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Roundup 4-21-2017

April 21, 2017


Transportation – The Show Always Goes On

— An Editorial

– Everywhere But Here

— About Those Taxes

– Meanwhile, in Pinellas

— Conclusion

Transportation – Finally

Airport – Readying for Expansion and Abaci

— An Announcement

— The Audit

Port – Speaking of Odd Spending

Downtown – Riverwalk Tower

Downtown – Micro-affection

Seminole Heights – Moving Forward

Economic Development

— We’ve Seen this Movie Before

– NonSense


Transportation – The Show Always Goes On

Yes, there was more transportation news this week.

— An Editorial

The last few weeks have put our lack of transportation options in stark relief. The Times had an interesting editorial on the ongoing efforts to rearrange transportation planning in this area.

A fire sparked by an overheated lawn mower. An accident caused by a furniture dolly on the interstate. In a Tampa Bay area of 3 million people and no meaningful mass transit, such things in the past few days are the stuff capable of closing major bridges and arteries and shutting down a commute. It is a stuck-in-traffic certainty that our major metro area has a major transportation problem. So while it’s good to hear the Florida Department of Transportation offering a brief but encouraging glimpse this week of what’s involved in its so-called “reset” of the controversial Tampa Bay Express interstate plan, the time-out cannot become a stall tactic.

There are practical and political reasons for reassessing the need for toll lanes, the role of mass transit and the impacts the $6 billion highway plan will have on resurgent neighborhoods near Tampa’s downtown core. But tens of thousands of commuters depend on the region’s transportation network every single day, and any “reset” must bring a better plan and a stronger sense of urgency. 

True, and most particularly because TBX will do nothing to provide relief for most people if there is a mess on the bridge.  It also does not provide an alternative to the bridges – it funnels people towards them and through Tampa rather than on alternative roads.  In fact, it provides no alternative to roads at all and no incentive to intelligent planning (quite the opposite).  And, yes, any reset requires a better plan.  Moving on:

Regrouping makes sense — if the exercise is truly aimed at building broader public support. As originally envisioned, TBX called for rebuilding the area’s interstate system, building a new northbound span of the Howard Frankland Bridge and creating 90 miles of toll lanes across the west coast of Florida. The plan would have added much-needed capacity, opened up dangerous bottlenecks in downtown Tampa and the West Shore commercial district and created a window for improving mass transportation service across the region.  

Actually, aside from some express buses that would have to be paid for locally, TBX really does nothing for improving transit (though, yes, somewhere there was the promise to make the Howard Frankland capable at some later date, and with local funding of most of the bridge, of carrying rail).  Moreover, the regrouping exercise should not be to build public support for TBX – it should be for making a better plan that attracts more public support – there is a difference that cannot be overemphasized.

The DOT, partly in response to pressure from area lawmakers and the business community, has tweaked TBX in positive ways. It killed a plan to convert a free lane on the existing bridge into a toll lane, agreed to make a new bridge sturdy enough to support rail and added new safety and pedestrian improvements. But these changes came in reaction to pushback against the DOT, rather than being the product of a broad consensus of what was best for the community. 

Wait – pressure by whom?  Let’s rewind to a Times article on the Howard Frankland bridge fiasco:

Not everyone was confused. Unlike the elected officials who voted on the project, two business leaders said FDOT made it clear to them that the interim plan — converting the auxiliary lane to a toll lane — was the objective.

“There’s always been whatever they call it, the interim plan, the starter plan, the ultimate plan, the master plan,” said Ann Kulig, executive director of the Westshore Alliance. “We just focus on whatever the next step is.

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

“You don’t need to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to add additional lanes to the bridge if you fix the root of the problem, which is a poorly designed interchange,” Homans said.

Not to mention groups listed in this Times article (though not necessarily every member thereof) supporting TBX with the old Howard Frankland plan, whether they knew about that particular feature or not.  The real issue was the community activity and the fact that, once made perfectly clear (anyone who was paying attention already knew), taking a free lane away on the Howard Frankland would be a political fiasco.

While we are ok with most parts of the organizational rearrangement proposed by the Tampa Bay Partnership, we are not ok with rewriting history.

There’s no time to wait to build support for TBX. The U.S. Census Bureau reported last month that the Tampa Bay area leads the way among the nation’s biggest gainers in the number of people moving here. Some 58,000 new residents moved to the bay area last year. Yet four times in under two weeks, most recently Friday, the Howard Frankland Bridge, Gandy Boulevard or the bridge approaches were partially or fully shut down because of accidents, a brush fire and a fuel spill. Never mind the routine daily crawl born of regular congestion.

Once again, blocked traffic bridges are not fixed by not creating alternatives to bridges, and TBX does not create alternatives to bridges.  Though, there is no time to waste getting a better plan.

This is why Tampa Bay must move forward now on TBX and separately — but also important — get behind pending legislation (SB 1672) to transform the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority into an agency to “plan, implement and operate” transit options throughout the region. For TBX, this “reset” period must produce a strategy for moving forward. On Tampa Bay’s roads as well as its future, there is no longer any practical way of finding alternative routes.

What exactly they mean by “moving forward on TBX” is unclear.  Once again, there is a difference between building support for TBX plan and creating a plan that people can support, which is what the Times editorial board discussed last year:

While TBX has polarized some business leaders and neighborhood activists, the public hearing that drew hundreds of people and scores of speakers exposed a budding middle ground. TBX is not the cure-all that some advocates claim, and it doesn’t have to be the neighborhood-killer that many opponents fear. There is room here to build a larger interstate but rethink its design. That requires an honest assessment of the role the interstates play in the region and an appreciation for the urban renewal in Tampa that has strengthened the inner city tax base.

We support fixing obvious issues with and limited enlarging of the interstates.  We do not support express lanes or 18 lanes cutting through urban neighborhoods – which are key features of TBX.  Unfortunately, the Times editorial writers have lost clarity about what exactly they are advocating, which we will chalk it up to frustration.

What we really need in this period of reset it to create a full plan for a comprehensive transportation system which includes the aforementioned fixing of the interstates, but also alternatives, like real transit.  If that is what FDOT is going to work for, fine.  If not, they need to change their approach.

– Everywhere But Here

Of course, it is a question is whether a comprehensive, implementable plan is even possible in this area.  Part of that is how decisions are made.

A few weeks ago, we discussed some Times articles on our legislative delegations failures to even request much funding for transportation and the reasons for it. (See “Transportation – Yes, But” )  The articles kept coming back to unifying planning of rearranging TBARTA and merging MPOS, a plan pushed by the Tampa Bay Partnership.  We are not going to get into the whole discussion again, but we concluded with this:

So, yes, we support a regional approach (as long as it does not ignore neighborhoods and the average residents).  We favor regional transit.  We favor regional planning and a unified approach. We even favor merging transit agencies.  But 1) if local officials and legislators cannot get together even when there are lists of common priorities and needs and cannot work for the region overall when needs are obvious and 2) if the local officials and legislators have not figured out yet that they cannot get the money they want without cooperating, we are not sure that simply rearranging the chairs and unifying the MPOs will really solve anything.

Fracture[d] institutions may have exacerbated the problem, but a fractured mentality is the real cause. Before rearranging the institutions can really accomplish anything, we need to fix is the mentality that led to this situation in the first place.

Which bring us to this week and the bill regarding reorganizing TBARTA:

Open warfare among Republican Tampa Bay legislators claimed its latest casualty Monday, dooming hopes for legislative unity as a gridlocked region looks for solutions to its chronic transportation problems.

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, offered a bill (SB 1672) in a Senate committee to create a revamped Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority, the latest in a decade-long and so far ineffective effort to craft a regional approach to transit, including a light rail system linking Tampa and St. Petersburg.

But Sens. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg and Tom Lee of Thonotosassa overrode Latvala with an amendment that strips the authority of its independence by requiring legislative approval for any local spending on a light rail system and barring the authority from spending money to advocate for light rail in a voter referendum. The amendment passed easily in the Senate Community Affairs Committee, which Lee chairs.

Which is a very odd thing to include.  As a practical matter, most efforts for rail (or other transit really) would seek state money, requiring the legislature to approve, so the provision is unnecessary. And if the local representation and/or local voters choose to spend money on rail and there is no request for state money, why does a representative from Miami or Palatka have to approve of it? That plainly goes against the Tea Party “local is better” idea as well as letting people decide for themselves and really any other idea of self-rule. (And, of course, if the State Senators did not like the bill, they could have just voted against it.)

So what is the justification?

“Voters of Hillsborough County and Pineellas County have rejected these in the past,” Brandes said. “My goal is that this doesn’t become an opportunity for Greenlight Pinellas 2.0,” referring to the latest rejection of a transit plan by county voters.

As we have often said, if it is so clear that people don’t want rail, there should be no fear of another referendum.  And if another referendum passes, why should the legislature – including the local delegation – get in the way?  Why shouldn’t the people be able to determine what they want to do with their tax money? And if this area can find a way to fund transit for itself without a tax increase requiring a referendum, what is wrong with that? And, again, if there is no request for state money, why should the representative from Waldo’s opinion matter?

And it gets even odder.  Consider this from Stpetersblog last week:

Tri-Rail’s controversial, one-source, half-billion, operations contract could go forward under an amended bill pushed Thursday by the Gov. Rick Scott administration and state Sens. George Gainer and Jeff Brandes.

Just a few weeks ago, both Gainer and Brandes were hostile critics of the contract and Tri-Rail.

Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, sponsored an amendment Thursday that strips away language that he and Scott had pushed for earlier that would have forced Tri-Rail to rebid the $511 million, 10-year contract.

Tri-Rail’s operating agency, the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority, awarded that contract in January after rejecting five lower bids for technical issues that the companies are contesting. The award brought, from Scott, Brandes and Gainer, harsh rebukes, demands for investigations, vows of new state control, as well as demands to rebid the contract.

Gainer, a Panama City Republican, introduced Senate Bill 1118 to require those things.

Yet Brandes’ new amendment, introduced Thursday at the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development, which he chairs, reverses the demand for the rebid. The amendment was adopted it unanimously, then Gainer’s amended Committee Substitute for SB 1118 was approved unanimously, Thursday.

* * *

There was little explanation or defense of the change of position from Brandes, or Gainer, or anyone else during Thursday’s committee meeting.

Brandes’ office said the state got assurances it needed through language in the amendment.

If rail is such a waste and technology of the past, surely the legislature should be killing it all over the state (and killing Sun Rail, which came after a failed referendum in the Orlando, too) not putting more tax-payer money into it.  It should not matter if South Florida wants it. And if it is ok for South Florida or Orlando, why is it not ok for the Tampa Bay area?  One could easily be forgiven from concluding that, even if this area decides it wants rail democratically, for some, it is ok everywhere but here.

— About Those Taxes

Most of the opposition to real transit, including rail, in this area is framed as opposition to tax increases, usually sales taxes, to pay for transit.  When the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough process fell apart, we urged the County Commission to really dig into other sources of financing, which they did not do, though they found $800 million for roads.  But, per Stpetersblog, they passed responsibility to others, who actually looked:

A new report issued by the Hillsborough County Citizens Advisory Committee identified potential savings in 14 specific areas could save more than $3 billion over the next three decades, which could be spent on transportation, infrastructure and/or tax cuts.

The 13-member committee has met twice a month since July analyzing the budget before handing off its list of recommendations to the BOCC last week.

“We determined you don’t have to have a sales tax to raise this amount of money,” says Spencer Kass, a member of the committee who was selected by Commissioner Sandy Murman. “There’s also no cuts to police. No cuts to fire.“ 

So what is in the proposal?

Among the more controversial proposals on the proposed list of savings is eliminating the funding of a number nonprofits which made financial requests to the BOCC. The proposal calls for a developing a “rigorous, proactive process” that would first identify the basic needs of the county, and then issue requests for proposals to fund them. The plan calls for phasing out support of nonprofits the county funds within the next five years.

Currently, the Seminole Tribe contributes unrestricted dollars to Hillsborough County under an agreement with the state. The CAC advises how to reallocate those dollars to the general fund for transportation, which they say would be worth $60 million over 30 years.

The CAC also proposes eliminating paid contributions for disability and one sick day, a projected savings of over $189 million over 30 years.

“The County currently pays for these benefits, which is out of line with what is typically offered in the private sector,” the document reads, adding that the plan may “negatively impact the ability to attract and retain talent.”

