he said in an email. “Some cities I think it’s just a lifeline service for the poorest of the poor.”

We get that this cuts both ways, but the point is that for transit to be successful, it has to be useful.  It should attract choice riders.  Simply building some system because it is the cheapest thing you can figure out is not enough.


Woz Not Woz

Speaking of transit, one of the founders of Apple had some interesting comments on autonomous cars.

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak said on Tuesday that he has “lost faith” that self-driving cars are going to see widespread use in the near future.

Speaking at Mastercard’s “Connecting Tomorrow” event in Barcelona, Wozniak said that he still does not believe that the artificial intelligence systems needed for self-driving vehicles would be able to cope with the realities of driving on roads alongside manually operated vehicles.

“They have to drive on human roads. If they had train tracks, [there would be] no problem at all,” he said. “I don’t believe that that sort of ‘vision intelligence’ is going to be like a human.”

As an example of where he believes self driving vehicles will struggle, Wozniak pointed to the possibility of impromptu signs being put up by police near roads.

“Artificial intelligence in cars is trained to spot everything that is normal on the roads, not something abnormal,” he said. “They aren’t going to be able to read the words on signs and know what they mean. I’ve really given up.”

(More here) Is that the last word on the subject? No. (A lot of money is being put into autonomous cars, like here) But it adds to the growing skepticism that in the near future autonomous vehicles are going to replace all transportation. Simply saying wait until they do is not a transportation/transit plan.

Roundup 9-28-2018

September 27, 2018

Contents

Transportation – All Around

— TBARTA

— One More Thing

— Bikes and the Built Environment

— St. Pete BRT

— Streetcar

— The Never-ending Ferry Story

Tampa Heights – Offices

Channel District – Another Revision

Airport – Cargo

Port – Business

Built Environment – Settling Streetscape

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

________________________________________________


Transportation – All Around


— TBARTA

TBARTA announced a new Executive Director:

David Green, former CEO of the Greater Richmond Transit Company, will take the helm at TBARTA as it transitions from the interim leadership of Michael Case, who temporarily led the TBARTA following Ramond Chiaramonte’s resignation on June 22.

* * *

“I understand one of the job responsibilities involves completing a Regional Transit Development Plan, which is very exciting. Last month my agency completed a 10-year TDP for the years 2018-2028. A new Bus Rapid Transit line and complete route redesign made this a far more complex, but interesting task than previous TDPs and provides a solid roadmap for GRTC’s foreseeable future,” he wrote.

Another key skill and experience Green brings to the table is being able to capture funding.

We don’t know much about him.  Regarding what has been reported, knowing about BRT is fine, but focusing on BRT rather than on serving our complicated needs is telling. (note: Richmond’s metro area population is 1,263,617.  Hillsborough County alone has a population of 1,408,566.  TBARTA covers much more than that.)  It is also interesting that, unlike the “BRT” plan, Richmond’s new bus line runs in surface/arterial roads.

In the east and west ends (blue and red on the map), the bus travels in general traffic lanes with other motor vehicles. Buses generally stay in the farthest right travel lane. This operation is referred to as mixed flow or mixed traffic operations.

Between Thompson Street and Foushee Street (green on the map), the buses travel in dedicated lanes in the median. Running the bus in the center of the roadway helps minimize conflicts (i.e., reduces crash rates) with vehicles turning to/from side streets and private entrances, in addition to allowing parallel parking in this dense part of Broad Street.  Dedicated lanes are also viewed as a traffic calming tool, allowing vehicles to adhere to the speed limit.

In the downtown section of the corridor, from 4th Street to 14th Street (orange on the map), the Pulse and local buses operate in a dedicated lane along the curb.  This improved bus lane functions like a shoulder-running bus lane and will reduce conflicts between buses, general traffic and pedestrians, increasing safety for all users.

 

From RideGRTC.com – click on map for website

Notably, it does not have dedicated lanes along much, if not most, of its path (which is hardly really BRT). Not to mention it runs with local buses in its dedicated lanes which is not very efficient.

But setting aside the new Executive Director, the most interesting in the reporting is this nugget:

TBARTA shortlisted four final candidates based on ability to lead the agency, transit planning and the catalyst project for the 41-mile bus rapid transit project it anticipates starting by end of this year/beginning of 2019, Case told the Tampa Bay Business Journal.

The BRT project is still in the feasibility stage. Jacobs Engineering is the consultant for the Regional Transit Feasibility Plan that identified the 41-mile bus rapid transit route, which is being funded through the Florida Department of Transportation.

Beginning of 2019?  Setting aside that there is not much enthusiasm for the “BRT” plan and it is still in the feasibility/public outreach stage (we won’t get into the catalyst thing), where is the funding?  There is no Federal money.  There is no local money (unless they are assuming that at least in Hillsborough they will use money raised by the sales tax if the referendum passes.  Even if they do, there still needs to be Pinellas and Pasco money).  In addition to no money, there is no real transit oriented development plan, there are questions about dedicated lanes, and there are a host of other issues.  Beginning by early 2019 is a very, shall we say, ambitious timetable, if true.

Getting back to the new Executive Director, regardless of the questionable focus of TBARTA, if he is who is going to be running TBARTA (at least in name), we hope he does a good job.


— One More Thing

Speaking of the “BRT” plan:

A crash with injuries early Tuesday morning has closed southbound Interstate 75 at the I-275 apex into Hillsborough County.

The Florida Highway Patrol is investigating a three-vehicle crash that involved a semi-truck in the southbound lanes of I-75 near Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, according to an FHP spokesman.

While this was I-75, it jammed up I-275, and it could easily been the other way around.  It is just another example of why shoulder and in traffic running of buses is a poor idea.


— Bikes and the Built Environment

In what should come as no surprise to anyone, the Tampa Bay area is the most dangerous major metro area for cyclists.

The collision added to the already-high cyclist death toll in Pinellas County. Its per-capita cyclist death rate for the past decade ranks No. 1 among the four counties in the Tampa Bay metro area, which has the highest fatality rate of any major metro area in the U.S., according to federal data.

The Gulf Coast region stands out in a state that itself stands out: Florida has by far the highest per-capita bicyclist death rate in the country.

From the Wall Street Journal – click on picture for article

What explains the problem? The article points to more vehicles, driver distractions (esp. texting), and alcohol.  All of those are factors but distractions and alcohol are not unique to Florida.

Florida’s numbers are bad even when compared with other warm-weather states. Its recent 10-year cyclist fatality rate was 6.2 deaths per 100,000 residents; that is 59% higher than the rate in Louisiana, the state with the second-highest level.

Florida’s population is older and more densely packed, and the state gets a steady influx of tourists unfamiliar with local roads, said transportation-safety consultant Pam Fischer, who wrote last year’s GHSA report, which examined bike-safety issues nationwide. “You kind of mush it all together, and it helps us explain as best we can what’s going on out there,” she said.

Car-centric suburban development dating back decades is also a factor, say bicycle activists and transportation officials. Advocates for more bicycle-friendly roads say riders often must choose between riding on the sidewalk or bearing with cars whizzing by within inches of them.

Many suburbs are connected by six-lane arterial roadways that often have a speed limit of 45 mph or higher, said Ken McLeod, policy director at the League of American Bicyclists in Washington, D.C.

In a Times article contesting that ranking there was this:

Regardless of rankings, the Tampa Bay area does have a serious bicycle safety issue — one that state and local officials have focused on in recent years.

“Bicycle safety is one of the Florida Department of Transportation’s top priorities and as a result of our numerous initiatives, bicycle fatalities in Florida have decreased more than 22 percent over the past three years,” agency spokeswoman Kris Carson said.

Carson said her agency began a “focused initiative to improve the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists on our roads” in November 2011. In the bay area and around the state, she pointed to safety education, a $100 million lighting project to reduce night-time crashes, a review identifying high-crash areas and measures to make them safer, a statewide Complete Streets policy making routes safer for all users, and more.

Much of the challenge comes down to changing attitudes among motorists and changing the makeup of the county’s roadways, said Whit Blanton, executive director of Forward Pinellas, the county’s land use and transportation planning agency.

“If you want to change behavior, you have to change design,” Blanton said. “It’s not that we can pinpoint one location. It’s spread like peanut butter across our county. You have to deal with it on a comprehensive scale.”

We agree, with a caveat. Even if we are not the worst, we are bad. We think the cause of Florida’s (and our) particularly bad problem is a lack of good infrastructure and the poor built environment.  Surely protected bike lanes (really protected, not just painted stripes) would improve the problem.  However, they are hard to execute in areas where there are large parking lots and an excessive number of curb cuts with cars cutting across the bike lanes in unpredictable ways. (All you have to do is experience a city where walking and biking is really supported to see how bad it is here.) And, of course, the excessive reliance on cars and need for people to drive everywhere only contributes to erratic driving.

And, while this may be a positive step,

State transportation officials say they have made a concerted effort since 2014 to boost cycling safety. The Florida Department of Transportation changed its standard width for bike lanes from 4 to 7 feet and now recommends buffered or protected bike lanes. The agency launched a $100 million push in 2016 to better light 2,500 locations where the number of nighttime crashes involving pedestrians and bicyclists was high.

The state agency also lowered speed limits in some places, officials said. Local police have stepped up education efforts on topics such as using lights at night and riding with the flow of traffic.

Without changing the built environment, those steps will only be of limited utility (and the same is true of adding sidewalks for pedestrians).

The transportation referendum would provide funding for improving the bike infrastructure.  That is definitely an upside, assuming the money is spent building real bike infrastructure along these lines, not what we’re used to.

We are for steps that save lives and avoid life changing injuries, but the effectiveness of those steps will be limited by the extent of the change in the mentality of how things are built. It is all connected.


— St. Pete BRT

Speaking of BRT, for a while we have been saying that FDOT should just provide the $20 million for the St. Pete BRT plan that is being sought from the Federal government.  A couple of weeks ago we pointed out that the Federal government may be sitting on transit money instead of distributing it. (See “Transportation – Jangle On, Cont  — St. Pete BRT“)  This week, there was more news-ish:

For months, the rapid bus line was praised as the first local project to land state money and earn a medium-high ranking from the Federal Transit Administration. No transit proposal in the bay area has reached this point in the federal process, said Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority executive director Brad Miller.