We have seen the report and will have more to say about it at a later date. (We will say it is thought-provoking.)  The point is that it is possible to find more money and other sources of revenue other than sales tax.  Of course, even if there is money to build a system, there has to be recurring money to operate it, but roads need recurring money to be maintained, as well.  One thing at a time. (And we are not sure why the county left it to the Citizens Advisory Committee).

That is not to say that, even if money were found, the hardcore opponents would be won over.  We doubt they ever would be because their opposition is to the very idea of having real transit in this area.  But that should not stop others from trying to make this area truly competitive.

— Meanwhile, in Pinellas

Yet, even relatively modest bus ideas have a hard time in this area:

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is getting ready to take the next step in implementing Bus Rapid Transit connecting downtown St. Petersburg to the beaches.

PSTA is sending an environmental impact report on the project to the Federal Transit Administration this month.

In fact, for most or all of the proposed route, it does not seem to be real BRT with dedicated lanes.  But even setting that aside, there is another issue:

There are still questions about how the beach stops along Gulf Boulevard will be funded. The city of St. Pete Beach has refused to give additional funding to PSTA for expanded service. The city is not a PSTA member like most cities in the county, which means the city does not contribute a portion of property tax revenue to the agency. Instead, it pays a $500,000 flat fee for minimal service.

St. Pete Beach Mayor Alan Johnson told the Tampa Bay Business Journal last month he didn’t think the additional service was necessary. 

For more about that particular argument, see here.

It is hard to overstate how humble this proposal really is and how much sense it makes to connect the beaches to downtown St. Pete with better bus service.  But the politics of this area is what it is.

— Conclusion

It just goes to prove our point that, while we do not oppose the proposed changes to planning (aside from the odd inclusion of language about “members of the regional business community”) our problem is not the organization of the chairs (though that can’t be agreed upon either), but the attitude of the political officials.

But at least it is entertaining.

Transportation – Finally

Consistent with our policy that we are concerned with policies not personalities, having just disagreed quite a bit with a State Senator on one issue, we give credit where credit is due and congratulate him on this.

After years of PTC silliness, we note the following:

After years of intense debate, the Florida Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill to create statewide regulations for transportation network companies.

The measure (HB 221) cleared the upper chamber on a 36-1 vote. The bill now heads to Gov. Rick Scott for his consideration.

“Today we sent a strong message that Florida embraces transportation innovation. The future of transportation options includes a focus on shared mobility, and as we move closer to autonomous vehicles on our roadways, the future of ride-sharing is very bright,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, the St. Petersburg Republican who sponsored the Senate version of the bill (SB 340). “With this legislation, Florida will have a uniform set of standards for the services our businesses demand, our tourists have come to expect, and our residents deserve.”

A bill creating uniform rules for ridesharing in Florida is very welcome and finally getting it passed was a solid achievement (we’ll just assume for now that the Governor will sign it, and, even if he doesn’t, it is an achievement).

However, it is worth remembering that, while we welcome ridesharing, it is not an alternative to roads nor does it really help with congestion.  Every trip with ridesharing (or automated vehicles), while reducing parking requirements, is still a car on the road.  We still need other alternatives.

Airport – Readying for Expansion and Abaci

There was an odd mix of news about the airport this week.

— An Announcement

First, the airport released information on Phase II of its expansion/renovation plan.

Airport officials Tuesday unveiled the $543 million second phase of its massive expansion project that includes express curbside drop-off for passengers without checked bags and the commercial development of 17 acres of airport property.

It’s all part of roughly a $2.3 billion, long-term renovation and expansion that will transform the passenger experience over the next decade and allow the airport to eventually double its passenger traffic to 34 million.

* * *

The centerpiece of the next phase of expansion is the “Gateway” commercial development, which includes plans for up to two hotels, an eight-story, 240,000-square-foot office building, a 20,000-square-foot retail strip and a gas station with a convenience store.

Some of that office space will be leased back to the authority and its employees. Tenants for the retail strip are not yet set, though officials have previously talked about the possibility of a pet hotel or restaurants. Also not yet clear is what hotel chains might be interested in coming to the airport.

The Gateway also includes a large atrium, pedestrian connections to area trails and commercial curb sides for transit and ground transportation.

Phase II also includes widening the George Bean Parkway — the main artery in and out of the airport — plus adding a new exit lane and a new airport energy plant, among other items.

Site preparation for the development is scheduled to start in mid-2018 with construction launching in 2019, pending board approvals. The project will stretch out until 2023.

From the Times – click on picture for article

From Tampa Internation Airport – click on picture for website

For more renderings, see here.  Overall, we have no problem with this plan. (We are not completely sold on the office building, but we are not opposed philosophically).  It also seems that Phase II will not include moving the control tower or removing the Marriott Hotel.

For more detail on the plan see here and here, the business plan, which also has a timeline with expanding Airside F in 2019, building a new airside D in 2022, and number of other changes.

It makes sense and is a rational investment in the future, which is how the airport usually does things.

— The Audit

Juxtaposed against the continuing high quality expansion/renovations, was this:

House Speaker Richard Corcoran wants state auditors to review the first phase of the airport project, citing possible cost overruns and construction setbacks based on TV reports.

The Senate has already rejected an audit, but Corcoran said he will demand that it be in a compromise budget that must be finished in two weeks, which means the Senate will have to capitulate or risk a stalemate.

* * *

Corcoran’s call for an audit in Week 7 of a nine-week legislative session follows a failed effort last week by Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, to require it.

Lee set off a furor in the Senate when he spoke of “potential public corruption” and “perhaps falsification of financial information” on the project, causing rifts with other senators.

Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa, said he should have brought his concerns to all Hillsborough lawmakers and questioned his tactics. Requests for audits are typically sent to a the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, challenged Lee, and the audit request died on an unrecorded voice vote.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, sided with Lee.

Lee, an ally of Corcoran’s, said his call for an audit was based on local news reports, a look at documents related to bonds for the project, and talks with Martin Garcia, a Tampa lawyer and investor and former member of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, a five-member board that oversees the airport.

We are not opposed to audits, but the talk of public corruption and urgency for an audit now seem a bit odd.  Regardless, what was the airport’s response?

Airport director Joe Lopano said he keeps his five-member governing board up to date every month on the project’s time lines and budget.

“We’re not afraid of an audit,” Lopano said. “We’re very proud of this project. And if the elected officials would like to have an audit, they should. We’re not afraid of that at all.”

Which is the proper response.  Beyond that, we are not going to wade into the debate except to point out two justifications for the audit:

“When you’re spending billions of dollars in taxpayer money, nobody should be afraid of an audit, to make sure they’re spending it right,” Corcoran told the Times/Herald.


Lee said officials with the state Department of Transportation, which is administering a $195 million state grant for the project, “were clearly unaware of what was going on, whether it was good, bad or indifferent. They told me, ‘The airport sends us the bills for the money they’ve spent and we reimburse them.’ ”

We don’t think this is worth arguing about (though it would have been better going through normal procedure).  Let there be an audit.  If there are no problems, great.  If there are problems, let them be fixed.  That is fine with us.

However, we have to note that Orlando International is undergoing an even larger expansion than Tampa International. Fort Lauderdale airport is also expanding.  Likewise, ports around the state are spending millions of taxpayer dollars.  And FDOT spends billions of taxpayer dollars on various projects apparently, based on the quote above, without paying attention to the bills.  They should all be audited.

We are all for making sure that money is not wasted, but if that is the goal, let’s really make sure across the board.

Port – Speaking of Odd Spending

Then there was an odd report regarding the Port.

Port Tampa Bay’s board gave the green light Tuesday to negotiate hiring an all-purpose planning consultant with an open price tag extending beyond 2017. Up to $400,000 will be earmarked to fund the position per year on a project-by-project basis.

If approved, that consultant could be called upon to help with policy-making, grant proposals, transportation, development and economic analysis, according to the proposal presented at the board’s monthly meeting.

“What we’re basically doing here is giving a blank check to the staff to spend money on this agenda item,” Patrick Allman, port secretary and treasurer, said. “At the end of the day, if you don’t trust your staff, you need to get new staff. And I trust my staff.”

At least they are not hiding the fact that they are giving a blank check to staff, though we thought oversight and policy making was the purpose of a Board of Directors.

Should the negotiations go well, the recipient will be repeat-port partner Bermello, Ajamil & Partners, an architecture, planning and engineering firm based in Miami. It was the only firm of nine who participated in the procurement process to submit a proposal.

The one-year contract would begin July 1, 2017, and can be extended twice for the same period.

We are skeptical of any consultant contract that is so broad, especially one that comes with the admission of being a blank check. (Audit, anyone?)  But we are skeptical of the focus on real estate development when the Lightning owner’s project hasn’t even started. So we are not surprised.

Downtown – Riverwalk Tower

While we have heard rumors of renderings circulating, there has been no public reveal of renderings for the proposed Riverwalk Tower on the old Trump Tower lot, until this week, sort of.  URBN Tampa Bay posted some renderings of the first two floors (which is a bit odd, but so be it).  This is the one that reveals the most interesting aspects:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

You can see the rest here.

It is hard to really discuss renderings of two floors but of note is that the CapTrust building is gone.  There is a plaza where Whiting Street now ends between the CapTrust building and MacDill park.  Also of note is that the Riverwalk is lined with retail.  You cannot see it, but much of the Ashley frontage is taken up with entrances to loading docks and the parking garage, which is unfortunate but, due to the layout of the lot, pretty much unavoidable.

As for more renderings and other progress,

Developer Larry Feldman says he plans to open a sales office late this summer for his 52-story mixed-use building on the downtown riverfront site of the doomed Trump Tower Tampa.

Feldman, who first announced the project almost two years ago, has hired the Moss construction company and will reveal detailed plans and renderings when the sales center opens.

We would assume that if you are trying to sell condos, you have to let people see what they are buying.  We look forward to seeing renderings of the rest of the building.

Downtown – Micro-affection

Last week, plans for the area’s first micro apartments were unveiled.  This week:

Just a day after Tampa Bay’s first tiny apartments went up for grabs, about 40 of the 120 already had been reserved. “That’s not bad in 24 hours,” Omar Garcia, manager of Urban Core Holdings, said Tuesday.

The company, under contract to buy a downtown Tampa office building and convert it into micro apartments, began taking reservations Monday at The $50 reservation fee is refundable but the first people to reserve will have their choice of units if they end up renting.

While first day reservations are not determinative of anything, it seems there is some market for this product.  While it is not for everyone, it does not have to be.  A healthy area should have a variety of living options, just like it should have a variety of transportation options.

Seminole Heights – Moving Forward

Speaking of a variety of options, a Seminole Heights project is moving apparently a go:

In Seminole Heights, Milhaus is under contract to buy a satellite lot of ABC Autos and expects to close this summer. Work on the $20 million project would begin soon afterwards.

“We liked that there’s a retail and restaurant revival going on in this neighborhood that’s pretty incredible,” Woodruff said. “We love the single-family, residential feel of the neighborhood while still being only two miles from downtown but we also love that there really are very few market-rate (rental) projects of that scale. When we told people we had a project in Seminole Heights, they were really excited because it is in need of this kind of development.”

The apartments, which will be studios, one- and two-bedroom units, will range from about $1,000 a month to around $2,000. Rich Guagliardo, a Realtor who specializes in Seminole Heights, predicts the project will do well.

From the Times – click on picture for article

We know some in the neighborhood do not want mid-rise buildings on Florida, and we understand their concerns. However, we are fine with it (provided it is on Florida or Nebraska and sensitive to the neighborhood behind it) – it is the plan, after all.  We think, over all, some development like this will enhance Florida and Seminole Heights overall, without really damaging the rebirth of the area that so many have worked very hard to accomplish.

Economic Development

— We’ve Seen this Movie Before

The Times had an interesting column about economic development and the take of a researcher from Brookings.

A think tank analyst who tracks how the world’s metropolitan area economies grow told a business audience Thursday that Tampa Bay may be returning to its pre-recession days in employment but is lagging in general prosperity — mainly due to a hollowing out of middle wage jobs.

* * *

The U.S. economy last year improved dramatically with the nation’s top 100 metro areas all adding jobs, Gootman told a gathering of the Tampa Bay Partnership economic development group. But based on prosperity, measured in part by individual productivity, less than half of those metros improved.

Tampa Bay Partnership CEO Rick Homans, asked Gootman to clarify a presentation slide showing a U.S. map of the United States with major metro locations labeled as either orange or white dots. All of the Florida metro areas, including Tampa Bay where the jobless rate now stands at 4.5 percent, were white.

“Those,” said Gootman indicating the white dots, “would be bad.”

So how can that be, if our unemployment is so low, there is job growth, and people are moving here?

“We have not achieved pre-recession levels for median household incomes yet,” said Marek Gootman, a fellow and director of strategic partnerships and global initiatives at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. “We are having trouble with middle-income jobs that are shrinking. Economic success cannot just be about job growth.”

* * *

In an interview, Gootman said Tampa Bay felt more urgent shortly after the rough recession to diversify and improve its economy. With jobs more plentiful, even if they do not pay as well, some of that urgency is gone — a trend that can be seen elsewhere as well.

As with pretty much every recession before, the last recession brought a lot of hand-wringing about improving our economy by diversification and expansion.  However, as the recovery got going, many local officials seemed (and seem) much more interested in trumpeting accomplishments than fixing structural issues that have not gone away. Job growth is good, but not a comprehensive measure of success.  We still have not really diversified (we are a little better but other areas are much better).  Our incomes are still too low (especially relative to rise housing costs).  We’ve had some minor successes, but we really have not gone to the next level economically.

Like we have said, we have had numerous periods of rapid population growth and real estate construction, and, yet, we keep having the same discussions.

To be more competitive, Tampa Bay needs to decide what it is specifically good at and then tell the world, the Brookings expert suggested. Other metros of similar size are already pursuing such strategies.

* * *

Asked Gootman: “What is Tampa Bay best at doing?” If the answer is not obvious, he said, sometime a metro has to look at its best assets and choose what it wants to be known for.

Of course, when the answer to that question is back office operations, that is not really going to help; hence the problem.  This question, usually framed as branding the area, has been around basically forever, and it seems no closer to being answered.

We prefer to ask a similar, if broader, question: if a person/company can live/locate anywhere (or almost anywhere) they want, why would they choose to live/locate here as opposed to another area that already has so many amenities that we are still talking about?

– NonSense

There was an article in the Times about a Wallethub list for the best business friendly small cities.

For someone looking to open a business in Tampa Bay, Wesley Chapel and Riverview may be your best bet. A WalletHub study released Monday ranked 1,261 small cities around the country on business-friendliness, placing Wesley Chapel at No. 57 and Riverview at No. 58.

No other bay area locale cracked the top 100.

Since neither Riverview nor Wesley Chapel are small cities – both are unincorporated parts of counties – we don’t really feel the need to dig too far into this list.  However, we did learn that:

To be considered “business friendly,” the study said, a city with 25,000 to 100,000 residents needs to have a good business environment, access to resources and low business costs. Wesley Chapel clocked in at 212th in terms of business environment, 105th for access to resources and 450th for business costs. Riverview ranked at 238th, 197th and 317th in the same categories.

Whatever.  (It is a measure of the list that a “city” – which is not a city – could rank that poorly and still be #58.) It is not surprising that Riverview is the only place in the County in the top 1000 given that the County is so willing to subsidize any development there while not fixing issues in the rest of the County.

Roundup 4-14-2017

April 14, 2017


Transportation – TBX Reset

Transportation – Corridor Study

Downtown – Micro

Channel District – Condos

Hotel – Five Stars

Politics – Saying No to a Penny

Development – A Map

Built Environment – And Also the Trees

Economic Development – Millennials

Good Reads

– The Problem of Parking

An Autonomous Conundrum


Transportation – TBX Reset

There was news about the much touted TBX reset:

Director of Development Bill Jones made a 10 minute presentation to the Tampa City Council Thursday about what exactly the TBX “reset” means. He told the board for the Community Redevelopment Area that DOT will have a new plan for the project by the end of 2019.

“Over next two years, 30 months, express lanes are going to be reevaluated,” Jones said. “We’re also going to look at other options as well.”

Well, that is a lot of time.  What do they say they are going to do?

The reset, Jones said, will focus on three steps: research, evaluate, respond. As part of the first step, DOT took a three dozen people — including politicians, residents and business members — to St. Louis earlier this week to learn how Missouri Department of Transportation worked with the community there on a controversial highway project.

Similar to TBX, which originated from a 20-year-old study, Missouri was working with an old plan that faced significant backlash. Officials there quickly realized they needed to regroup and work closer with the community if the project would ever be successful, Jones said. DOT here wants to take the same approach, Jones said, which means putting all options — including tolls — back on the table.

“We’re here to listen to transportation as a whole,” Jones said.  “Some communities might not want to talk about transit or TBX, others specifically might want to dive right into it.”

If that is what they actually do, we welcome it.  And given that time frame, they should be able to coordinate it with the regional transit study (though there are some questions about that – see next item).  On the other hand, we really don’t know what they will do.  We hope FDOT does this with good will and an interest in creating a true, proper transportation system with the interests of the community at heart rather than recycling TBX with a few tweaks and tossing in a few “express buses.”

Unfortunately, given what has gone before, there is a trust deficit at the moment both with FDOT and many local officials (like all those people who endorsed TBX without even knowing what it was).

For $6-9 billion, we can have a good plan.  The real question is whether officials care enough to craft one. We will just have watch very closely and see.

Transportation – Corridor Study

Last week, the Business Journal reported:

The engineering firm responsible for targeting Tampa Bay area transit priorities as part of a state-funded process will announce this week five corridors it has identified as top attractors for federal funding.

The announcement will serve as the first major step toward identifying a regional transit solution and pave the way for the next step, which is determining the mode of transit that will work best.

Setting aside that there apparently was no announcement, there was some interesting information in the article:

The Florida Department of Transportation is funding the regional transit feasibility study through the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, aimed at honing transit across municipal boundaries rather than a piecemeal approach by county. Experts will evaluate more than 60 transit plans, most of which were never brought to fruition, to establish priorities.

“The Tampa Bay area hasn’t been very good at that,” said Scott Pringle, a group director with Jacobs Engineering, the company conducting the transit study.

In other words, it is a study of past studies.  We are not completely sure what the utility of reviewing past studies rather than doing a new study is, but that seems to be what is happening.  Because of that, we doubt that the new study will actually give us something new.  And how far back are they going? (Are they going back to studies in the 1990s that justify TBX even though there were no express lanes then and the area has changed substantially since then?)  For a nice summation of past studies see this video:

Additionally, we wonder about a study to identify what will have the best chance of getting federal money rather than what is needed or what will be more beneficial to the area.  Yes, federal funds are important.  And yes, what stands the best chance to get federal funds might be the most useful or most needed corridors, but not necessarily.  If the money is going to be spent, it should be spent on evaluating what is needed now, not what was thought to be needed before.

We will have to wait to see what they say.  Maybe it will make sense.  Still, it seems a strange process.

Downtown – Micro

There was news that an office buildings facing Gaslight Square might become the first micro-apartment building in the area.

Urban Core Holdings, LLC is under contract to buy a 12-story downtown office building and convert the top eight floors into micro-apartments. Each would have a kitchen with a two-burner stove top, microwave hood, refrigerator and dishwasher; a stackable washer-dryer unit; a bike rack; and a Murphy bed that transforms into a dining table during the day.

All of this in 300 to 400 square feet for about $850 a month, far less than for other downtown apartments that are fast becoming unaffordable without two occupants to share the rent.

* * *

Although the project is expected to take up to a year to complete, Urban Core will start accepting reservations Monday for 200 Madison, a building at the corner of Madison and Franklin Streets that now houses a Subway, a Pita Republic restaurant, a CVS and second-floor offices. All of that is likely to remain but plans call for a new common space for residents on the third floor with a gym, pet care area, cafe and balcony overlooking the street.

The mostly vacant fifth-through-12th floors will be converted into 120 apartments, each with ample windows, Garcia said. 

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

We have no problem with this adaptive reuse.  That particular office building is rather old and might as well get put to better use. And the apartments would really be in the heart of downtown.

One interesting thing:

One potential drawback that could raise the cost of the project and the rents — the lack of parking.

“We will not have any parking because the idea is that the residents of this particular community will use mass transit, bike share and ride share and are willing to give up their cars in order to live downtown,” Garcia said.

City regulations, though, call for one parking space per unit, and Urban Core could have to pay a one-time fee of nearly $1 million because it can’t meet that requirement.

“We are going to try to negotiate that with the city,” Garcia said. If the fee isn’t totally or partially waived, the rents could rise by about $100 a month, though they still would be about $1,000 less than for certain downtown apartments that are only slightly larger.

Our view is that if people want to rent without getting parking, let them, especially downtown. (And see “The Problem of Parking” below).  If they can make car-less (or off-site parking) urban living work for them, why should the City get in the way?  (Moreover, the office building was built in 1962 and, as far as we know, did not have its own parking, nor does it have it now. If the City wants competitiveness – see “Built Environment – And Also the Trees” below – then don’t penalize people trying to revive un or under used buildings downtown. And does it make sense to retroactively charge for parking for a building that had none in the first place?)

Tampa does not really fit the normal market for micro-apartments, but it is an interesting idea.  We are not sure how big the market is, but apparently we will find out.

Channel District – Condos

As we noted last week, Mercury Advisors, developers of the Channel Club are resurrecting their Del Villar project.  This week they filed their first documents.

Mercury Advisors, the group behind the $90 million Channel Club— a Publix Super Markets Inc. store and 21-story apartment tower under construction on East Twiggs Street — are planning a 36-story condo tower at the corner of East Whiting Street and Channelside Drive.

* * *

The plans call for 61 condos in 36 stories; the site was originally approved for 124 units. The new plans also reduce the number of parking spaces from 256 to 145, with an amenity deck on top of a five-story parking garage. Retail space is no longer in the plans.

The address listed in the City’s Accela database is 858 Channelside Dr. Based on the filings, the height is 382 feet.  Here are some line drawings:

From public records – click on picture for a larger version

From public records – click on picture for a larger version

Most of the changes listed above do not bother us.  One thing we do not like is the lack of retail.  As you can see from the rendering of the east elevation (top rendering, left), the streetscape would be left quite dead. We get that the developers have a Publix in their other project (as well as retail in their first project, Grand Central), but this project would be much better, with the added benefit of complying with the Channel District plan that calls for it, with at least a small amount of retail.  The City should stick to the plan (specifically Sec 27 overall, and more specifically Sec 27-204, all of which can be found here).

Another thing we don’t really like is the apparent blandness of the design, at least in the top elevations.  On those sides (the sides facing the street), it is just a big box, with not even a lot of windows to break up the blandness. (The west side – the bottom elevation – is broken up by balconies, which is better)  We really don’t want to see Channelside Drive become a dead street just as the Channel District is taking off (especially if the Port goes forward with its real estate concept).

We are all for a project of this size in the Channel District, but, from what we have seen so far, with a few changes, it could be quite a bit better.

Hotel – Five Stars

The Times had a pair of articles about hotels this week.  First, the set-up article:

Over the next few years, at least 27 new hotels with a total of 4,000 rooms are expected to start welcoming guests in what has become one of the nation’s hottest hotel markets. From Busch Gardens to the Gulf beaches, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties haven’t seen this much hotel activity since the early ’90s. And — finally! — the bay area could even shed its dismal distinction as Florida’s only major metro area without a five-star hotel.

“The next couple of years are going to be pretty remarkable in terms of new hospitality products and the caliber of hotels entering the market,” said Lou Plasencia, CEO of Tampa’s The Plasencia Group hotel sales and consulting firm. “We’re finally starting to reap the rewards of a lot of planning and a lot of focused effort to add amenities to the community that attract meeting planners and corporate travelers. And by attracting that business base, you automatically attract the hotel products that appeal to that base.”

The new lodgings planned or under construction run the gamut from the limited service TownePlace Suites near MacDill Air Force Base to the full service Kimpton Hotel near Tampa International Airport and a new Hyatt rising in downtown St. Petersburg. The West Shore area is getting a 175-room AC by Marriott, a chain that started in Spain and retains a strong European flavor.

All of the bay area newcomers have one thing in common — they’re entering a market that’s grown much more attractive to hotel companies.

Plus the teaser:

“The time has come,” he said. “What is attracting interest from the brands in doing a high-end hotel is No. 1, Tampa Bay is finally achieving rates commensurate with that type of product, and No. 2, more and more businesses are speaking out and asking for a five-star or six-star hotel. Downtown Tampa and West Shore are absolutely ripe for a luxury hotel, and a luxury hotel would do extremely well in downtown St. Pete.”

Plasencia said developers —- he would not name them — already have sites selected.

“I think we will hear of at least one, if not two new projects in the next six months,” he predicted. “Plans are pretty far along.”