“All signs about this project technically are very, very, very positive,” Miller said. “(Federal officials) really like it. It’s relatively low cost, and it’s a little different from their other projects.”

Perhaps even more surprising given the poor history of past transit initiatives, this project secured money from the local bus agency, received unanimous support from the St. Petersburg City Council and has buy-in from state and local leaders as well as the business community.

But even all that might not be enough to make the rapid bus system a reality. Federal funding in this political climate, Miller said, is “the thing that keeps me up.”

You can read the article (here) about the details with the Federal funding issue, but it shouldn’t keep anyone up, given the state supposedly favors BRT, claims it supports transit, and is willing to spend billions on highways.

Meanwhile, local and state funding is lining up to help pay for the Central Avenue project. The state already agreed to pay for about 25 percent of the $41 million cost. Another 25 percent is set to come from local sources: the Pinellas bus agency and the cities of St. Petersburg and St. Pete Beach.

But for the project to start operating by late 2020 or early 2021, federal funds are needed to pay the other 50 percent of the cost, about $20 million.

Actually, funds are needed.  They do not have to be Federal.  FDOT could fund it.  Our legislators could get the money.

The St. Pete BRT plan is a perfectly reasonable, not extravagant project. If the Federal government is not forthcoming, FDOT should fund it fully.


— Streetcar

The streetcar will become free soon:

The TECO Line Streetcar System will begin offering free fares on Oct. 7.

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority announced in June it was awarded nearly $2.7 million in grant funding from the Florida Department of Transportation and would extend the TECO Line Streetcar service hours, increase frequency and provide free rides to customers for the next three years.

The grant is aimed at boosting ridership along the 2.7-mile route through downtown Tampa and Ybor City. The streetcar had 26,112 riders in July, according to HART’s most recent data.  

That is one thing that FDOT has done right.  Of course, what happens after the three years is not clear, but being free for now makes sense.


— The Never-ending Ferry Story

There was ferry news:

The Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners approved an eighth modification by a vote of 7-0 to the Tampa Bay Passenger Ferry Interim Public Private Partnership Agreement that’s between Hillsborough County, HMS Ferries Inc. and South Swell Development Group LLC.

The eighth modification extends the agreement from Sept. 30 to March 31, 2019 and provides an outline of specific tasks to be completed in coordination with Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority and MacDill to create a ferry route between south Hillsborough County and MacDill Air Force Base with a possible connection to downtown Tampa, as well as a conceptual design and projections of ridership and revenue.

The cost amount approved for the associated tasks for the project is $774,573, funded through the Capital Improvement Program budget.

It never ceases to amaze us how the County finds money when it wants to.  So what does this money buy?

Tasks also include:

Given that the ferry operator wants to make money from the system, we are not sure why the County keeps paying for coming up with proposed designs.  And given all the years this has been dragging on, we are not clear why all this work has not happened before.  It was so long ago that some may not remember, but it was the ferry operator that proposed this service to the County.  We think they should be carrying the load.

We are not opposed to ferries, but this is getting (if it not already there ) ridiculous.


Tampa Heights – Offices

There was an announcement from the Heights project:

AxoGen Inc. (NASDAQ: AXGN), based in Alachua, has signed a “conditional agreement” to lease 75,000 square feet in a new office building in The Heights, planned on a piece of property that’s adjacent to Armature Works, according to a regulatory filing disclosed Sept. 20.

That represents half of a new 150,051-square-foot building planned on the block of The Heights that’s south of West Palm Avenue, north of West Oak Avenue and between North Highland Avenue and North Tampa Street. That block will ultimately be home to two office buildings that total 342,000 square feet — 300,000 square feet of office space and 42,000 square feet of retail.

The lease is with Atlanta-based TPA Group, an office developer. SoHo Capital, which owns the entire 50-acre Heights property, said Friday that the office buildings will be a joint venture with TPA Group.

That is a relatively large chunk of space. So what does that company do?

AxoGen, based in Alachua, north of Gainesville, focuses on the science, development and commercialization of technologies for peripheral nerve regeneration and repair. Its rent will start at $32 per square foot in the eighth month of its lease.

Good for the Heights in getting a lead tenant, and one from outside the area. It is interesting that it is in the Heights project and not some of the other higher profile projects but there is this:

Gross rents will be in the mid $30s per square foot, which will include four parking spaces per 1,000 square feet leased. That’s lower than at Water Street Tampa (mid $40s at Sparkman Wharf and low to mid $50s at a 20-story tower planned to break ground next spring) and Midtown Tampa (low to mid $40s for Midtown One, the first of three office buildings).

Price is always a factor. And the timetable is ambitious:

Developers said Friday they plan to go in for city permitting on the $102 million project in coming days. The equity and financing are in place. Construction is scheduled to start by the end of the year. Occupants — including a publicly traded regenerative medicine company, AxoGen, which is taking a quarter of the space — are expected to move in the first quarter of 2020.

That schedule would deliver Heights Union ahead of other Class A office projects recently announced at Water Street Tampa and Midtown Tampa, two other ambitious mixed-used projects.

As is the project itself:

Developers say they intend to deliver what’s becoming known in large metro markets as a Class AA project — a subset of commercial real estate’s Class A category that covers new construction with best-in-class finishes and amenities. And they see Heights Union as a boutique alternative to traditional office space, surrounded by an urban village that puts a premium on place-driven aesthetics and experiences.

Here is a rendering:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

And the location:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

While a bit boxy, we like the design (with the caveat that we just have the renderings, which may or may not be accurate.  For instance this rendering  has a very interesting early Renaissance take on perspective). The massing looks balanced and fits with the neighborhood, and the façade is clean with the balconies adding a nice touch.  The location is also good, serving to help connect the Heights to the North Franklin area.  The more activity in that area the better.

In sum, we look forward to it.


Channel District – Another Revision

The apartment/storage project proposed for 111 North Meridian Ave has been tweaked again prior to a November 8 review hearing.  From URBN Tampa Bay:

The project features 305 apartments, 140,000 square feet of storage space, and 11,518 square feet of retail space. 414 parking spaces are provided, and 330 spaces were required.

That is a decrease of a few apartments.  Here are some new renderings:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

And the site plan:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

Our view of this project has not changed.  While it is definitely better than the original proposal, we are not very enthusiastic about the storage element or the parking garage. (We aren’t that big on the 15-story kaleidoscope looking wall either but more as a 15-story wall with no features than the subjective aesthetic question of the kaleidoscope).


Airport – Cargo

As has been discussed, the airport cargo business is growing nicely.  Just how nicely?

According to statements posted on the airport’s website, cargo volume at TPA has doubled in three years, and the cargo business now employs more than 850 people.

* * *

With Amazon and UPS joining FedEx as heavy users of TIA’s cargo terminal, TIA has passed Fort Lauderdale as Florida’s third-busiest air cargo site and is closing in on Orlando International Airport for the No. 2 spot.

That is all good.  Maybe it can lead to expanding to more general cargo.

There were also a new ranking released:

Tampa International Airport was named the fourth-best large airport in the U.S. at keeping travelers satisfied, according to a study by J.D. Power released Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the study ranked Orlando International as the country’s best mega-airport regarding traveler satisfaction — tied with Vegas’ McCarran International — while Miami placed 16th in the same classification.

* * *

Though in different categories, Tampa, Miami and Orlando were measured on the same 1,000-point scale. In judging the three based off points alone, TIA accumulated the most with 799, while Orlando received 781 and Miami 750.

Coming in front of Tampa were Johan Wayne Orange County, Dallas Love Field, and Nashville.  We don’t quite get it but here’s how they got the numbers:

More than 40,000 travelers ranked airports across six categories: terminal facilities, accessibility, security checks, baggage claim, check-in/baggage check, and food, beverage, and retail offerings.

For more detail see here.


Port – Business

There was a flurry of Port news this week.  First,

Port Tampa Bay last week welcomed its 1-millionth cruise ship passenger for the first time ever in a single year.

The port hit the milestone on Sept. 17, when the count hit 1,000,524 for this fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30. It rose further over the weekend when three more ships called at the port. The port on Monday projected a year-end total of more than 1.04 million passengers, which would be a 9 percent increase over last year.

That is definitely good news.  Growth is good.

Still, while a million passengers is cause for celebration locally, Tampa is still not the busiest port for cruises in Florida. In 2016, Miami saw about 4.9 million passengers, Port Canaveral about 4.2 million and Port Everglades about 3.8 million.

Tampa’s port is limited in the range of cruise ships that can call here because the biggest ones — the so-called megaships that can carry 5,000 or 6,000 passengers — won’t fit under the Sunshine Skyway bridge. But it has grown its cruise ship business nearly 20 percent since 2016 by bringing in refurbished smaller ships in the 2,000- to 3,000-passenger range, as well as by taking advantage of the state’s growing population and serving easy-to-reach destinations.

(For more perspective on the numbers, see here) As we said, growth is good (the tourist boom is surely helping), but there is a relatively low ceiling without dealing with the Skyway, as there is in container cargo.  (The limitations the bridge, as attractive as it is, places on the Port should be an object lesson in the long-term problems of lack of ambition in major infrastructure planning.)

In more Port news:

In February, Port Tampa Bay celebrated the arrival of the first bunches to be unloaded on its docks in more than 20 years.

Now the Port Logistics Refrigerated Services warehouse at the port has received its first shipment of pineapples. They arrived Saturday aboard the M/V Juice Express, a combination juice tanker and container ship, from Chestnut Hill Farms in Costa Rica. They are headed to grocery stores in the Tampa Bay area and beyond.

Once again, growth is good.

The warehouse is preparing to receive 20 to 30 shipping containers of pineapples every other week, Port Logistics chief operating officer Rick Sharp said Tuesday in an interview from Buenos Aires, where he was talking with lemon juice exporters about shipping to Coca-Cola through Tampa.

All of that is good.  (If lemons can come from Argentina – around Brazil – why can’t other, not perishable cargo in containers?)

Finally,

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced it has awarded a $47.9 million contract to Great Lakes Dredge & Docks Co. to deepen and expand the port’s Big Bend channel.

Here is some detail from the Army Corps’ announcement:

* * *

The project is designed to safely accommodate existing and prospective vessels that navigate Tampa Harbor. The overall project will deepen the entrance channel, east channel, inner channel, turning basin, and local service facilities at Big Bend from 34 to 43 feet. It will widen the entrance channel from 200 to 250 feet for a length of 1.9 miles. It will deepen the existing turning basin to 43 feet, and expand the existing turning basin to 1,200 feet. An estimated 4 million cubic yards of material will be placed upland in Dredge Material Disposal Area 3-D.

That is long needed.


Built Environment – Settling Streetscape

As regular readers would know, we are not fans of the Manor Riverwalk.  We think the renderings made the riverfront portion look much nicer than it really is (there was much more of a glass façade) and other portions look a bit cheap. (See here)  But what really got us was the awful parking garage and how it was the tallest portion of the building and would create a dead streetscape in what should be developing a nice, walkable area that could connect to the river. (it is not yet because of poor decisions made by the City in the past which are compounded by the Manor project)

The Business Journal has a photo of the downtown skyline that showed what we mean.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

For a bigger version see here.

If the City is serious about activating the river, it actually has to create a natural flow of people walking and biking to the river and the neighborhoods adjacent to it, not car-centric, blank streetscapes which are an actual and subconscious barrier to that flow.  It is just poor and made worse by just not having to be that way.  Both the developer and the City know and can do better.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

As those who are interested will know, Brightline is hoping to have service from Tampa to Orlando and on to Miami.   They posted a video on their Facebook page about people riding the service (here).  Even more interesting to us is an article in the Economist:

Brightline, a startup from Florida, thinks it can. Instead of being greeted by grey concrete and the whiff of urine, as at many Amtrak stations, Brightline’s Miami terminus looks like the lobby of a posh hotel. Early this year it opened its debut line, costing $3bn, between Miami and West Palm Beach in Florida, America’s first new privately-funded passenger line for over a century. On September 18th it announced plans to expand, starting with a new line between Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

There is more in the article (here) about even bigger plans, though nothing about Tampa.  Nevertheless, it is worth reading about their ambitions (and some of what has messed up Amtrak).

 

Roundup 9-21-2018

September 19, 2018

Due to circumstances beyond our control, the week’s Roundup is being posted early and is slightly abbreviated.

Contents

Transportation – Not as Much Jangle

— Westshore, FDOT Inaction

— Why You Need Dedicated Lanes

Downtown/Channel District – 400 Channelside

West Tampa – Still Settle City?

University Mall/Uptown – What Is It?

Westshore-ish – Midtown One

Tourism – Up

Economy – The Future

Rays-ish – The Trop Site

Development Photos

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

— Fuel Cell Trains

— Walkable Cities

___________________________________________


Transportation – Not as Much Jangle


— Westshore, FDOT Inaction

There was an interesting article in the Business Observer about FDOT’s activity in Westshore.

State transportation officials made a big splash in early 2016 when they purchased the Doubletree by Hilton Tampa Airport Hotel and an adjacent restaurant near the Tampa International Airport for $45 million for a future intermodal hub.

Around the same time, the Florida Department of Transportation also sent ripples through the Westshore business district near the airport with plans to acquire as much as 700,000 square feet of office space for an Interstate 275 expansion.

Last August, the agency spent $35.7 million to acquire the three-story Centrepointe office building in Westshore from Boston-based TA Realty for that program, which also involves State Road 60 right-of-way. The 5100 W. Lemon St. property contains 163,378 square feet.

But two years after the hotel deal was expected to usher in a wave of purchases aimed at transportation improvements — at least on the surface — not much has happened on either the intermodal or right-of-way front. Both programs continue to inch along, awaiting final analysis reports, funding and the political will to push them forward.

Last year the department began negotiations to acquire the 12-story Westshore Corporate Center, at 600 N. Westshore Blvd., but talked with New York-based owner Angelo Gordon & Co. ultimately broke down.

Kristen Carson, an agency spokeswoman, says the department is “not actively purchasing ROW” but would be willing to have discussions with landlords who are interested in selling their properties.

One interesting thing is that FDOT is buying up all these properties right along the interstate, properties in the heart of the business area, to tear them down. Aside from the Doubletree, those properties are for the I-275/SR60 project, which is officially still under consideration/study. One sign that may be true is that FDOT has apparently stopped going out and trying to buy properties for now (though if you ask them nicely, they might take some land off your hands).  On the other hand, if you saw the most recent FDOT presentation to the MPO, you know the plan is probably already done (spoiler alert: it seems very TBX).

Also noteworthy is this:

What is known is that the Doubletree will serve as the eventual hub for any public transportation that is developed, and that additional properties won’t be required.

That’s because the 489-room hotel occupies roughly nine acres. Intermodal sites typically require just over half that amount, officials say.

It depends on what kind of “intermodal” site you are building.  While the modes (other than cars) make up “intermodal” are unclear, at least the site is seems clear.


— Why You Need Dedicated Lanes

Here’s just another example of one all too common scenario that makes bus on shoulder is not fit for a “spine.”

All northbound lanes of Interstate 275 have been reopened after a crash involving multiple vehicles temporarily stopped traffic, Tampa police said.

The crash did not result in any major injuries, a spokeswoman said. All northbound lanes were closed for about one hour Monday afternoon while police investigated and cleanup crews cleared the road of debris.

Officers temporarily diverted all northbound traffic off I-275 at the Hillsborough Avenue Exit 47 ramp, causing traffic delays as far back as the Interstate 4 interchange.

We need true alternatives.


Downtown/Channel District – 400 Channelside

There are now more renderings of 400 Channelside.  First, the summary of the information from URBN Tampa Bay:

The tower is 302 feet tall and features 106,048 (!!!) square feet of retail space. 542 parking spaces are required and 1,714 parking spaces are provided, with the majority of that parking being set aside for events at the arena according to the documents.

It would be slightly shorter than the proposed Element building next door (listed as 318.5 ft. in a recent filing)  The amount of retail is impressive.  We are not so excited about the parking, but we knew there was going to be much parking in Water Street.

Now to the images (we are not going to put them all.  Click on the images for more and bigger versions):

 

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

Site Plan:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

At least it appears that the large garage in the back will have retail on the street, which mitigates it a bit.

As we said previously, from what we have seen, right now, this is our favorite design in Water Street. (Though there is still room for improvement. For instance, how much protection does that overhang provides for pedestrians? Certainly not much from the sun.)  We wish they were office building this one first.


West Tampa – Still Settle City?

We have previously discussed the proposed apartment building at 914 N Rome.  You may remember that, initially, it was single use and had no retail.  Then, after the City rejected another project, the developer added a nominal amount of retail.  Last week, per URBN Tampa Bay:

BREAKING: The proposed development for 514 Rome Ave. received first approval tonight. The vote in favor was 4-2 with Reddick and Maniscalco voting no, and Capin absent. This result is disappointing.

Planning staff incorrectly characterized the project as mixed-use. With only about 0.5% of the floor area of the project being retail space, the project is not mixed-use. The second hearing will be in about a month, due to the required waiting period for a necessary comprehensive plan amendment. We hope to flip a council person or two in the meantime.

We are also somewhat surprised the council went along with a 15% parking waiver for the project. That is something the city is usually hesitant to budge on. While we generally support lower parking minimums, we wish it was under better circumstances.

We also find it funny that the rents in this project were framed as “affordable”…..starting at $1300 a month.

We pretty much agree.  The project may now technically be “mixed use” in that there is residential and nominal retail, but it is not really mixed use nor does it really promote a positive vision for the area in which it is being built. The City has basically two methods to make influence development in an area: the code/planning guidelines and approvals.  The Council has not seen fit to fix the code.  And it seems willing to settle on approvals as well.

Recent sales of apartment buildings in Tampa have made it clear that the apartment projects can fetch quite a good price.  Holding developers to good standards will help us get the city the council all says it wants while still earning developers nice profits.    In other words, there is no reason to settle.  (And keep in mind that the second vote on this project is not the only voting coming up.)


University Mall/Uptown – What Is It?

There was more confusing information about University Square Mall.

Bowen and others hope a new federal tax break program that designates the mall’s census tract an “opportunity zone” could be the spur needed to get the adaptive-reuse construction underway.

For now, much of Bowen’s ideas are in planning phases. RD won’t break ground until an anchor has signed onto the project, he said.

In February, the firm said it would release a $1 billion development plan that has yet to go public, though Bowen has been open about his general plans.

“We’re basically creating a city within an existing city,” he said.

It was Bowen’s entry as the project leader at the start of this year that marked RD’s shift away from the retail-focused plan of new tenants, free-standing restaurants and lush landscaping that was announced after it bought most of the property in 2014 for $29.5 million.

That is what it is not going to be.  What will it be?

Now Bowen calls the mall a “laboratory” as RD figures out its own perfect formula.

The premise: the indoor corridors that connect the big boxes to the mall will be knocked down to create pedestrian-friendly streets and outdoor store fronts. The spine of the mall is likely to stay as an artery for the property, offering meeting space and indoor retail space like is there now.

Years down the line, Bowen envisions food halls, a dog park, apartments, high-rises and a lifestyle center that will turn its slice of Fowler Avenue — long known to be a seedy area with a large transient population — into a destination that feeds off of university life and research just down the street.

And that all sounds promising.  But then you get this:

“University Mall has a lot of good bones to it, good structure,” said BDG architect Deighton Babis, who is working with RD on the Uptown project. “Tearing down and scarping doesn’t make sense anymore when there’s so much of the mall that can be reused.”

The JCPenney that shuttered in 2005 has already been gutted. The high ceilings could be ideal for a wet lab, which house chemicals and heavy equipment. The loop system used for the mall’s electric power is already strong and reliable.

Bowen pitches it like this: A company eager to expand could be up and running in a new office sooner than if an office is built ground-up. Meanwhile, the mall’s spine will continue to operate as normal.

Rehabbing and repurposing department store shells does not really seem the same as a vibrant, urban neighborhood.  It makes sense as part of a much bigger project, but not a central focus. As we have said before, while there are some promising comments, most of the discussion sounds like a cross between Wiregrass and Netpark.