Tantalizingly, the list of new hotel projects that Plasencia’s company compiled includes one with 500 rooms in Tampa’s Channelside District, which is being redeveloped on a grand scale by a partnership that includes Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik.

Will that be a five-star hotel? Plasencia laughed and said: “No comment.”

The Lightning owner’s project may include a five-star hotel, but that was not the follow-up article:

After four years of planning, one of the world’s top luxury hotel brands, JW Marriott, finally could be coming to Clearwater Beach.

Sales are to begin this week for 36 fully furnished JW Marriott Residences, the first of their kind in the United States. They would occupy four upper floors of what also would be a 166-room JW Marriott hotel, one of only about 75 worldwide.

It would be Tampa Bay’s first five-star hotel.

“This is a big deal,” hotelier Uday Lele said Monday of the $120-million project that would replace his DreamView Resort at 691 S Gulfview Blvd. “I feel that to have this name brand come to Clearwater Beach will benefit all of Tampa Bay in a very big way.”

* * *

But on Monday, Marriott confirmed that it had given Lele the green light to launch sales of the condos on the Multiple Listing Service under the JW Marriott name. The one-, two- and three-bedroom units, ranging from about 850 to 1,350 square feet, will be priced from $550,000 to $1.3 million and could be occupied by the owners for a month at a time, Lele said. When rented out, the condos would serve as suites for the hotel and be managed by Marriott.

The 166 traditional hotel rooms would occupy the rest of the 15-story building, which would have an infinity pool, outdoor decks at various levels and a Spa by JW. Plans also call for two restaurants, one similar to the market-style Burlock Coast Seafare & Spirits in Fort Lauderdale, the other serving Peruvian-Japanese fusion cuisine.

The rooms, residences and restaurants all would have views of the 300-foot private beach, which faces Sand Key across an inlet and also looks toward the Gulf of Mexico.

This is the location.

We get having a five-star hotel on Clearwater Beach, which is going through quite a boom (more because it is allowing it, unlike other local beaches).  The exact location is not necessarily where we would have chosen, but it is not our investment. For us, the real issue is not the facility itself but the sign that the market is maturing enough to have such a facility. And we are happy if we do get a five-star hotel, though the effect of this location on the general area would be less than in downtown Tampa or St. Pete (where it would signify an even more mature market than a beach resort). Nevertheless, once the door is open, and assuming it is successful, it could lead the way to more.

As with most development, we shall have to wait and see.

Politics – Saying No to a Penny

There was a really interesting article in the Times about Penny for Pinellas that gets to the heart of much of local politics:

The anti-tax foes that helped defeat the Greenlight Pinellas transportation sales tax in 2014 don’t believe they can thwart the coming renewal of the Penny for Pinellas sales tax. The 30-year tax is coming up for another vote in November.

But critics of the penny tax can still complain about it.

Their latest complaint is that they don’t stand a chance against the coordinated campaign under way from elected officials across Pinellas County who are using public funds to highlight to residents what the tax has paid for over past decades.

“Everybody loves feel-good stories,” said St. Petersburg resident John Burgess, who, with his wife, Betsi, donated thousands of dollars to oppose the Greenlight Pinellas initiative. “People get what they deserve when they vote themselves more taxes.”

We are not sure exactly what he is trying to say in that last comment, but, looking at it literally, we hope people get what they deserve and expect when they vote for a tax.  That is the whole purpose of having to choice to tax yourself for a specific purpose.  And, yes, people like feel good stories.  If a tax chosen by the people (once again, the most direct taxation with representation) works like it is supposed to and that makes people feel good, we don’t see the problem.  But, anyway:

Seminole businessman Tom Rask, another ardent Greenlight foe, called it “problematic” that public officials were going around the county, holding public meetings and asking residents how to spend the money before the tax has even been approved.

Rask said the 2017 initiative will be difficult to derail. But he’s already giving it a shot, distributing fliers opposing the tax.

“It’s very hard to defeat the renewal of a tax,” Rask said, but county officials “act like they already have the money.”

It is not that hard unless you are trying to defeat a publicly voted-on tax that provides things people just for the sake of defeating it without having a real argument other than “because.”

County spokeswoman Barbra Hernandez said the meetings and surveys are “part of a robust public-engagement program” to spread information across the county.

“We are trying to get through to as many people as possible,” she said. “It’s crucial to reach them early in the process.”

County and city officials are touting projects such as bridges, libraries and recreation centers that were built and paid for with their share of the penny tax. Residents who are attending these information sessions are also taking surveys about how the next round of funding should be spent if the tax is renewed for 2020 to 2030.

Another selling point: Officials estimate that one-third of the revenue comes from tourists.

The Penny for Pinellas is certainly well-known. Voters approved earlier rounds of the tax in 1989, 1997 and 2007.

We still have not been given a reason to oppose the tax.  If it works as intended, is passed by the people, is temporary, and has been renewed, what exactly is the problem?

Burgess, the St. Petersburg resident who opposed Greenlight Pinellas, said he would support the Penny for Pinellas program if elected leaders called it an “infrastructure tax” and only used money for projects such as roads and sewers. He opposed Greenlight because it would have funded light rail.

He also said that using the moniker “Penny for Pinellas” — which has been in use for three decades now — is a “marketing ploy” and gives elected leaders wiggle room to pay for pet projects.

“It’s become nothing but a big slush fund for elected officials to dole out money,” Burgess said. “There is no accountability in the Penny for Pinellas tax.”

While we disagree with that position, at least it has some internal logic.  But the accountability comes from the renewal vote and elections of officials.  That is democracy.

We like low taxes.  We also like accountability.  But, we also understand that you can’t buy something for nothing.  If you want to enhance your area, there needs to be some revenue.  Taxes like Penny for Pinellas are direct democracy where the people choose to tax themselves for a limited time with the benefit of an expiration date and the right to vote for those who choose what to do with the money.  There is really not democracy deficit there.

But the opposition is really not about process and accountability. For most of the opponents, like most of the transit opponents, opposition is just reflexive.  They don’t have a plan to really improve the area, make us competitive or provide real infrastructure and amenities that people want.

Development – A Map

The Business Journal launched a new feature this week.

With Crane Watch Tampa Bay, you’ll be able to track dozens of commercial construction projects around the Bay region, from condo towers to retail centers. Crane Watch is an interactive map that shows projects in various stages of development, from proposed to recently completed. 

You can access the map here.  We like the idea, though the present map is a bit limited in scope and geography (and includes things like a Sprouts store).  Hopefully, it will get filled out more and become a useful tool.

Built Environment – And Also the Trees

There was a report this week from ABC Action News regarding the Tampa tree ordinance:

Some of Tampa’s prettiest neighborhoods are lined by Grand Live Oak trees.

“If you start messing with the ordinance, so to speak, it will definitely have an impact,” said Joe Chillura.

But how the city protects these decades old trees may be changing.

“There a lot of new people in the area coming into the area that are only interested in maximizing their profit,” said Chillura.

Chillura, former Tampa City Council member drafted Tampa’s original 1972 ordinance which forces landowners to get proper permitting to take down or trim live oaks or be heavily fined.

“We had 40 years or more of different people, from different departments, going in there making one little line change,” said Snelling.

Now the City is taking a comprehensive look at the tree ordinance.

Recommendations from the Mayor’s Competitiveness Committee ask for more flexibility regarding grand tree preservation, more flexibility for city staff to approve removals and rescinding the 50 % tree preservation rule in certain areas of the city.

This is an interesting issue.  First, the tree ordinance has done a pretty good job protecting the Tampa canopy.  Sometimes, it is a little difficult, but it is not too bad.  Proof of that is all the development going on right now.  While a little more flexibility may be good, there is no evidence that the tree ordinance is really holding back development or that a change is required.

Additionally, this is actually not a new issue. (See page 7 of this 2016 update to the 2012 report by the Competitiveness Committee. ) The changes have been requested by developers for a while.  Yet, it is not clear that the changes are needs rather than just desires.

Nevertheless, we would be open to some changes, but the real issue just exactly what the “flexibility” is going to be.  Without actual details of the proposed changes, it is hard to say. But the changes should not just be to make developers lives cheaper and easier. And, if they allow trees to be cut more easily, it should also include aggressive replacement or offset plantings.

The City also has an interest in other things – like good design standards and other aspects of the code, that have not been addressed. It would be much better to have a comprehensive reform of the code rather than do it piecemeal. (Frankly, a lot of the issues we are dealing with now – from sidewalks, bike lanes, walkability, transportation – stem, at least in part, from trying to make us “more competitive” in real estate.)

And, once again, it is there is little evidence that the ordinance has held back development, so there is no rush to change.

Economic Development – Millennials

There was an interesting column in the Times regarding millennials and Florida.

Making Tampa a magnet for millennials is a permanent pitch in Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s speeches. Economic development groups for many years have pondered better ways to make Tampa Bay more appealing to adults 35 and under, both to retain homegrown talent and to attract the young and the smart from afar.

Emerge Tampa and St. Pete Young Professionals were born to empower young business professionals and groom them for leadership. The newer StandUp Tampa group features millennial entrepreneurs serving as regional economic and lifestyle ambassadors.

Despite Florida’s insatiable quest to become more of a mecca for millennial talent, the Sunshine State gets no respect in a new study released this week. WalletHub — measuring all 50 states for affordability of living, education, health, quality of life, economic health and civic engagement — zinged Florida with a near-the-bottom ranking of No. 42 on its “best and worst” states for millennials.

Is WalletHub right? My anecdotal sense is Florida’s ranking is harsh. I see lots of younger people who appear to be reasonably prosperous all across the Tampa Bay area. 

We are sure there are prosperous millennials in the area, but that is not the question.  The real question is if it is better than elsewhere for millennials overall. First, let’s look at the Wallethub methodology:


In order to determine the most livable places for millennials, WalletHub’s analysts compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across five key dimensions: 1) Affordability, 2) Education & Health, 3) Quality of Life, 4) Economic Health and 5) Civic Engagement.

We evaluated those dimensions using 24 relevant metrics, which are listed below with their corresponding weights. Each metric was graded on a 100-point scale, with a score of 100 representing the most favorable conditions for millennials.

We then calculated the overall score for each state and the District based on its weighted average across all metrics and used the resulting scores to construct our final ranking.

For the purpose of this study, “millennials” are defined as individuals who were born between 1981 and 1997.

Digging deeper into the factors (here), it is clear that income and comparative cost of living (including housing cost) is pretty important.  So how does Florida do? It is 32nd in affordability; 39th in education; 35th in quality of life; 34th in economic health; and 46th in engagement.  Quality of life and engagement is a bit subjective, but the others are based on more solid stats.  From a few weeks ago:

Put in more personal terms, Florida’s per capita income last year was $45,819, ranking 27th among states and representing 92 percent of the national per capita average of $49,571. That differential has remained fairly consistent for many years — a sign that while income may be growing, it has largely failed to close the gap with the nation as a whole.

In other words, Florida is quite a bit below the national average. And note that income here includes more than just wages. While the Wallethub list is about states and not areas, we are in very much a reflection of the state.

Our low wages and how they make the relative cost of living higher, plus limited opportunities to break into higher wage industries are an issue.  (Not everyone can afford to rent the luxury downtown apartments.)

Still, I hear complaints from local officials who like the revival of downtown Tampa but fear all the new housing, amenities and jobs offer too little in price or opportunity for millennials.

It is definitely an issue.

On the other hand, I often visit Washington, D.C. — No. 5 on WalletHub’s best/worst list and a metro area where I once lived and worked — and I am routinely stunned at how many young people are flocking there. The same goes with Denver, since I was there a few weeks ago, with Colorado ranking a healthy No. 9 among states for millennials. D.C. and Denver have young adults to spare.

Exactly, competition is all about what you provide relative to what others provide.

The column points out that North Dakota came in first on the Wallethub list.  That is not odd given certain economic quirks in North Dakota.  The column also points out that Georgia ranks below Florida, though we know Atlanta draws plenty of millennials.

The point is not that, even if there are issues, we cannot have success.  But we will not have real success by ignoring facts (not saying the Wallethub list is definitive, but it does highlight some issues) or just saying plenty of people want to move here.  We have had big waves of growth before with some people doing quite well, but, somehow, we are still having the discussion about raising our wages and getting our economy where it should be.  And we are still discussing transportation, planning, and all those other issues.