It is not that we don’t want them to succeed with the urban redevelopment they talk about.  It is that they give that larger vision but then always come back to rehabbing the mall, which, without more information, does not seem to really fit.  Still, we hold out hope.


Westshore-ish – Midtown One

There was news about Midtown’s first office building:

Midtown One is planned to rise seven stories, grounded at the base by first-floor retail and topped by a curved, sail-like facade. Construction is expected to begin in early 2019, with completion expected in late 2020.

* * *

The project’s cost is still being calculated, and developers plan to start Midtown One on spec — that is, without having it fully leased up before construction begins.

* * *

At Midtown One, an 1,850-square-foot roof deck will offer views of downtown Tampa and St. Petersburg, Tampa Bay, plus an on-site 3-acre pond with a landscaped running and walking trail. A 100-foot pedestrian bridge will connect the second floor of Midtown One to adjacent parking. Its 140,000 square feet of Class A space will be part of 750,000 square feet planned for Midtown Tampa’s three Class A buildings.

Looking at all the renderings, this one seems to capture the essence best:

From the Times – click on picture for article

You can see more renderings in the article here.

Aside from the roof deck and the planned construction start date, the building is not particularly interesting. What is interesting is this:

Spec construction also is the plan for the first office tower at Water Street Tampa, announced less than two weeks ago as downtown Tampa’s first such “trophy” office building in more than a quarter-century. Construction on that 20-story tower is scheduled to start in the spring with an opening projected for the second quarter of 2021.

The last time there was large-scale truly spec construction in this area, it did not work out that well (except for the County, which got a great deal on the County Center) but that was quite a while ago.  Hopefully, we do not have a repeat, and they will be able to fill all that space.


Tourism – Up

There are routinely articles about how tourism records are being broken in this area.  And they are.  And they should be because:

Florida tourism is on pace to set an annual record, with an estimated 65.5 million people traveling to the state during the first half of the year, according to numbers released Wednesday.

The tourism-marketing agency Visit Florida estimated that tourism during the first six months of 2018 was up 5.9 percent from the same period in 2017.

Gov. Rick Scott said the pace should allow the state to easily surpass a record 118.5 million tourists estimated for 2017. “If we have that sort of growth the rest of the year, we’re going to have 125 million tourists,” he said.

* * *

Visit Florida initially estimated the 2017 tourism total at 116.5 million but has adjusted the estimate to 118.5 million. The tourism industry was affected in 2017 by Hurricane Irma, which closed the Florida Keys for nearly a month after hitting the state last September.

The public-private Visit Florida noted that preliminary estimates are made 45 days after the end of each calendar quarter and that final estimates are issued after additional data comes in regarding hotel-room stays and airport use.

The strong tourism sector in this area is a very good thing, and we hope it gets even better. Just remember that it is part of a bigger picture.


Economy – The Future

The same day that the Times had an article on Marianna not doing very well economically, they ran this article, “Fueled by more people, Florida’s economic prospects look good over next 30 years.” What can they tell us?

Florida’s economy should be in good shape 30 years from now. There will be bumps, including four to five recessions, if history is a guide. And not everyone will get an equal share of the prosperity.

But thanks largely to a steadily growing population, the state’s financial fortunes look rosy. By 2047, the state will be home to more than 29 million residents, up from about 21 million today.

“One of the big economic distinctions between Florida and states in the northern Rust Belt is our growing population,” said Sean Snaith, director of the Institute for Economic Competitiveness at the University of Central Florida. “More people in a state’s economy by default means more economic activity.”

First, yes, population growth helps and, yes, there will be downturns.  How well we are doing in 30 years is an open question.  We like to think we will be doing well (though can anyone really know 30 years into the future).

Snaith recently released his institute’s annual look at where Florida will be in 10, 20 and 30 years. By 2047, he forecast the state’s total economic output will more than quadruple in today’s dollars from about $1 trillion to just over $4 trillion. Retail sales and personal income will also rise significantly. Housing starts will tick up, too.

Some industries will do a lot better than others.

Snaith forecast construction jobs to jump from a little over 500,000 to more than 1.1 million, propelled by more demand for houses, condos and apartments.

The health sector will continue its nearly uninterrupted decades-long climb, adding another half a million jobs in the next 30 years. State and local governments will continue to add jobs, as will Florida’s large leisure and hospitality sector.

The information sector will continue to have ups and downs over the next decade as newspapers and magazines continue to struggle with how to find enough people to pay for their work. After that, Snaith predicts a quick expansion, pulled along by the sector’s high-tech components, including computer programmers and software developers.

The already massive professional and business services sector will more than double to over 3.1 million jobs. The forecast highlights the ongoing shift away from industries that make things and toward service providers, including professionals in science and technology.

The trend also shows up in the steadily declining number of jobs in manufacturing, a sector already dinged by automation and foreign competition. Snaith predicts the number of manufacturing jobs will tick up slightly in the next few years and then decline through 2047.

We don’t have the numbers for the last 30 years in front of us, but quadrupling state GDP in today’s dollars seems a bit ambitious when the population is forecast to grow by less than 50% total.

We feel compelled to point out that 30 years ago was 1988: when the best hand-held cellphones looked like this, the MacIntosh portable had not been released, Windows was new, and the publicly accessible internet – not to mention Google, Facebook, and Amazon – didn’t exist, but the Soviet Union did.

So, 30 year predictions can be hard. If the predictions in the article come true, great, but we’ll just wait and see. In the meantime, this area needs to keep pushing to get better.


Rays-ish – The Trop Site

The Pete is moving forward with plans for the Trop site:

The Pinellas County Commission agreed last week to let St. Petersburg direct about $115 million in tax dollars to help redevelop 86 acres around Tropicana Field, regardless if the Rays move to Tampa or not.

With a 5-1 vote, the commission approved Mayor Rick Kriseman’s request to use the money in a special downtown taxing district for projects like utilities, infrastructure and streetscape work.

The city and county created the Intown Tax Increment Financing District in 2005. It has been amended several times and is slated to sunset in 2032. Millions of tax dollars from the district have helped the city pay for the downtown pier project.

Thursday’s amendment allows the city to spend up to $75 million on projects west of Eight Street to make the land shovel-ready to recruit new businesses.

Another $40 million could be spent east of Eighth Street, which includes the waterfront, for projects such as creating transit infrastructure, rebuilding seawalls and conserving historic priorities.

While we do not think the Rays should play there, we are all redeveloping the Trop site.

The amendment was crucial in order to develop one of the best parcels of land in Pinellas County and had nothing to do with the future of the Rays, Kriseman said.

“Our intent is to move forward with the development of the Tropicana site,” he said. “It represents the best job-generating parcel in the city and county.”

Whether it is the best or one of the best, it has much potential that needs to be promoted.  Good for Pinellas County.


Development Photos

The Business Journal released their latest in aerial construction photos.  It is definitely a nice feature by them.  If you haven’t seen it yet, you can see it here.

JW Marriott constriction. From the Business Journal – click on picture for article


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World


— Fuel Cell Trains

We have discussed the fuel cell trains before, but now they are in service.

Two bright blue Coradia iLint trains, built by French TGV-maker Alstom, on Monday began running a 62 mile (100km) route between the towns and cities of Cuxhaven, Bremerhaven, Bremervoerde and Buxtehude in northern Germany – a stretch normally plied by diesel trains.

* * *

Hydrogen trains are equipped with fuel cells that produce electricity through a combination of hydrogen and oxygen, a process that leaves steam and water as the only emissions. Excess energy is stored in ion lithium batteries on board the train.

The Coradia iLint trains can run for about 600 miles (1,000km) on a single tank of hydrogen, similar to the range of diesel trains.

While the trains are more expensive than diesel trains (now), it is also true that we happen to be very close to a potentially unlimited source of fuel.


— Walkable Cities

The Guardian had a very interesting article on what a walkable city would really look like. (here) You should read the whole thing, but we just thought we’d point out this passage that seemed like something we’ve heard before about this area:

When people move to Denver, Colorado, from places like New York, “they’re, like, ‘What’s wrong with the sidewalks? Why is it so hard to walk here?’,” says Jill Locantore.

It is worth a read.

Roundup 9-14-2018

September 13, 2018

Contents

Transportation – Jangle On, Cont

— TB(n)X

— St. Pete BRT

— Complete Streets in the Pete

— HART Leader Search

Referenda – Going Lower to Go Higher?

Downtown – Riverwalk Place Pictures

Housing – Apartments

Airport – About the Money

USF – Changes

Rays – Update

About Autonomous Cars

____________________________________________


Transportation – Jangle On, Cont


— TB(n)X

Last week, we had some images that Sunshine Citizens got from FDOT that showed the max build TBX option for Malfunction Junction. As we already knew, it was unacceptable.  We noted FDOT says they will not do the max build (note that, as of this week, consideration of express lanes north of Malfunction Junction is still on the Tampa Bay Next website) and that FDOT says that it has a couple of new options for express lanes (express lanes are FDOT’s focus, even in Ellenton) that either run along the north or south of the Junction.  This week, Sunshine Citizens had images for those:

North Option:

From Sunshine Citizens – click on picture for Facebook page

South Option:

From Sunshine Citizens – click on picture for Facebook page

While both of these options are better than the full build, we are not particularly fond of either.  One thing to consider is scale.  If you look at the present portion of the interstate that remain and consider how high they are then consider that the new ramps would go over the existing ramp from southbound I-275 to I-4, you get an idea of just how tall those ramps will be. (and this is not an empty field.  It is an urban area.) It is also worth noting that the images also do not show how long the ramps will be and exactly what will have to be demolished to make way for them.


— St. Pete BRT

There was news about the St. Pete BRT:

The Florida Department of Transportation awarded the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority $9.5 million for the Central Avenue Bus Rapid transit project in St. Petersburg, the agency announced Friday.

The route is important for the entire region because it will serve as a first proof of concept for bus rapid transit in the region and position the Tampa Bay area for future projects.

The grant, awarded under the state’s New Starts Transit Program, means the state portion of funding is completely secured. Of the $41.35 million, $10.5 million is coming from the state. FDOT previously committed $1 million in design funds for the project.

Another $10.5 million will come from PSTA and local governments. PSTA committed $5 million from its capital reserve and the city of St. Petersburg committed $2 million for the project and plans to commit another $2 million later. The city of St. Pete Beach is still holding out on its planned $1.5 million contribution.

Of course,

PSTA is in line to receive $20.35 million from the Federal New Starts transit program after earning a medium-high rating on the project earlier this year. That’s the second highest designation a transit program can receive.

The really interesting thing is that none of this is actually news.  From December 2017:

While state and local governments have already agreed to chip in $21 million for the project, its future depends on landing a $20.35 million federal grant in 2019. The Trump administration and Congress have gone back and forth over whether to fund the capital investment grant and at what rate.

Though, maybe it is news that FDOT actually ponied up the money given this from April:

For the Central Avenue BRT project to squeak its way into the 2018 FTA budget, PSTA still has to secure local funding agreements for the $42 million project. Local funding would come from the Florida Department of Transportation and the city of St. Pete. Both have offered soft promises to fund their share of the project, but numbers haven’t been finalized.

It is unfortunate that there is even a thing referred to as a “soft promise,” but it seems the money will be forthcoming.  Of course, instead of building toll roads to nowhere (see Suncoast 2) and other such silliness, FDOT should fund the rest of the BRT project, especially if (and we don’t know whether it is or not) this is true:

The U.S. Department of Transportation is sitting on nearly $1.8 billion for projects that are ready or nearly ready for final federal approval, according to Transportation for America, a group that promotes local transportation improvement efforts. Specifically, the group is concerned that the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) is not distributing money from its New Starts, Small Starts and Core Capacity programs, which all help local transit agencies pay for big-ticket construction projects.

The delays at the FTA affect rail projects in and around Chicago, Dallas, Minneapolis and New York City. They could impact new streetcar service in Sacramento, Calif.; Tempe, Ariz.; and Orange County, Calif. And new rapid bus service in El Paso, Jacksonville, Fla., Reno, Nev., Seattle and St. Petersburg, Fla. could be delayed as well.

We get relying on Federal money for billion dollar project, but this is $20 million for the State’s supposedly favored form of transit.

In further news about the BRT:

A recent decision by the board of Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority unanimously awarded H.W. Lochner, a national firm headquartered in Chicago, the Central Avenue Bus Rapid Transit engineering and design contract. Lochner will be charged with roadway and station design, surveys, assessments and outreach to community and other stakeholders. 

Which is fine but,

Construction on the project should begin in 2019 and reach completion between 2020 and 2021, opening the BRT lanes at that time.

That is odd if they don’t have all the funding yet.


— Complete Streets in the Pete

We have already discussed proposed bike lanes on MLK in St. Pete.  This week there was an interesting article in the Times regarding St. Pete and complete streets.

One of the city’s main thoroughfares is on a “road diet.”

Work started Tuesday to slim down two miles of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street N from four lanes of traffic down to three to make room for a buffered bike lane on each side of the road.

That’s just one of the big ideas coming to St. Petersburg streets. Another idea is angled parking.

The city wants to replace parallel parking spaces with angled parking along the downtown sections of First Avenues N and S. Each road also would lose a lane in a bid to replicate the commercial success of Central Avenue.

It’s all part of St. Petersburg’s “complete streets” effort, which the City Council endorsed in 2015 to design streets that can safely accommodate biking, driving, walking and transit.

“Complete streets means basically a street that works for everyone,” said Evan Mory, the city’s director of transportation and parking management.

We are all for the complete street concepts if done in a systematic way that really has complete streets.  The danger is when it is done in an ad hoc, incomplete (pun intended) way.  What is St. Pete considering?

The city has compiled a list of 16 such projects it wants to tackle over the next two decades. The plan, which is still being drafted, calls for adding buffered bike lanes to segments of busy roads such as Ninth Avenue N, 16th Street, 54th Avenue and Park Street.

City planners assume all 16 corridors could lose a lane to make way for bike lanes, but that won’t be known until each project is studied, redesigned and approved.

There’s no exact timeline, or funding, for most of the projects.

Of course,

Road diets have their critics, and St. Petersburg is no different. Business owners along King Street have complained that eliminating a traffic lane could impact their bottom line. Critics also accused the city of hiding the bike lane project by classifying it as a re-paving project; the city denied that.

We are not going to get into the debate on a specific road right now.  You can read the article here for that.  And while we do not completely agree with this, there is some truth:

Other road diets may be too much, cautioned Steinocher.

The King Street project would eliminate a north-south lane from 11th Avenue N to 30th Avenue N (it would retain the center turn lane, however.) But the chamber pointed out that it’s a road that runs from downtown north to Gandy Boulevard, leading to the Gateway area and Tampa via the Howard Frankland and Gandy bridges.

“This is an arterial road,” he said. “We were really concerned about losing lanes of traffic to accommodate bicyclists, where we thought we could do both, still have two lanes and have bike lanes.”

The city has countered that argument by saying the slimmer King Street is projected to add 90 seconds to commutes during peak driving time.

Steinocher also fears road diets don’t account for transit such as Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority buses or future systems such as bus rapid transit.

“When we go down to one lane, you’re going to be stuck behind a PSTA bus,” he said. “We want people to like BRT and buses. I don’t think they thought about the mass transit strategy in this.”

The city points out that the Pinellas bus agency supports the complete streets plan, and is working with the city to incorporate new bus stops with the redesigned crosswalks of the King Street project.

Our concern is quite simple.  We think transit like BRT should run on arterial roads (like St. Pete’s BRT plan).  While planning for some bus stops is fine, it is not the same as including efficient transit in dedicated lanes, like BRT.  As we have said, we are for complete street concepts, but they should be really complete streets and not foreclose proper transit.  And the changes to numerous roads should be done in systematic way to accommodate that.

St. Pete is just getting started looking at the issue, which is a good thing to do.  They just need make sure whatever they plan is really complete.


— HART Leader Search

HART has to undertake a leader search.  Originally, the plan was to start early:

The recruitment process was to start on Sept. 10 through Nov. 9, then on Nov. 16 or Nov. 19 would be the first round of interviews with roughly five candidates by the ad-hoc committee. The structure of the first round of interviews was to be videoconference and a set of pre-listed questions. The week of Dec. 3 or Dec. 10 would have been the final interviews with two to three candidates. Once the board selects the new CEO and negotiations are complete, the new CEO would start 30 to 45 days after selection.  

That has changed:

Everything will stay in place except the first round of interviews will be pushed to January instead of the middle of November, Commissioner Les Miller said.

The advertisement for the new CEO will start on Nov. 7. Meanwhile, the board will review at its next meeting the extended agreement with Interim CEO Jeff Seward; his current contract expires on Nov. 30.

While the recruiter said this:

Moser answered by stating his concerns with extending the timeline due candidates being susceptible to Florida Sunshine laws and the market being highly competitive.

“There’s fewer candidates than there are needs,” Moser said, urging the board to avoid pause.

We are not an executive search firm, but we tend to think that with the referendum and other elections that may change the situation, it is reasonable to wait to really get into the search until the potential applicants know what the situation is.  It seems hard to match the proper candidate with the job when neither the candidates nor the board know what the job is and who the boss (the board) is going to be.


Referenda – Going Lower to Go Higher?

This week two local school boards, including Hillsborough, passed their budgets.

Pinellas County school officials on Tuesday unanimously approved a $1.5 billion budget including a tax rate decrease for the 2018-19 school year.

The new rate is $6.73 for every $1,000 of taxable property value, a drop from last year’s rate of $7.01. It includes a local referendum, a one-half mill tax Pinellas voters have renewed every four years since 2008.

For a home assessed at $250,000, for example, this year’s school tax would be $1,514 — $63 lower than last year.

Still, many tax bill are expected to be higher due to a 8.48 percent increase in taxable property values, said Karen Coffey, executive director of budget and resource allocation.

And

With no discussion, the Hillsborough County School Board on Tuesday adopted a $3 billion budget and a property tax rate that is lower than last year’s, reflecting an increase in property values.

Homeowners will pay $641.40 for every $100,000 in property value, after exemptions. That’s down from $690.60 in the current year.

Neither tax rate decrease is that surprising given that it is an election year.  However, the Hillsborough tax rate decrease is very interesting considering the Board says that it needs so much new money (and the schools do have a lot of needs) that it is putting a sales tax increase referendum on the ballots this year.

School superintendent Jeff Eakins, who is seeking voter approval of a half-cent sales surtax for capital improvements, noted that, after years of budget-cutting, the district was able to add $5 million to its main reserve account.

Three years ago, when the reserve was losing tens of millions of dollars each year, bond-rating agencies sounded alarms.

“We made a commitment to our bond-rating agencies to reduce our overall staffing, and that has brought us in line,” Eakins said.

Those moves are fine, but they do not change the fact that the schools need money and that the Board just voted to decrease its tax rate.  We can only assume that the property tax decrease is part of a strategy to convince people to vote for the sales tax increase.  However, it still seems very odd if the needs are so great.

In further news:

A group of Hillsborough County parents have taken the first step in mobilizing like-minded residents to support a referendum to pay for capital needs in the public schools.

Teachers union leader Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins and public schools advocate Melissa Erickson filed papers Tuesday to form a political action committee called Strengthen our Schools.

Baxter-Jenkins, chairwoman of the committee, is executive director of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association. Erickson, the vice chair, is co-founder of the Alliance for Public Schools, which works in several counties to support parent engagement and boost high school graduation rates.

That is expected.  How it affects the transportation referendum is unclear.


Downtown – Riverwalk Place Pictures

Riverwalk Place has stepped up their promotional game:

A sales center with a scale model of the tower is almost finished in the nearby Wells Fargo building, another Feldman Equities property. So far the center has been open by appointment only but should be ready for business in October.

Construction is expected to start next year although the timing will depend on pre-sales, Boren said. The developers have yet to decide how many condos the tower will have or the ratio of residential to office space.

Since the beginning, the office component “has been a moving target based on demand,” Boren said.

It’s a little bit odd to potentially be changing the plans at this point, but so be it.  In any event, here are some new renderings:

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

We really like the pool deck.  And while we are still do not love the garage, the renderings are better than the earlier Noah’s ark look, especially the treatments at the pedestrian level.  You can see more renderings here.

We are just waiting to see when it gets going.