Are we improving?  Yes.  Are we improving relative to our competitors? Some, yes, but many, no.  It all goes back to the question: if a person can live anywhere (or almost anywhere) they want, why would they choose to live here as opposed to another area that already has so many amenities that we are still talking about?

There is still much work to do.

Good Reads

– The Problem of Parking

There was a very interesting article in the Economist this week entitled “How not to create traffic jams, pollution and urban sprawl” and subtitled “Don’t Let People Park for Free.”  (We would like to that the reader who sent us the link)

Parking can seem like the most humdrum concern in the world. Even planners, who thrill to things like zoning and floor-area ratios, find it unglamorous. But parking influences the way cities look, and how people travel around them, more powerfully than almost anything else. Many cities try to make themselves more appealing by building cycle paths and tram lines or by erecting swaggering buildings by famous architects. If they do not also change their parking policies, such efforts amount to little more than window-dressing. There is a one-word answer to why the streets of Los Angeles look so different from those of London, and why neither city resembles Tokyo: parking. 

The article goes on to explain the hidden costs of parking requirements and the damage they do to making cities more appealing.  We have to say that theoretically, we agree with most of the article.  However, we are also aware that, because we are so car-dependent and lack reasonable alternatives, simply charging more for parking or eliminating requirements everywhere without changing how we plan and build and providing alternatives would quickly become a mess. (Though there are places where parking requirements could be eliminated or significantly reduced) Nevertheless, we need to understand what our present planning is really doing.

An Autonomous Conundrum

There has been a lot of talk about autonomous vehicles, including, among a host of other things, HART looking at Teslas and the Innovation Alliance head talking about them on Fowler, as well as moves in the legislature to make it easier to use one in Florida (and how they will remove the need for transit).  Given how many people say autonomous vehicles are the future, a Wired article entitled “Securing Driverless Cars From Hackers Is Hard. Ask the Ex-Uber Guy Who Protects Them” caught our attention.   Here is the main idea:

Two years ago, Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek pulled off a demonstration that shook the auto industry, remotely hacking a Jeep Cherokee via its internet connection to paralyze it on a highway. Since then, the two security researchers have been quietly working for Uber, helping the startup secure its experimental self-driving cars against exactly the sort of attack they proved was possible on a traditional one. Now, Miller has moved on, and he’s ready to broadcast a message to the automotive industry: Securing autonomous cars from hackers is a very difficult problem. It’s time to get serious about solving it.

Last month, Miller left Uber for a position at Chinese competitor Didi, a startup that’s just now beginning its own autonomous ridesharing project. In his first post-Uber interview, Miller talked to WIRED about what he learned in those 19 months at the company—namely that driverless taxis pose a security challenge that goes well beyond even those faced by the rest of the connected car industry.

Miller couldn’t talk about any of the specifics of his research at Uber; he says he moved to Didi in part because the company has allowed him to speak more openly about car hacking. But he warns that before self-driving taxis can become a reality, the vehicles’ architects will need to consider everything from the vast array of automation in driverless cars that can be remotely hijacked, to the possibility that passengers themselves could use their physical access to sabotage an unmanned vehicle.

“Autonomous vehicles are at the apex of all the terrible things that can go wrong,” says Miller, who spent years on the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations team of elite hackers before stints at Twitter and Uber. “Cars are already insecure, and you’re adding a bunch of sensors and computers that are controlling them…If a bad guy gets control of that, it’s going to be even worse.”

You can read the rest of the article here. Just something to consider.

Roundup 4-7-2017

April 7, 2017


Transportation – All Over the Place

— What They Said (or Not)

— Dancing With Ferries

— One More Thing

Transportation – TBX-ing

– The Express Lane Bill, Update

– Redo or Just a Smiling Face?

Transportation – Makeover

Economic Development – VC

Channel District – Condos?

Bayshore – Condo Update

Transportation – Trail Blazing


Transportation – All Over the Place

As usual, there was much transportation news this week.  We’ll start with more local happenings

— What They Said (or Not)

HART has been working on an update to its transit development plan.  As part of that they did a workshop presentation on Facebook.   And it is very interesting.

Transit Now Tampa Bay was kind enough to take screen shots some of it, including results of the 2015 Hillsborough County survey (they do not say it, but it seems to be basically the Go Hillsborough public outreach) regarding transportation priorities.  First, the overall map of the survey effort:

From Transit Now Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

We are not sure what the black dots denote (they seem to correlate with the outreach meeting locations which were often placed in location that were inconvenient to large swaths of the area they supposedly covered, but the list is no longer posted so we can’t be sure).  Whatever they are, they leave some big gaps on the map.  In any event, Transit Now Tampa Bay also posted the screenshots of results of the transportation priorities by locations (Note that on the map the West Tampa dot is actually in Town and Country.  The Central and East Tampa dot is in West Tampa. And the Thonotosassa dot is in the “Northwest” while the Northwest dot is in Thonotosassa though that probably does not make much of difference).:

From Transit Now Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From Transit Now Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From Transit Now Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From Transit Now Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From Transit Now Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From Transit Now Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From Transit Now Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From Transit Now Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From Transit Now Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From Transit Now Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From Transit Now Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From Transit Now Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

So what do we learn from all this?

In Tampa and the near County, transit improvements were either the top or near the top (even in Westchase/Town and Country/Carrollwood).  Even Plant City had a major desire for transit.  On the other hand, “Northwest” (Odessa/Keystone/Cheval) and Brandon/South County were more interested in roads.

Of course, that is not all that surprising because the near County is about the same density as the City of Tampa overall, though not necessarily specific neighborhoods in Tampa (see Town and Country, Carrollwood, even the core of Brandon, City of Tampa), with some being quite a bit higher, like Egypt Lake.

We could say that, given the foregoing, it is a bit odd that the Go Hillsborough plan, while increasing some buses including, for no apparent reason, to the South County, did not really address the desire for a real transportation/transit vision, especially in the western half of the County.  And we could say that it is even odder that when the County found $800 million over a number of years to spend, they chose to dedicate it all to roads – not even funding some extra transit in the areas that showed a definite desire for it.  But, sadly, from years of experience, that is exactly what we have come to expect.

— Dancing With Ferries

Which brings us to ferries. With the Cross Bay Ferry test showing improved performance (though still averaging just 258 people a day), there was more ferry news this week.

. . . Hillsborough County laid the groundwork Wednesday to make water transportation a permanent fixture in the Tampa Bay region.

Commissioners voted to keep in reserve $22 million from the BP oil spill settlement with the hope it could one day go toward expanded ferry service, including a route between the downtowns of Tampa and St. Petersburg.

However, commissioners also said getting there will require re-imagining a project that has stalled for years due to federal red tape, environmental concerns and lack of funding.

“For this project to materialize, to be successful, it must involve a public-private partnership,” County Commissioner Ken Hagan said. “The challenge in my mind is determining the best model.”

It always was a public-private partnership, but we’ll set that aside for now.  Earlier coverage in the week had this:

For several years, Hillsborough County has had a standing agreement with two companies, HMS Ferries and South Swell, to bring commuter ferries from south county to MacDill Air Force Base. But a mix of federal red tape, environmental concerns and lack of funding has stalled the project.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan wants the county to rework the agreement with the hopes of getting boats in the water sooner than later.

On top of that, Hagan is proposing the county build a marina or two using the $22 million it received two years ago in the BP oil spill settlement. The marina, or marinas, would service the ferries and also create a public space, boat slips and maybe waterfront space for businesses that can generate money for the county.

But the Commission did more:

On Wednesday, commissioners asked staffers to renegotiate that arrangement into a long-term deal of up to 20 years. In a new deal, the county also would like to see HMS Ferries and South Swell take on all the risk — and potential financial reward — of the entire project. In return, the county would write the companies a check, though it’s not clear for how much. The project was estimated to cost the county $25 million to $30 million.

“This would mean likely paying more up front but in doing so we can achieve a long-term agreement for 15 or 20 years,” Hagan said, “and we will not be responsible for all of the other issues associated with this project.”

Additionally, commissioners want a new deal to guarantee service from south county to Tampa as well as a route between the downtowns of Tampa and St. Petersburg. The current agreement says market demand would dictate whether those routes are offered. Many area leaders and ferry advocates believe that demand was demonstrated by the six-month ferry pilot program linking downtown St. Petersburg to downtown Tampa that is scheduled to end April 30.

Which is all well and good, if you can get it.  But, even if they get a total rewrite of the proposal, it does not alleviate all the other issues.  And it is not at all clear that a deal can be struck for all those services. Plus:

Still, much remains up in the air. The county has set aside $750,000 for a study of the project that will, among other things, determine a viable launch site in south county. The Schultz Preserve is one potential location.

Tampa and St. Petersburg would have to agree to the terms of any deal that services their cities, and they would also likely have to contribute to the project. Hillsborough, Pinellas County, St. Petersburg and Tampa each put in $750,000 to the pilot program but it’s not clear that kind of rare regional cooperation could be replicated to support a more ambitious expansion.

Even if they received the go-ahead tomorrow, it will take three years before the boats are operating full time, said Ed Turanchik, who represents the two private companies.

In other words, there is a lot to do.

The first problem is that we do not know where these marinas will be, though from the ferry project location, presumably the marina(s) will just be another chunk of money for South County while neglecting the needs of the rest of the County (and, the comments of a certain commissioner near the end of this article notwithstanding, we doubt many, if any, in the north of the County has discussed them nor with they really benefit). Nor do we know what the marinas will really entail or if the previously stated Port and environmental concerns  can be taken care of.

The second problem is that it does not solve the supposed problem at the MacDill end.

The third problem is that it is not clear the ferry company will agree.

Other than that, we are fine with this general idea (we have no details). . . except, fourth, it still does nothing for transit on the ground which is where most people travel. It is also notable that South County, where the ferry will presumably go, has some of the least support for transit options, but the County still wants to put money for transit there before putting money where people really want it.  There is no mention of ferries to Town and Country.  Nothing to the biggest employment center – Westshore.  Obviously nothing to the USF region.  Really, nothing, unsurprisingly, for the areas that really want transit.

We have nothing against the MacDill ferry idea as a general concept though we understand that it is just a commuter tool to a limited location.  We have something against throwing money at roads then throwing a little money on the ferry without dealing with the big void in proper transit on land because, simply put, the vast majority of people in the area will not be served by any ferry service.  And even for those who want to use it, there would need to be very good transit connections to get them to a ferry.

It is also worth noting that:

Hagan recently joined a majority of commissioners in rejecting a proposal to fast-track the ferry project using money set aside for transportation needs. Instead, commissioners voted to plan, design and engineer the project and make a decision on how to pay for it later.

Now, it’s Hagan’s hope that the county and the private companies can come to a new agreement that pushes more of the risk — and potential reward — to the private sector. In return, the county would agree to a long-term deal, up to 20 years, and public subsidizes would be unlocked if certain conditions are met and milestones are reached.

Setting aside that the money referenced above was set aside for roads – not “transportation needs” in general, the County playing field project ($15 million) + Bass Pro Shops subsidy ($6 million or so) would pretty much cover the ferry cost.  Not to mention that most of the road maintenance in that money should have come from other fees, freeing money for transit.

As we have said, we have nothing against ferry service.  But it is not substitute for actually dealing overall transit with the problem the County Commission tries so hard to avoid dealing with.  We still need a comprehensive, coordinated transportation system – not a piecemeal approach done on the cheap that does not even address the biggest needs.  Sadly, the latter is what is what we have come to expect.

— One More Thing

Which brings us to a blog post by a local transportation activist.  We are not going to go through the whole thing but there is an interesting analysis of the economics and performance of a variety of local transit including the Cross Bay Ferry, the bus, the streetcar, and the downtowner. You can read it here.  After going through all the numbers, he concludes:

These are different services that provide for different uses and all have good reasons to be invested in the key questions is: what is your goal with your transportation dollars. Then measure your investment against that goal.

As long as Tampa Bay is looking for a silver bullet solution to all it’s goals it will bounce from train plan to bus plan to ferry plan to “AVs solving everything”— while actually solving almost nothing. We need a methodical approach that evaluates these tests and looks to build an actual transportation system on real metrics and concrete goals.

Then we need the political and community will to fund it. 

There may be some debate about the goals (and short term, medium term, and long term goals may be different though the County – and to a lesser degree even the City – does not seem to really have any specific goals except to be seen to do something), but we totally agree with the approach.

Transportation – TBX-ing

Now on to more state level issues.