Housing – Apartments

There was some interesting news regarding apartments in the area:

In a new report, the real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield says the bay area leads Orlando and Jacksonville in multi-family housing starts this year although population growth and demographic changes are fueling the demand for rentals in all three areas.

Nowhere are those changes more apparent than in Tampa Bay, which already has 600,000 more residents than Orlando and twice as many as Jacksonville.

“Tampa Bay’s population growth in the key renting demographic between the ages of 20 and 35 (is) projected to grow at three times the national average through 2020,” the report says. “This growth will drive further construction in apartments in the urban and suburban markets.”

As a raw number, the new construction is good.  No question.  And there is no question we are growing, and Tampa and St. Pete are getting denser.  Of course, comparisons are a little tricky and there are a number of ways to look at numbers.  Here are the raw numbers:

Multi-family housing starts in Central and North Florida*

Area Apartment buildings Units

Tampa Bay      49        12,656

Orlando           43        11,084

Jacksonville     32        7,099

* First half of 2018

Source: Cushman & Wakefield

Doing some quick math with using, for simplicity, the population of the Tampa Bay area as 3 million (it is actually a little higher), we find that the Tampa Bay area has about .0042 units/person.  Orlando has about .0046 (if we use 2.6 million, which is a little closer, Orlando comes in with .0043) and Jacksonville has about .0047.  So, essentially we are building apartments at about the same rate given our population.

Setting aside the comparisons, more importantly to us:

But the apartment boom shows signs of slowing.

Sales of multi-family complexes dropped in all three areas even as prices-per-unit hit record levels.

Higher land and construction costs have delayed the start of some projects, including Class A projects with initial rents at the top end of the market. Short-term vacancies and rent concessions increased.

Many opportunities for multi-family housing still exist, though.

“Affordable housing remains drastically under-served,” the report says. Apartment developers should also look at suburban areas with top-ranked schools and pay more attention to the “Silver Tsunami” — seniors wanting walkable rental communities near affluent, single-family markets.

We are not sure what the report counts as affordable, but, in our mind, “affordable” does not necessarily mean for people at the poverty line.  In an area with average salaries around $51,000, many of the buildings being built now are not affordable to the average resident.  Given that land and construction cost pressures and development regulations increase the price of projects (like parking) and that the lack of transportation options increase the cost of living, there is a risk that certain areas undergoing much urban development will become quite exclusive. That is a potential risk to the vitality of an urban environment.  And to be clear – we do not mean that you need tenements next to million dollar condos (particularly because we don’t think anyone should have to live in a tenement), but a degree of economic (and other) diversity is a good thing in an urban environment.

We get that there are projects, such as Encore and West River, that include affordable housing.  And that is good, though not necessarily enough.  There is no magic formula or perfect balance (and we are not taking a position on any specific plan), but it would be good to consider the issue (as some are doing) before we have some of the problems that afflict some of other areas.

In more news:

Rising mortgage rates contributed to a sharp decline in residential loans originated in the Tampa Bay area in the second quarter of this year. According to the real estate database ATTOM Data Solutions, loans secured by residential property dropped 15 percent from the first quarter and 22 percent from the same period a year ago.

That will have to be watched closely.


Airport – About the Money

The Aviation Authority board approved the budget for next year.

In fiscal year 2019, the airport’s passenger traffic is expected to reach a record of 21.6 million passengers and operating revenues are expected to reach $259 million.

The budget includes the $159.2 million non-Master Plan capital program that consists of 28 projects, including expenses for the rental car center and automated people mover and the construction of a new cargo facility on the southwest corner of the airfield, as Amazon and UPS are currently operating in a temporary area that will become Airside D, a 16-gate international airside in Phase 3 of the airport’s master plan expansion.

Cargo operations sitting in an area where Airside D will go will need to be relocated. Passenger airplanes will be parked there overnight, said Damian Brooke, executive vice president of finance and procurement for the airport, during the Sept. 6 Hillsborough County Aviation Authority Board meeting.

The budget projects that the airport will generate a bottom line of $51.6 million, which will go toward capital improvements, the annual air service incentive plan and reserves, according to Brooke’s presentation.

That is all pretty standard.  We also knew that the cargo would eventually have to be relocated.  However, looking over the Master Plan and other documents on the airport website, we are not sure where exactly in the southwest corner of the airport a new cargo facility can go. There is space where there was a cargo facility on the northwest corner and there is some space in the southeast, near FedEx where there was some discussion of expanding cargo handling.  In any event,

Meanwhile, the 2019 plan also included new rates for signatory carriers. The airport projects an airline cost per enplanement will be $5.15, which maintains TPA as one of the lowest-cost large airport hubs in the country.

That is what travelers will be paying and that is good (though, as fond as we are of the airport, Tampa is not a “hub”).


USF – Changes

Last week we discussed USF’s new academic logo.  We did not get into the colors and font, but a Times article did. You can read it here.  In bigger news,

“Because of this positive momentum, my family and I believe that this is the right time for me to step down from my post as President, effective July 1, 2019,” Genshaft said. “It has been the honor of my professional career to be part of this journey since the year 2000.”

She has headed USF for 18 years.  Any leadership transition of such a large and important institution is going to be very important for the region.

State rules require “transparent, robust” searches for public university presidents. The cornerstone of the process is a search committee, 15 members maximum, which will work with an outside search firm that USF plans to hire shortly.

As board chairman, Lamb gets to assemble the committee. It has to include three trustees — one of whom will lead it — plus a member of the Florida Board of Governors, which oversees the state university system. Lamb says he’ll craft a diverse group that represents students, alumni, faculty, the foundation and the broader region.

He plans to announce members by the end of the week.

Through the end of the year, Lamb anticipates “a tremendous amount of heavy lifting.” The search committee will meet often, sketching out job criteria and compensation, consulting with the search firm and reviewing applications.

Top candidates will visit campus in February, he said, and the committee will make recommendations to trustees in March.

While that may not seem fast to some, it is pretty quick, especially given the size and importance of USF and the fact that the Trustees also have other things to do.

University presidents in Florida are chosen in a politically-charged atmosphere that values Tallahassee connections and the ability to raise money just as much as academic credentials.

“They’re looking for someone who has great skills at communicating with the Legislature,” said Darryl Paulson, professor emeritus of political science at USF St. Petersburg. “Great academic credentials? That really doesn’t matter any more. It’s a political process.”

That’s how it works.

The political focus is especially true for a school like USF with multiple campuses that all have their supporters with specific visions and agendas.  It will be important to pick someone who can help USF unify the region.  It will be very interesting to watch.


Rays – Update

There was an update, sort of, of the Rays stadium issue.  We are not going to get into the funding issue because there is no actual proposed plan.  You can read what was said here and here.  For now, the relevant point regarding funding is this:

The Tampa Bay Rays are pushing Hillsborough officials to present a financing “structure” for a new ballpark before its deal to look for a home outside of St. Petersburg runs out Dec. 31, according to Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan.

The plan would detail how a new stadium will be paid for and provide long-awaited answers about how much the team is willing to contribute. To that end, serious negotiations with the Rays are expected to start in the “near future,” Hagan said Wednesday at a meeting of the Rotary Club of Ybor City.

If agreement on a financing plan can be reached, it will be followed by an economic study on the impact of a new ballpark and a surrounding entertainment district.

“This will allow us to have a very transparent public discussion on the merits of the proposal, as well as the value of the team remaining in Tampa Bay,” Hagan said.

The Rays announced in February that the site in the northeast corner of Adamo and Channelside Drives was where they wanted a new ballpark. The team unveiled a stadium design in July.

But there has been little visible progress since then other than efforts by Rays2020, a business group, to drum up interest in season tickets and naming rights.

The Rays only have a little more than three months before the team’s three-year agreement with St. Petersburg to look for a new home expires. The team is now seeking a higher comfort level that a viable financing plan can be put together before it commits its future to Ybor, Hagan said.

In other words, there still is no actual plan, and time is of the essence.  Until there is an actual proposal, there is no point for us really getting into it.


About Autonomous Cars

We have pointed out for a while that while some people predict that autonomous cars are the future of all transportation (often using that a reason to not really invest in transit now), that is not necessarily the case.  In fact, there are more and more reports about issues facing autonomous vehicles. This week, URBN Tampa Bay posted links to an article on autonomous cars (here).  And we do not think the articles have even addressed some of the more practical issues that would arise from autonomous cars use.

We think there is a place for autonomous vehicles and that someday they will be used to some degree.  But we are skeptical that they are a panacea for transportation woes and, especially in areas where you are trying to get a large number of people through a small space, they are no replacement for real transit.

Roundup 9-7-2018

September 6, 2018

Contents

Transportation – Jangle On

— Referendum News

— TB(n)X

— Coastal Connector, Not

— I-175, Maybe Not Much Longer

Downtown/Channel District – Water Street News

— Residential

— Offices

Westshore-ish – Cleared

West Tampa/Downtown – In a Park By the River

Built Environment – Parking

USF – Brandiness

Tampa Accent

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

— KC Streetcar

— Durham Rail

— An Interesting Take on Ferries

— About Those Transit Systems

__________________________________________


Transportation – Jangle On


— Referendum News

As we noted last week, the referendum is shaping up as expected, at least in terms of organizations taking sides.  Last week, we noted some supporting the referendum.  This week:

Americans for Prosperity has helped derail several plans to raise taxes for public transit over the past few years, including ones in Nashville  and Little Rock.

The anti-tax, small government group, which for years was bankrolled by oil billionaires Charles G. and David H. Koch, now has it sights set on Hillsborough County.

The group announced today that it will campaign against the one percent sales tax plan put on the Nov. 6 general election ballot by citizen’s group All for Transportation.

If approved by voters, the 30-year  tax would start in January and raise about $280 million per year.

“After repeated failures, tax and spend advocates are once again asking for a tax hike to pay for transportation projects,” Chris Hudson, AFP’s Florida director, said in a statement. “With very few details on how the money will be spent, taxpayers are essentially being asked to hand over a $280 million blank check.”

This is not surprising.

AFP’s involvement is the first sign of organized opposition to the sales tax plan.

A 2010 plan to raise the sales tax for transportation drew heated opposition from groups like the Tea Party and No Tax for Tracks. That plan was voted down by 58 percent of voters.