– The Express Lane Bill, Update

A few weeks ago we discussed a proposed bill in the state house to limit express lanes and tolls. (see “Transportation – Another Interesting Bill” )  Last week, it had a vote in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee, failing by a vote of 6 for and 8 opposed. (For vote details see pg 19 of this pdf.) The vote probably kills the bill and leaves the way open for the full TBX and its deleterious effects on the neighborhoods in central Tampa that are leading the way in becoming more walkable and urban.

Interestingly, one of the no votes was a state rep from a mostly South Tampa district.  (though the district does not include the neighborhoods that would be directly harmed by TBX. ) What is odd is that this state rep is also a founder and Board President of a Walk Bike Tampa (not to be confused with Bike/Walk Tampa Bay  – these names are getting into Life of Brian territory):

Walk Bike Tampa was founded in the summer of 2015 by two residents of the City of Tampa, Hannah Strom and Jackie Toledo, who met at a local transportation meeting and shared their concerns for bicycle and pedestrian safety. Together, they decided that Tampa needed a citizens-based advocacy group focused on promoting connected bicycle routes, safe routes for cyclists and pedestrians throughout the city, and pedestrian-friendly streets.

They quickly discovered that there were many other people just as passionate about creating a safe Tampa. They also discovered that safe infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists was a community value shared across political, generational, and socioeconomic lines. Today, Walk Bike Tampa has an nine-person board and a very active executive committee that are working with other community groups and political leaders to make Tampa a walkable, bikeable, and livable city.

The co-founder of which gave a really good quote to the Times:

“When you design a system that is only focused on cars for generation after generation, people are really left to fend for themselves,” said Hannah Strom, who formed Walk Bike Tampa in September with local transportation engineer Jackie Toledo. The Tampa Bay area is the nation’s second-deadliest metro for pedestrians, she noted.

We support that quote and the stated goals of the organization.  And then there is this post on their Facebook page from March 24, 2017, linking apparently favorably to an article about LaCrosse, Wisconsin fighting a state highway plan.

We are not sure the reason for the state rep’s vote.  There may be good reasons for it.  We are not sure why she supports TBX, particularly the harmful aspects of it (this support for TBX of it was given before the Howard Frankland problem was fixed.

It seems to us that spending $6-9 billion on highway widening and express lanes that do not serve most people in the area (and that does not even reroute traffic from Pinellas out of central Tampa) and that is not part of a coordinated, systematic approach to a transportation infrastructure (which TBX clearly isn’t, especially since it was set in motion long before a the regional transportation/transit study even was proposed), not to mention harming rising urban neighborhoods, is perpetuating exactly the “system only focused on cars for generation after generation.”

We are open to hearing her reasoning on all this and how she reconciles these positions.

– Redo or Just a Smiling Face?

Speaking of TBX, ever since the Howard Frankland mess, FDOT has said it was going to reset the whole TBX effort.  It was not clear whether that meant redesigning it or just better public relations.  This week we learned a bit more:

The Florida Department of Transportation is hoping a trip to St. Louis can help revive its controversial plan to add toll lanes to nearly 100-miles of the Tampa Bay interstates.

The local DOT office will take a group of about 20 politicians, activists and business members to Missouri in April to learn more about how transportation planners and community members there came together and compromised on a highway construction project.

The rebuilding of Interstate 64 through St. Louis did not include adding toll lanes, but it did face significant opposition from the community — just like the Tampa Bay Express project has faced here.

“It started off probably not as well within the community as they would have liked, either,” Tampa Bay DOT secretary Paul Steinman said during a planning meeting for the trip last week. “They found ways to work with the community… and to compliment the neighborhoods surrounding those projects.”

Um, ok.  FDOT could easily compromise.  Local officials could actually learn what is in the plan.  We are not sure what the problem they think this trip will solve will be – maybe they should ride the St. Louis light rail while thinking about it. (And the local officials there can try to figure out how St. Louis managed to build a rail system that has parts in two states, when we can’t coordinate buses in two counties that used to be one).

A $12,500 federal grant will cover the cost of 10 citizens — including those who oppose TBX — to attend the two-day peer exchange April 11-12. Bay area politicians and business leaders, along with DOT, are paying their own way. State officials expect the trip to cost the agency just under $5,000 for its five representatives, including the local project lead, Bill Jones.

This trip is the main thrust of the “reset” of TBX that state leaders called for last December following more than a year of public outcry against the project that would have added managed toll lanes that could cost commuters up to $2 a mile. Building the new lanes would also have required bulldozing homes in minority neighborhoods around downtown Tampa.

The state also scrapped its plan to rebuild the Howard Frankland Bridge in 2019 after the Tampa Bay Times reported that DOT’s plan would have added a toll lane but taken away a free lane, a tradeoff that surprised many local politicians.

“We’ve taken a step back as a department,” Steinman said. “We want to make sure we can move forward in such a way that we truly engage not only the folks in the downtown area but also in a regional manner.”

Other parts of the reset include redoing the environmental impact study for TBX and also paying for transit studies that will evaluate the downtown Tampa streetcar and other options such as rail lines and express bus.

To us, that sounds like repackaging what they have already proposed.  It might be worth considering changing the project to focus on the things that clearly need fixing (like why not do the bottleneck first) and dropping the silly elements, like the express lanes and the 18 lane wide sections.  It also might be worth having meeting with local officials to go over the plan mile by mile so they know what is in the plan.

We are all for people talking and we all for public outreach, but that involves being open to changes.  If FDOT is doing that, great.  If this is just an effort to repackage what they had before, they likely will get the same result.

And anything done to the interstates still needs to be part of a coordinated transportation plan that takes into account the area in 2017, not 1995, which TBX is not.

Transportation – Makeover

There was an article in the Times regarding a proposed makeover of Fowler Avenue (which is a mess).

If Mark Sharpe’s hopes are realized, Fowler Avenue will one day turn green.

Grassy medians and wider shoulders with lots of trees, buffered bike lanes and wider sidewalks for walkers and joggers would make over what he calls the “barren wasteland” of asphalt, the main thoroughfare through the 19-square-mile swath of North Tampa that Sharpe and his team want to revitalize.

An engineering firm has translated their vision into a design concept that has been shared with the Florida Department of Transportation, which would make the decision on any changes to the road.

When people drive along Fowler, Sharpe said, they’re headed toward one of the top research universities in the nation, the University of South Florida; one of the top cancer institutes in the world, Moffitt Cancer Center; one of the most recognized theme parks in the world, Busch Gardens; and the fourth busiest VA hospital in the nation.

“Fowler Avenue ought to be reflective of that. We see it as an innovation gateway.”

We are not sure what an innovation gateway is, but, yes, Fowler should be nicer.  So what is the idea?

In the concept design by Sam Schwartz Engineering, Fowler would be reduced from eight to six lanes between Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and 56th Street, with space between the bike paths and travel lanes and wide shoulders to cut the distance pedestrians have to travel to cross Fowler.

Mid-block crossings would accommodate pedestrians in the busier sections, said Jeffrey Trim, project manager with the engineering firm.

Green space would be expanded and travel lanes narrowed to slow traffic. The sidewalks would be widened from 5 feet to 8 feet on the south side and 12 feet on the north side. The effort is to encourage more walkers, joggers, bike riders and public transportation users.

* * *

Within the next decade, Sharpe predicts, automated, driverless vehicles will carry paying customers along the public transit lanes.

It takes too much time and effort now for people who work in the area to leave their buildings, walk to their cars and drive somewhere to have lunch or run errands, Sharpe said.

A reconfigured Fowler Avenue and adequate public transit would free up people for short trips, making it easier to get to businesses along the route.

Aside from the midblock crossings, we have nothing against those general ideas as concepts.  However, everything is in the details. Here is a diagram from the Times article of what Fowler might look like between Bruce B Downs and 50th:

From the Times – click on picture for article

The first thing that has to be said is that when trying to fix Fowler, the Innovation Alliance is playing a weak hand. This is the area in question.  Basically nothing addresses the street or is anything but designed for cars – including USF. (Of course, the area farther west is even worse).  So all credit for trying to them for trying to make it better.  That being said, we have a few concerns.

Take the slowing of traffic.  We have said a number of times that road diets (we consider this a baby diet) are fine but need to be done after there are alternatives.  Otherwise, they just create a more congested road.  In the case of Fowler, no one in the foreseeable future is going to be walking to their destination, especially right around USF.  USF is not built that way (the core of the campus is in the middle of a former airfield – that does not encourage people walking to it) and nothing else in the area is built that way.  It is not like they are reconnecting an old urban neighborhood.

That may also explain why the sidewalks are around 250 feet from each other on the outside of what appears to be drainage ditches.  Nothing encourages walking more than having to cross a six lane road by walking 250 feet then walking next to drainage ditches. (Though at least the sidewalks are not right next to the road, like much of the area.)

We also found a presentation from the engineer from January (here). On page six, there are some renderings of the road and some diagrams that appear to show all the left turn lanes removed.  We get the aesthetics of narrowing the road and removing turn lanes.  We get that it makes it nicer for people to cross.  However, how exactly is that going to work around USF on a morning when classes are going?  Where are all the cars going to go?

It’s not that we wouldn’t like more transit.  Clearly we would.  But it is not there.  And even autonomous vehicles have to turn. (And, given the layout of USF and the area, it will take people pretty much just as long to walk to autonomous vehicles, get in traffic and go to any lunch spot as it would to get in their own cars, especially if someone is blocking the road trying to turn left.)

The bottom line is that we are all for making the area around USF nicer.  We are all for alternative transportation and making it nicer for walking and biking.  But changes need to be practical, too.  The biggest thing holding a redesign of Fowler around USF back is the layout of USF and the fact that everything in the area has riffed off of USF’s car-centric design.

We do not want to say nothing can be done, because it can.  And we do not want to put down the effort to make the area better.  We are all for it.  And we know the Innovation Alliance leader is working hard on some large issues. Making Fowler a little nicer to experience is good, but we are not sure how the proposed road changes will substantially change the core issues which made the road that way in the first place.

If you want to have your say, there is a workshop on April 12 at MOSI from 5:30 to 7:30. (See the announcement here)

Economic Development – VC

It’s time to check in with venture capital spending.  From the Times:

The Tampa Bay metro market was home to 14 venture capital deals worth a combined $54.6 million, part of a VC funding effort statewide that backed 63 deals totaling $244.2 million in the first quarter of 2017.

The deals and the funding amounts continue to typify Florida and Tampa Bay’s modest standing in venture capital activity in the country. Led by $8.3 billion in quarterly venture capital funding in California — the VC epicenter of this country and planet — Florida ranked 11th among states in total venture capital funding. And Tampa Bay landed at No. 20 among major metro areas based on VC funding amounts.

Or from the Business Journal:

There were 14 venture capital deals in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metropolitan area in the first quarter of 2017.

That made the Tampa metro the 24th most active metropolitan area for venture deals in the first three months of the year, according to the PitchBook-NVCA Venture Monitor.

We are not sure why they have different local rankings from the same report, but it really doesn’t matter. Back to the Times:

To appreciate the profound difference in funding scale, the San Francisco metro area alone attracted $5.1 billion in the first quarter. That’s about 20 times the size of funding received in all Florida deals in the quarter. And it’s nearly 95 times the size of Tampa Bay’s funding in the first three months of this year, according to fresh data released Tuesday by Pitchbook and the National Venture Capital Association.

Roughly calculated, we got about .3% of all VC for an area with about .9% of the US population.  Not great, but it is an improvement. You can get the report here.   We’ll see if it maintains, gets better or goes back down.

Channel District – Condos?

There was a subscription only article in the Business Journal regarding the developer of Grand Central and Channel Club.   They had previous proposed a 33-story condo building, Del Villar, before the recession (like Channel Club).  Nothing came of it.  It seems they may be considering a new condo project for the same location. From the Downtown Partnership website:

The neighborhood has come so far, Stoltenberg said, that Mercury Advisors is considering another condominium project, on land that the group has owned since 2006, at Channelside Drive and East Whiting Street. It would be a boutique project, with 61 units priced between $750,000 and $1.3 million.

From the developer website:

Rezoning approval has been obtained for this residential condominium tower in the Channel District. The complex is located in close proximity to the Florida Aquarium and the redevelopment area’s proposed by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeffrey Vinik and the Tampa Port Authority. These redevelopments will lead to two billion dollar investment in the area with parks, entertainment and work and live space. 

Currently the project is undergoing final revisions and the goal is to start pre-sales on this residential condominium complex in the second quarter of 2017.

This is what the old design looked like:

From Mercury Advisors – click on picture for website

The apartment market in the Channel District appears to be strong for now, but there hasn’t been a condo project in a while.  It will be interesting to see how strong the market for that is.

Bayshore – Condo Update

Speaking of condos, in the more mature Bayshore market, it seems pre-sales for the Virage are going well.

More than 50 percent of the condominiums in the luxury tower planned on the former Colonnade restaurant have been reserved — though the developers are only launching a formal sales center this week.

Ascentia Development Group, which will build Virage Bayshore in a joint venture with Batson-Cook Development Co., said Wednesday that deposits have been accepted on more than half of the 71 units in the 24-story tower. An exact number of reserved units was not disclosed.

Which is good.

Jay Tallman, principal with ADG, previously told the Tampa Bay Business Journal that construction could begin with as little as 30 percent of the units sold. A spokesman said Wednesday that the project will likely begin construction in early autumn.

We look forward to it.

Transportation – Trail Blazing

There was an interesting report on regarding a proposed trail link around Dale Mabry:

Plans are underway to find a better, safer way to cross Dale Mabry Highway and close what transportation leaders are calling a critical gap in the Regional Trail System.

The Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Commission is working to find a feasible, safe pedestrian and bicycle trail crossing at Dale Mabry Highway.

They are talking about possibly putting in a major pedestrian trail crossover near Dale Mabry and I-275. This would allow pedestrians and bicyclists to go right over the six-lane highway.

Currently, the trail is located on the south side of I-275 and now terminates at Church Street.

* * *

Right now, the Courtney Campbell trail from Safety Harbor allows a pedestrian traveler to find their way to the Cypress Point Park. Through the park, a trail is being constructed to connect to Westshore Blvd. There is a gap between Westshore and Lois Ave at this time, but there are plans for a connection.

Creating a crossover could help one day connect the Pinellas County trail via the Courtney Campbell Trail to downtown Tampa and beyond to Manatee county, which is one possible destination.

Once the MPO has assessed if and where a Dale Mabry Crossing is feasible, they said they will engage in community dialogue to get feedback on the route and assess how the other planning and implementation projects are or will be supporting the goal of a connected trail system.

We definitely support the creation of a trail system and Dale Mabry is definitely an impediment to any surface trail.  A bridge over Dale Mabry is probably going to be kind of hot most of the year (though not much hotter than crossing the Courtney Campbell trail).  And the connections to any trail at this junction is a little complicated.  Helpfully, the MPO has posted a preliminary overview of their ideas here.

The one key element to having a useful trail is to keep it out of traffic and in its own right of way on either side of Dale Mabry.  Having a nice bridge that leads to having to bike in the street would not be very useful.

There is another thought, though it is not determinative.  The MPO document considers a crossing both north and south of I-275 at Dale Mabry.  While the bridge is going to be hot, it may make sense to keep the trail north of I-275 as much as possible to shield people from the sun at least part of the year.  And, of course, we don’t want to hear that the trail is contingent on TBX.  It shouldn’t be.

We look forward to seeing what they come up with.

Roundup 3-31-2017

March 31, 2017


Transportation – Yes, But

— Don’t Ask, Don’t Get

— Nothing to See Here

— Conclusion

Planning – Where’s the Money

Rays – Making Statements

Downtown/Channel District – More Buying

Channel District – Another Buy

Ybor City – Project List

West Tampa – Demolition

Transportation – Brightline Happenings

Transportation – What Is Transit Worth in Home Prices

An Urbanism Tool

Just Because We Can


Transportation – Yes, But

As regular readers will know, the Tampa Bay Partnership has started a concerted public relations campaign to merge the local MPO’s and get a unified transit authority, two things we actually support in general (We reserve the right to point out issues in the details).  Coincidentally, the Times ran a couple of articles about transportation funding from the state.

— Don’t Ask, Don’t Get

The first article discussed how the Tampa Bay area has a poor recent record of getting money from the state for transportation:

Tampa Bay leaders aren’t shy about proclaiming the need for more transportation dollars.

There’s $1.2 billion of unfunded road projects in Pinellas County. That number climbs to more than $4 billion in Hillsborough.

Cash-starved transit agencies in both counties spend less per resident than counterparts almost anywhere else nationwide.

Local officials have considered everything from raising the sales tax to using BP oil spill settlement money to plug Tampa Bay’s growing transportation gap. Yet as they’ve scrambled to fill the void, Tampa Bay’s state lawmakers have taken a pass.

Those extra buses this region sorely needs? No House or Senate member has asked for them. The expensive widening of Lithia-Pinecrest Road in Brandon? Not on the list.

Legislators around the state asked for more than $700 million in transportation projects next year. The state’s two biggest counties, Miami-Dade and Broward, together asked for about $50 million.

But legislators in Pinellas asked for a paltry $6.2 million. In Hills­borough, the state’s fourth most populated county, lawmakers managed to request only $1.9 million in transportation projects.

That seems pretty bad.  And there is more:

A review of recent state budgets found that Pinellas and Hills­borough receive tens of millions less for transportation each year than similar-sized counties.

Although the general appropriations bill doesn’t outline all of the state’s transportation spending (such as operating costs or projects that cost less than a million), it includes major projects requested by legislators and those included in the DOT work program. The bill provides a measure of how successful each county is at securing money for road, pedestrian and transit projects.

In 2015-2016, for instance, Miami-Dade, Duval, Broward, Citrus, Orange and Palm Beach counties all received at least $50 million more for roads and transit than Hillsborough County, which received $185 million from the state.

Pinellas was even worse off, getting about $142 million that year. That ranks closer to counties like St. Lucie, whose 286,000 population is about a quarter that of Pinellas.

Things improved for Pinellas this year when it landed a whopper: $330 million for Gateway Express. The project is an offshoot to Tampa Bay Express, the state’s controversial transportation plan to bring 100 miles of toll lanes to the region.

But for Hillsborough, the disparity with other regions grows over time. Over the last three years, Orange, Broward and Duval all received at least $500 million more than Hillsborough. Miami-Dade, which has double Hillsborough’s population, received nearly $2.5 billion from the state for transportation projects. Hillsborough netted just over $500 million.

That gap could widen even more because, as this year’s state budget requests show, other regions are pursuing dollars more aggressively than Hillsborough or Pinellas.

Setting aside Gateway Express (which, we are generally ok with except the express lane part), what is the problem?

“We have no vision,” said Senate Transportation Appropriations Chairman Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg. “In Tampa Bay, we haven’t built that foundation yet.”

Setting aside that who exactly is included in the visionless “we” is not clear:

Several Tampa Bay officials blamed the region’s lack of unity for the inertia.

For instance, Pinellas and Hills­borough each have their own transit agencies, when most major metro areas have one.

See below regarding the fault there.  Moving on:

Tampa Bay is also dramatically different from other regions in the country, which tend to have only one Metropolitan Planning Organization (the entity that puts together transportation plans). This puts Tampa Bay at a competitive disadvantage, said Rick Homans, president of the Tampa Bay Partnership, a regional group focused on economic development.

“You can see how fractured it is,” Homans said. “It’s incredibly inefficient.”

So as other regions have legislative delegations that work together for a common cause, Tampa Bay has a delegation of lawmakers who represent rival agencies. Homans said a DOT official told him that he finds himself acting as a referee trying to manage competing interests from each county.

“If there was one regional MPO, (DOT) could much easier take direction from that,” Homans said. “It would prioritize the regional projects and the big asks from Tampa Bay.”

Yes, having a unified MPO and transit agency could help (as long as it did not promote things like taking a free lane from the Howard Frankland Bridge to make it an express lane, like the Tampa Bay Partnership president supported).  But, really, that is not the issue in the article.  A fractured legislative delegation may make it harder to actually get the money, but, as noted above:

But legislators in Pinellas asked for a paltry $6.2 million. In Hills­borough, the state’s fourth most populated county, lawmakers managed to request only $1.9 million in transportation projects.

They did not even ask for their rival agencies.  You would think that with a fragmented approach without prioritizing the ask would be even bigger than a coordinated plan, not miniscule.

As for actually landing money, the fractured local politics is not helpful:

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and Rep. Dan Raulerson, R-Plant City, filed bills to transform the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority into a regional transit entity that would coordinate plans across four counties.

“It helps if you have an organized agency,” Latvala said. “We get state money for HART and for PSTA, but it’s not a coordinated multi-county approach.”

Latvala has tried for years to change this by suggesting Hills­borough and Pinellas transit agencies merge. While Pinellas was receptive to the idea, the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority pushed back hard against Latvala.

Several transit lobbyists said that clash made it much more difficult for HART to get dollars for projects — including the regional bus ticketing system that the agency listed as its No. 1 legislative priority for three straight years. HART hoped the state would pay for about $6 million of the $12 million for the system. The Legislature shot down the request each time.

During that same period, lawmakers approved $9 million for express buses in Miami-Dade, $8 million for a streetcar in downtown Fort Lauderdale and $10 million for a bus transfer facility in Jacksonville.

Note, Duval County (Jacksonville) has fewer people than either Pinellas or Hillsborough, so a fragmented Bay area delegation that does not explain how other areas they got the money. (Especially with so many recent legislative leaders being from this area)  That is not absolving HART of behaving foolishly.  It is just pointing out a simple fact.

And, really, regarding landing money, there is no reason that the legislative delegation cannot ignore the bickering of local politicians and support funds for neighboring counties.  Legislators are not picked by local politicians.  Hillsborough legislators can vote for Pinellas projects and vice versa. (It’s not like Pinellas legislators don’t move around Hillsborough and vice versa.  They can see the problems.)  A unified legislative approach could be a model for local officials.

— Nothing to See Here

But setting all that aside, the Times then ran another article where various people tell us why the legislators do not ask for more, such as it is FDOT’s fault:

There are two paths toward earning state dollars for transportation: landing a spot in the DOT five-year work program or asking a legislator to place a line-item in the budget. A recent Tampa Bay Times review found that Pinellas and Hillsborough county lawmakers asked for far fewer line-items for transportation this year than their colleagues in other major counties.

One reason, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said, is that DOT officials make it clear they prefer local transportation planners to work through the agency process already in place.

The work program uses plans from county- and region-wide transportation planning groups to build a cohesive, five-year funding plan. Requests by state lawmakers for one-year allocations could be seen as circumventing that process, Kriseman said.

“You don’t want to do something that they perceive as going behind their back,” Kriseman said.

There is a perception within the agency that legislative project requests could affect the amount of money allocated for DOT, Kriseman said. Because of that, local and state politicians are encouraged to use the system already in place.

We’re not going to defend most of FDOT’s decision-making, but wait, there’s more:

But while some local leaders point to Tampa Bay’s fragmented region as a reason why senators and representatives aren’t making these asks, [Pinellas MPO executive director Whit] Blanton said there are identified priorities, both on a county and regional level, for which lawmakers can advocate.

For instance, a group comprised of MPO leaders from Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco put together and adopted a list of regional transportation priorities for this legislative session. That list of preferred projects exists, but it’s up to someone to advocate for it, he said.

“We have a cultural, fragmented mindset we’ve got to overcome,” Blanton said. “And it’s certainly so much more than how many MPOS are in our region.”

Yes, we do have a fragmented mindset, but coming up with a common list is not fragmented. In fact, that is essentially what a unified MPO would do anyway.  And it removes the excuse of fragmented priorities.  And there is this:

County Administrator Mike Merrill said it is difficult for legislators to ask for state money when there aren’t any local dollars available to match.

“To put a legislator in a position of just saying, ‘give us $15 million,’ but not having anything to put up with it is probably not a good idea,” he said. “Once we can show that we have plan and it has a long-term funding source, then I think we’re in a better position to make a big ask.

Which is fine except the County found $800 million for road work this year.  How does that explain the minimal requests?  And even more:

Rep. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa, said she wanted to make more transportation asks — she requested $500,000 for Hillsborough’s transit agency — but she needed the county or city to recommend a project.

Toledo said she called Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s office asking if they had any requests. His office provided information for a stormwater drainage project, which Toledo did ask for, but nothing for transportation, she said.

“As much as I want to do these transportation improvements, I can’t just invent them,” she said. “It’s something I have to get from the city or county, so I can then go through the appropriations process.”

Tampa certainly needs money to do stormwater improvements, but that is not transportation money. She didn’t even ask the County, which apparently did not ask her for anything either.