The same two groups campaigned against the unsuccessful Greenlight Pinellas plan in 2014.

But as of Tuesday, no local group had filed paperwork with the Supervisor of Elections office to raise money to campaign against the measure in the upcoming mid-term election.

That also does not surprise us. The opposition is all basically the same thing and a quick perusal of local blogs indicates the opposition is the same whether they file to raise money or not.

Speaking of referendums:

The Hillsborough County Commission on Thursday agreed to ask voters, on the Nov. 6 general election ballot, if they are willing to pay a half-cent sales surtax to meet capital needs in the schools.

* * *

The district, in the meantime, released a large-type document labeled Referendum Details that included photographs of children and listed benefits such as “raising property values,” “creating high quality jobs,” and “better preparing our area for hurricanes.”

But the district has not yet released a school-by-school, item-by-item list showing exactly how it will spend the $1.31 billion that it expects the tax will raise over 10 years.

Some hints about the expenditures can be found in the district’s five-year capital improvement plan, a document it submits to the state every year even though there is never enough money available to complete the projects listed.

Officials also have not said who will serve on the seven-member oversight committee, beyond the fact that six of the private citizens will not be affiliated with the district. Information on both issues is expected shortly.

The Detail document can be found here and 5-year plan here.  We have not seen the actual referendum language.

It is definitely going to be interesting.


— TB(n)X

Sunshine Citizens had an interesting post on their Facebook page:

After submitting public records request, we finally have images of what FDOT is planning for the Downtown Interchange (DTI). This is just one of many rendered views of what we can expect from the TBNext Express Lanes project. Note how the expansion rips through Tampa Heights and Ybor (top image is current DTI; bottom is the rendering).

This is “Option A” – the catastrophic worst case scenario. It increases the width and size of interchange TO 20 LANES, further destroying the heart of Tampa for no gain but increased costs to commuters. We will share more images in the coming days. Although this is the worst of the options, there is no doubt about it, all options impact one or more of the surrounding neighborhoods.

 

From Sunshine Citizens – click on picture for Facebook page

From Sunshine Citizens – click on picture for Facebook page

 

First, as noted, the image shows is the most elaborate (worst) option. It includes express lanes going north on I-275, which FDOT has said will not happen.  It also includes express lanes from I-4 to I-275 southbound, which FDOT is still planning.  (And remember, this option was part of a plan that was supported by the MPO, local officials, and a number of business organizations.)

Another interesting thing to note is the building just under the ramp from I-275 to I-4 is Centro Asturiano, one of the historic social clubs in Ybor. (See here) That building is already close enough to the interstate but this proposal would bring the ramp basically right by the front door. While the building remains intact, sitting right under the interstate would be quite detrimental.  Not exactly the best idea for preserving our historical fabric.

The plan pictured is obviously unacceptable. FDOT is now saying that the new plan will have a much smaller footprint.  We will be curious to see exactly what they are proposing and what part of our urban and historical fabric is still deemed expendable.


— Coastal Connector, Not

A few months ago we discussed FDOT’s inexplicable extension the Suncoast Parkway.  We also discussed the Coastal Connector, which was to connect the extended Suncoast Parkway to I-75, but was opposed by interests in Marion County.  Well,

The Florida Department of Transportation announced Friday that it has decided to kill off a controversial toll road called the Coastal Connector that had Marion County horse farmers and others in that region in an uproar.

“At this time, the department has determined that the best approach to addressing traffic issues in the area is to abandon the new corridor concepts that were preliminarily discussed in the planning studies,” DOT secretary Mike Dew wrote in a letter to Marion County Commission Chairwoman Kathy Bryant.

The highway was proposed to link Interstate 75 to the Suncoast 2, or the planned extension of the Suncoast Parkway. Instead, Dew said his agency will “step back and focus on improvements to I-75.”

Fine, but:

The opponents of the Coastal Connector also included people who opposed the extension of the lightly used $507-million Suncoast Parkway known as the Suncoast 2. The toll road extension, expected to cost $134-million, is now being built through the Withlacoochee State Forest, although regional planners say it is unlikely to attract much traffic unless it is somehow linked to I-75 through something like the Coastal Connector. 

Which makes us wonder even more why FDOT is spending hundreds of millions on the Suncoast extension now.  As we have said before, extending the Suncoast may make sense at some point, but it makes no sense now.  What makes much more sense is 1) spending the money on transit like the St. Pete BRT and 2) connecting the Veterans/Suncoast to I-75 farther south where the people are (though, admittedly, over the decades Hillsborough and Pasco have made a complete mess of that).


— I-175, Maybe Not Much Longer

URBN Tampa Bay highlighted an interesting article from St. Pete Catalyst regarding I-175 in downtown St. Pete (here):

As the City of St. Petersburg looks forward to the redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site, one particular on-again, off-again issue remains – the possibility of razing I-175. This 1.3 mile stretch of interstate bisects the city of St. Petersburg, cutting the heart of the city in half. The interstate creates an impermeable barrier unconquerable by foot, further widening the North/South racial dividing line.

Thousands of drivers make their way onto I-175 every day. Forty thousand take the interstate to at least Martin Luther King Jr. Street, where 15,000 of them drop off. This interstate system affects thousands of people everyday – but its strain on the city is about more than just traffic.

* * *

In 2016, HKS architects, in charge of planning the Tropicana Field site – with or without the baseball stadium – brought the I-175 question back into the public consciousness. They proposed razing the interstate but were sharply rebuffed by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), which said it would not consider approving such a project due to the numerous levels of state and federal approval needed for it to move forward

Now, in a serious change of tone, FDOT has communicated with the county transportation agency Forward Pinellas that it is, in fact, willing to consider the I-175 change. Plans are taking shape for a circulation study to understand the main arteries of the city, including the interstates and one-way thoroughfares.

This is an interesting case.  While being the end of a peninsula and lacking real transit, St. Pete is very dependent on I-275 to connections.  However, we think I-175 is definitely expendable (I-375 is still there) and could be replaced with a boulevard. (We would say leave I-175 and just cover it, but only part of road is lower than the surrounding area and capable of being covered.) While connecting the Trop property with where people now live south of there is not just a matter of removing the road, it could be done and would be definitely provide benefits.  Whether St. Pete (and especially institutions like USF-St. Pete and the hospitals in the area) wants to do it is an open question, but it is a reasonable idea.


Downtown/Channel District – Water Street News


— Residential

From URBN Tampa Bay:

. . . on Thursday Water Street Tampa filed its Notice of Commencement with the city for the project. When the Notice of Commencement is filed, construction must begin within 90 days or the project has to file another one. Filing another one isn’t a big deal, it’s just a 1 page form, but the fact that one was filed on Thursday shows a clear intention that construction in imminent.

The project also received its final design approval on Thursday, and the project’s stats have been updated. The project is made up of two towers: a 26 story condo tower and a 21 story apartment tower. In the base of the tower will be a grocery store and retail space. In total there are 420 residential units, 40,000 square feet of retail (including the grocery store), and 509 parking spaces (460 were required).

Here are some new drawings:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

 

For the most part we really like these buildings.  Looking at the documents in Accela, we even note there appears to be what seems to be a covered area for pedestrians on the north side of the building, though it is unclear how much cover they can get. (Factoid: the heights of the buildings listed in the documents are 309 ft and 250.5 ft)

Hopefully, it will get going in earnest soon.


— Offices

Also this week the Water Street folks finally released some real information about the office component of the project.

Water Street Tampa will begin speculative construction on a 20-story office tower in early 2019 — a literal and figurative groundbreaking for a city that has not seen a new multitenant office development in the downtown core in a quarter century.

The tower, 1001 Water Street, will be built at the northeast intersection of Channelside Drive and Water Street. The intersection itself doesn’t yet exist; the road grid reconfiguration underway will create that crossroads by extending Water Street to the north by about three blocks.

For clarity, 1001 Water Street is the office building that has long been planned to be built next to the medical school with a plaza in between. Here are more details about the office component:

The office portion of Water Street’s first phase, unveiled by developer Strategic Property Partners on Thursday, includes more than 1 million square feet of office space:

And what would such an announcement be without some renderings:

1001 Water Street:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

400 Channelside:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

While 1001 Water Street is a bit boxy, we do like how the balconies break up the façade. As for 400 Channelside, based on renderings released so far, it is our favorite Water Street design, especially with the gardens. (We also note in some of the renderings that 400 Channelside appears to have awnings, which is great, though the awnings do not seem to extend along the entire sidewalk frontage and are transparent, which is not, especially in the summer.  Maybe they are “transitions” awnings.)

Of course, we are just seeing renderings of the front of the buildings.  We will be really curious to see is the parking garages. (It appears that the 400 Channelside garage may be on the right of the rendering in the back of the building, but it is not entirely clear.) While that may seem odd, Water Street is going to have large parking garages and how they are treated will really affect the nature of the district overall, especially at the street level.

As we have noted before, rents are going to be somewhat higher than what is going on now in Tampa.  This week, we learned just how much more:

The financial backing of Vinik and Cascade positions SPP to be more aggressive than most traditional developers: It is able to begin construction on a high-rise office building — without committed tenants in place — at projected rents that are significantly higher than the current market rates.

The Sparkman Wharf space is being marketed in the mid $40s per square foot; rents in the two new towers will be in the low to mid $50s per square foot, said David Bevirt, executive vice president of leasing and strategy for SPP. Both of those rents are all-inclusive but do not include parking.

Top-tier office space in downtown Tampa, in trophy buildings with the most premier views, commands rents in the mid to high $30s per square foot.

Bevirt, who moved to Tampa from Washington, D.C., in March to spearhead the office portion of Water Street, says he doesn’t think a deal will be announced before 1001 Water Street breaks ground, but that an announcement could come by mid-2019.

Between the Sparkman Wharf and 1001 Water Street, Bevirt said there are active negotiations on a total of 500,000 square feet of the forthcoming office space. Of that, about one-third is from local companies; one-third is from companies with a statewide presence; and a third is from national companies.

It is encouraging that apparently 2/3 of the possible leases so far come from non-local companies.  The more new companies that are brought to the area and the fewer local companies poached from other buildings the better.  It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

Finally, one thing we really appreciate overall is that the Water Street buildings look quite different from each other.  It will make the area seem far more like organic growth than a master planned development.


Westshore-ish – Cleared

The Midtown developers have received height variances for their project.

The developers behind the $500 million mixed-use Midtown Tampa development have received variance approval for the proposed heights of several buildings in the mixed-use development.

Bromley Tampa Investors LLC, also known as Bromley Cos., was seeking variance approval from the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority board on Sept. 6.

* * *

The four buildings that exceed the standard and will have a maximum height of 257 feet are:

The Federal Aviation Administration’s aeronautical study found that the project would not be a hazard due to air navigation as long as conditions are followed; the Florida Department of Transportation did not find any concerns and had no objections.

 

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

By way of comparison, the height on the Ritz in Sarasota is 261 feet, and, as noted by URBN Tampa Bay, “Skyhouse Channelside is 262 feet and Nine 15 is 258 feet.”   Given what is around Midtown and what is planned for Dale Mabry, these buildings will really stick out.


West Tampa/Downtown – In a Park By the River

There was news about Julian Lane Park:

When workers install The Form of Wander atop a concrete pier that juts into the Hillsborough River, the effect beneath its tangle of branching forms will be similar to standing under a canopy of live oak trees.

Dappled light and shade will cascade down from the eye-catching work of abstract art commissioned by Hillsborough County. The structure is a central feature of the completely redesigned Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park, which opened recently just north of the University of Tampa, overlooking downtown on the river’s west bank.

The County paid just over $400,000 for the green-and-white pavilion, which will be 20 feet wide and 25 feet high with intertwined aluminum supports. Installation begins in September and is expected to take a few weeks.

 

From Hillsborough County – click on picture for website

It is an interesting piece.  Our initial impression is cautiously positive, but we won’t really know how we feel about it until it is built.  It is a bit hard to tell from the rendering just how it will fit into the overall park.

On the other hand, it is nice that the County is paying for it.  If only they would care about aesthetics in the rest of the county.


Built Environment – Parking

We were perusing a report on possible changes to Busch Boulevard in an MPO agenda (we really know how to have fun) and noticed this slide:

pg 24 of the 9-5-2018 MPO Meeting Agenda – Click on picture for document

So we went to check the code.  You can find it here.

Anyone who walks or bikes, plus anyone who wants a decent looking street, would understand that an overabundance of curb cuts caused by such a rule is detrimental to the built environment and often quite dangerous.  We get that people do not want congestion on side roads.  On the other hand, arterial roads are made more congested when everyone has to drive to every destination, even if they are very near each other, and cars are cutting into traffic at many points. Moreover, if the parking lots access smaller roads near intersection with arterial roads where the cars are actually going, there should not be much of an issue. Certainly there is a way to balance the concerns (including requiring parking lots to be connected) and lead to a more efficient, attractive, predictable, and safer streetscape.

It should be noted that there are exceptions to the rule in the slide and there is a process for waivers.  There are also areas in town where building patterns do not seem to follow the rule (like various points in Seminole Heights).  However, if the City (and County, where the situation is worse) is serious about Vision Zero and making walking and biking a safer and more pleasant experience (not to mention driving), the code should be changed so the exceptions are much more often the rule.


USF – Brandiness

As we have discussed previously, USF has been working on rebranding and trying to create some unifying themes to their brand.

But even Genshaft agreed that the university’s branding needed a new look. And when she saw what her staff designed she couldn’t help but introduce it to the campus during her annual fall address Wednesday.

During a high-energy video, USF’s new academic logo was revealed: a lime green bull reminiscent of the golden brahman that first symbolized the university when it opened in 1960. But this new branding effort is also about defining USF’s story to the world, Genshaft said.

The new motto: We share one goal. We transform lives. United, we shape the future.

The new rallying cry: Be Bullish.

* * *

The new academic logo won’t roll out across campus until homecoming week, which starts Oct. 14. It replaces the green-and-gold box of serif text that currently adorns business cards and street signs throughout the university’s campuses. The new script is airy and modern, with open spaces in some of the letters meant to symbolize the university’s expanding and diverse community, Hice said.

The “athletic” logo will remain the same.  The “academic” logo will be this:

From the Times – click on picture for article

This is the explanation of the logo:

His team spent about a year gathering feedback on their ideas before birthing USF’s new bull, which pulls together elements of the bronze bull statues on all three campuses. Its “optimistic, upward-angled head” mirrors the bull statue at USF St. Petersburg. The curved tail comes from the bull at USF Sarasota-Manatee. And its “regal stance” hails from the Tampa campus, from one of the bulls prancing down the large fountain outside Marshall Student Center, Hice said.

The three-pronged star burst on the animal’s torso was taken from the university’s seal and represents the three campuses.

We are not much for that kind of marketing speak, but the logo is fine (though it does bear a passing resemblance to a well-known financial company logo).

A fresh, energetic look will help USF enter a new era as Florida’s first metropolitan “preeminent” university, Genshaft said. And, if all goes according to plan, it will help the school attract the students and faculty it needs to keep that hard-won title.

“Now, more than ever before,” she said, “it is time for us to share our story the right way — with one clear brand.”

While we are not clear how having an academic logo, an athletic logo, and school seal achieves that, we are all for USF’s success. If this helps that, great.


Tampa Accent

The Times had an article about whether there is a Tampa accent.

If there is a Tampa accent, it shares something with Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s famous 1964 definition of obscenity. He couldn’t quite describe it, but said, “I know it when I see it.”

In the case of Tampa’s supposedly distinct dialect, deep-rooted natives say they know it when they hear it.

Describing it is tougher, but certain things come up repeatedly if you ask around enough.

First, they say it’s not so much a Tampa accent, but a West Tampa accent, often by way of Ybor City. And it’s not everyone, or even most people who have it, but a small, dwindling group of people.

“I call it the ‘Tampa Whine,’ ” said Nikki Guerriere, 44. “It is a sound between Southern and Cuban and Spanish and only people who are from West Tampa, old West Tampa, have it.”

People say it has something to do with Italian, too, and are quick to bring up Tampa’s uniquely melded Italian-Cuban-Spanish history stretching back to the city’s cigar-rolling heyday. A 2006 story in this newspaper, a tribute to the writer’s late father, a Tampa native of Italian-American descent, described his speech as “that Tampa lilt, a combination of Cuban, Sicilian and Florida Cracker, all rolled into one accent.”

The article also quotes some academics saying there is no Tampa accent/dialect. First, dialect and accent are not the same thing. Tampa does not have a dialect.  But, it seems pretty clear to us that there is a West Tampa/Old Tampa Latin accent, though it is fading away.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country


— KC Streetcar

As regular readers know, the Tampa streetcar is going to free service and extension and modernization is being considered. Speaking of street cars, there was news from Kansas City.

The KC Streetcar recorded its highest monthly ridership to date in July, when 262 593 passenger-journeys were taken.

Ridership is higher on Saturdays than on weekdays, with the respective figures averaging 14 085 and 7 909 in July. The average ridership on Sundays was 6 453. The highest daily ridership to date was on July 6, when 19 181 passenger-journeys were made. This exceeds by nearly 2 000 the previous record of May 6 2017.

Note that the original ridership projection was for 2700 riders a day and that the KC streetcar is free.


— Durham Rail

Meanwhile, in North Carolina,

Durham County now says it can fill a $57.6 million state funding gap for the Durham-Orange light rail project.

The Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit project is an 18-stop, 17.7-mile line that will run from UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill to N.C. Central University in Durham, with stops along the way including Duke University and downtown Durham. Most of the line is in Durham.

The Durham County Board of Commissioners approved a letter from Commissioners Chair Wendy Jacobs to the GoTriangle Board of Trustees on Monday night, agreeing to fund the $57.6 million gap created after the N.C. General Assembly changed the funding makeup this summer. 

Interestingly,

The Home Builders Association of Durham, Orange and Chatham Counties sent a letter supporting the funding to the Durham City Council on Sunday via Wib Gulley, a former Durham mayor and state senator.

It is interesting to see the choice of priorities expressed in spending.


Curbed.com had an interesting article on the New York ferries. (here)  We are not going to get into the whole thing but here is the main thrust:

On Wednesday, to much pomp and circumstance, De Blasio unveiled yet another NYC Ferry route, this one connecting the Lower East Side to Wall Street, Midtown and Long Island City. Amid a growing mobility crisis spreading its tentacles across the city, the mayor once again gathered the usual suspects for a riverside ribbon-cutting ceremony.

But for a city increasingly trapped by the politics of state control, a subway system sagging under the weight of a backlog of deferred maintenance, and roads choked by more and more cars, the mayor’s love of ferries and the steep taxpayer subsidy spent ensuring low fares for a select slice of New Yorkers is particularly ill-suited for the city’s pressing transportation needs. The city needs to reclaim its transit future, but ferries are a niche mode of low-capacity transportation and a distraction from far more pressing problems.

We are not saying every ferry proposal is the same as the situation in New York, but it is worth considering.


— About Those Transit Systems

Citylab had an interesting article on American transit systems. Once again, we are not going to discuss the full article (you can read it), but the thrust is thus:

One hundred years ago, the United States had a public transportation system that was the envy of the world. Today, outside a few major urban centers, it is barely on life support. Even in New York City, subway ridership is well below its 1946 peak. Annual per capita transit trips in the U.S. plummeted from 115.8 in 1950 to 36.1 in 1970, where they have roughly remained since, even as population has grown.

This has not happened in much of the rest of the world. While a decline in transit use in the face of fierce competition from the private automobile throughout the 20th century was inevitable, near-total collapse was not. At the turn of the 20th century, when transit companies’ only competition were the legs of a person or a horse, they worked reasonably well, even if they faced challenges. Once cars arrived, nearly every U.S. transit agency slashed service to cut costs, instead of improving service to stay competitive. This drove even more riders away, producing a vicious cycle that led to the point where today, few Americans with a viable alternative ride buses or trains.

It seems very obvious that when you have bare bones system that does not really provide useful transportation, people, especially choice riders, will choose something else.  To be successful (and, yes, there are successful transit systems), the system must be dependable and provide a service people actually want and that actually serves their needs.