To summarize: it is FDOT’s fault; it is the legislators’ fault; and it is local officials’ fault. Apparently, there is blame to go around.  Even without formal structures, local officials can work together to develop lists of needs.  Legislators can advocate, cooperate, and vote for them.  (FDOT can deal or have its funding threatened by the legislature. It sure moved fast when locals officials and a legislator complained about the Howard Frankland.  If the Governor vetoes the money, so be it.  That is on the Governor.  He could veto regional requests, too.)

— Conclusion

So, yes, we support a regional approach (as long as it does not ignore neighborhoods and the average residents).  We favor regional transit.  We favor regional planning and a unified approach. We even favor merging transit agencies.  But 1) if local officials and legislators cannot get together even when there are lists of common priorities and needs and cannot work for the region overall when needs are obvious and 2) if the local officials and legislators have not figured out yet that they cannot get the money they want without cooperating, we are not sure that simply rearranging the chairs and unifying the MPOs will really solve anything.

Fractures institutions may have exacerbated the problem, but a fractured mentality is the real cause. Before rearranging the institutions can really accomplish anything, we need to fix is the mentality that led to this situation in the first place.

Planning – Where’s the Money

The County Fire Chief brought up an old issue this week:

Hillsborough County needs 25 new fire stations in the next 25 years to keep up with the thousands of people moving here each year, Fire Rescue Chief Dennis Jones told county commissioners Wednesday.

The county is already failing to meet emergency response benchmarks, Jones warned, and it will only get worse as Hillsborough grapples with one of the fastest-growing populations in the country. A new fire station hasn’t opened in a decade, though one is expected to go online in FishHawk later this year.

“We have an urgent need for more fire stations,” Jones said.

Rescue personnel respond to an emergency in less than seven minutes about 55 percent of the time in urban and suburban areas, well short of the department’s goal of 90 percent.

Which is not good.  But, as we said, it is not new:

It’s not the first time a county fire study has sounded the siren. A 2003 master plan called for 32 new fire stations by 2015. Instead, the county built five to bring the total to 42.

There is particular need for investment in south county, Jones said, where there hasn’t been a new station south of Bloomingdale in 30 years.

The issue, of course, is money. Capital costs, meaning the expense of building the fire stations and buying the trucks to fill them, would require about $20 million a year through 2031. Staffing those new stations would increase the operational budget for Fire Rescue by more than $70 million a year once the proposal is fully realized.

What was the response?

Commissioner Ken Hagan said the plan was “extremely aggressive” and the county will have a difficult time weighing it against other county needs.

A parks master plan is also in the works, and the county’s court system also has millions of dollars in unfunded projects planned. As is always the case in Hillsborough, there are plenty of transportation needs that loom over any budget conversation, as well.

“Additional funding sources need to be considered,” Hagan said.

“I’ll be honest with you — I feel there is some that feel that we have unlimited revenue and that our budget decisions do not have consequences,” he added. “Sooner or later, we will have an economic downturn and our chickens will come home to roost.”

It would seem that those chickens have already come home.  There is the lack of proper impact fees, the subsidizing sprawl, the poor planning, and poor budgeting (plus paying for pet projects like $15 million for playing fields).  Maybe the needs exceed the revenue, but that was easily predictable while the County was spending years not funding nor planning to fund what was needed.

As we said, this need is not new.  The road needs are not new.  The need for parks is not new.  The fact that we have busy courts did not sneak up on anyone.  And remember, the County found $800 million to spend on roads for the next ten years.  While the fire department plan may be aggressive, clearly more needs to be done.  Most of the Commissioners have been on the Commission for a while.  Why has nothing been done?

Rays – Making Statements

With baseball season approaching, there was a flurry of news about the Rays stadium search.

Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg revealed some complications in his team’s search for a new stadium on Thursday, yet said he’s still confident they will find a new home in the Tampa Bay area.

What were the Rays’ top five choices for a new stadium — three in Tampa and two in St. Petersburg — are unavailable. That may push the team’s time line for finding a new site from August to the end of 2017.

“We had some ideas on locations that just weren’t available, that I thought would have worked perfectly, but they’re off the table,” Sternberg said before the Rays’ game at their spring training site in Port Charlotte. “So we’re sort of moving down our list to Nos. 2, 3 and 4.”

* * *
“We did have a choice that we thought that was going to be ideal, a choice or two, and it was going to be unavailable. We would have had to flesh it out. But we’re working and trying to find out what will be next best.”

As a result, Sternberg said the team doesn’t know if it will find what he has previously described as a “pin-perfect” site. Later, he clarified his stance, saying he remained optimistic the team can find a stadium solution in the bay area.

So what are we talking about, exactly?

Four of the Rays’ top sites that are unavailable have long been the focus of speculation: the Heights, a 43-acre mixed-use project taking shape in downtown Tampa along a bend in the Hillsborough River; Jefferson High School in Tampa’s booming West Shore Business District; and two adjacent waterfront sites in downtown St. Petersburg, Albert Whitted Airport and Al Lang Stadium.

Sternberg confirmed those sites and mentioned a fifth that hasn’t been discussed before: the Tampa Tribune‘s old headquarters along the Hillsborough River, which is being demolished to make way for an eight-story apartment complex. The 4.2 acre site sold in 2015 for $17.8 million, and the Rays would have needed to assemble more land to build a stadium along that part of the river.

What was the problem with those locations?

There are all sorts of reasons why the first four sites wouldn’t and couldn’t work: The Heights’ owners were never interested in a baseball stadium; Jefferson High is a nonstarter because of neighborhood and political opposition; St. Petersburg residents voted to keep the airport at Albert Whitted in 2003; and the Rays’ 2008 proposal to build a new stadium at the Al Lang site was met with stiff opposition. Al Lang is also now being looked at as a Major League Soccer venue.

Hagan said Rays executives approached the owners of the Heights site about a year ago. But by that time, their plans to develop a 2.16 million square-foot development of office, residential and retail space had already coalesced. Heights developer Adam Harden has said repeatedly that his company did not consider making room for a potential Rays ballpark.

“A baseball stadium has never been in our plans,” he texted.

And that is fine with us.  The Heights location, while being on the water, is not really a good spot to bring in large crowds.  The highway access is not good and there is a real residential neighborhood right there.  Jefferson was clearly problematic.  And the Tribune land, while probably having a cool outfield view, is really tight.  So what is left in Tampa?

So what’s left for the Rays to choose from in Tampa? There’s the Tampa Park Apartments between downtown and Ybor City. There are more problematic sites far from downtown such as the Florida State Fairgrounds and the Tampa Greyhound Track. 

Coincidentally, the Tampa Bay Apartments is still our favorite site (aside from somewhere near the Amalie arena).  It would help connect downtown and Ybor City and give patrons something to do before and after the games if they want (and relatively convenient parking garages).  It is near the streetcar, whatever becomes of that, which also helps with access, parking, and pre/post game entertainment issues.  It will help redevelop the area.  And the site has decent access from both the interstates and the Selmon, as well as some surface roads

The one downside of the site is that open air or retractable roof stadiums tend, for baseball reasons, to have the batters looking east, which means the view looking towards the outfield will not include downtown, but that is a small thing.

Of course, even if a site is chosen, there still is the issue of paying for it and the stadium.

Downtown/Channel District – More Buying

SPP, the Lightning owners company bought more land last week.

Strategic Property Partners has acquired more property in Tampa’s urban core, including an events venue where the developer will move its offices and launch a marketing center for its project.

SPP, the real estate company controlled by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investment LLC, said Friday that it has closed on the 20,000-square-foot District 3 building at 802 E. Whiting St. as well as an adjacent 12,000-square-foot office building at 817 E. Washington St.

* * *

SPP will vacate its offices in Channelside Bay Plaza to move into the District 3 building in early 2018. The tenant in 817 E. Washington will remain.

Which is interesting, but more interesting is this:

The first phase of SPP’s development will include a full-service grocer, a boutique hotel, corporate office space and residential units. Ferg’s Channelside will be demolished to make way for a boutique office building. . .

“As we prepare for construction to begin on our phase 1 projects in 2018, our office space requirements have evolved, and our staff has grown,” SPP CEO James Nozar said in a statement. “The District 3 space is ideal for the collaborative work style that our staff enjoys, and with our high-quality design team onboard, we will breathe new life into this historic property.”

We have a general date when the main project will start.  This is the map included with the article:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

Interestingly, the map has residential where the USF Med School parking garage goes (plus a grocery store, though it is not clear what kind).  That did not show up in the USF Med School rendering.  It is not entirely clear if there will be residential there or, if there is, how it will relate to the large garage.  Apparently, we shall find out relatively soon.

Channel District – Another Buy

Another major downtown land owner bought some more land last week.

The twin brothers who own and operate 717 Parking Enterprises have added a historic warehouse in downtown Tampa’s Channel district to their growing real estate portfolio.

Jason and John Accardi said Thursday that they have closed on the warehouse at 223 N. 12th St., known as the Artists Unlimited Inc. building for when it served as a collaborative space for local artists. The warehouse is 26,000 square feet and the purchase includes an adjacent surface parking lot.

* * *

Jane Levin and Barry Hanerfeld from Cushman & Wakefield of Florida Inc. have been retained to market the space for lease to a “unique retail, office and or urban work space environment,” the Accardis said in a news release. The building has high ceilings and exposed brick walls throughout.

We hope that is actually the use, though we worry that the location it will be mostly used for surface parking, which, after all, is their main business.  We’ll just have to see about that, too.

Ybor City – Project List

The Times (on its Tribune website) had an article on one of the major developers involved in Ybor City.   While it was nice, we are not as interested in the personal profile part as the list they provided:

Projects of Quintela-Shaw partnership

And a couple of renderings that we have seen before, but still:

Casa Pedroso:

From – click on picture for article

The Marti:

From – click on picture for article

We like most of these projects and their attention to the feel of Ybor.  And all this activity is one more reason that the City should keep public land for future use.

West Tampa – Demolition

This week, the City started clearing some land which in the “West River” area.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn hopped into a giant excavator Wednesday morning to take the first bite out of the Water and Wastewater Maintenance Yard on Rome Avenue in West Tampa.

The city is demolishing the structure at that site to make room portions of the $350 million West River redevelopment plan, which includes a massive rehab to parts of West Tampa along the Hillsborough River north of downtown.

You can see the property here.  As you can see, it is not waterfront, but near where there could be waterfront development.

Plans call for putting out a proposals request for developers to build on the N Rome Avenue property, which the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser’s Office estimates has a market value of $2.5 million. Buckhorn doesn’t know what he expects to get for the site, since the city has not yet done an appraisal. Invitations to bid will probably go out in a few months.

The land has good views of downtown, and Buckhorn expected the property would be well-suited for an apartment complex with six- to eight-story buildings.

* * *

The site is a designated “brownfield,” meaning it may have contamination that would need to be cleaned up. For now, the city will demolish nine buildings on the site but leave the asphalt in place. The eventual developer will be eligible for state tax credits and other incentives for doing the cleanup.

The reality is that we don’t really know what might go here.  While the North Boulevard Homes project has slowed down because the Housing Authority did not get a federal grant, there is a case to me made for waiting to put out the RFP on the Rome property until the North Boulevard Homes project moves farther forward for two reasons: first, with more development towards downtown in this area making it part of a redeveloped urban neighborhood, this land will be more valuable, and, second, we will likely get a better project in a developer area than an empty area with only the promise of future redevelopment nearby.  We know waiting is hard (we have long wanted to see this area redeveloped), but, in the long run, it may very well be the better thing to do.

Transportation – Brightline Happenings

Just last week, we discussed a statement from Brightline (formerly All Aboard Florida) that they are going to look at connecting to Tampa in their next stage. This week, there were a couple of relevant news items regarding.  First:

Grupo Mexico, a mining and rail conglomerate, is buying the Florida East Coast Railway Holdings Corp. for $2.1 billion under an agreement announced Tuesday.


The sale of Jacksonville-based FEC Railway, which is owned by Fortress Investment Group, will have no impact on the company’s other holdings — including the Brightline passenger train operation in South Florida.

The investment group also owns Florida East Coast Industries, the parent company of All Aboard Florida, developer and owner of the Brightlight passenger train system being built from Miami to West Palm Beach and Orlando.

“The sale of the Florida East Coast Railway does not impact Brightline,” said a spokeswoman, AnneMarie Mathews. “Brightline is a separate company that has dual ownership of the corridor and the right to operate passenger service.”



A bill that could have made bringing high-speed rail to Tampa more difficult died in the Florida Legislature Tuesday.

House Bill 269 would have increased state and local regulatory authority over high-speed rail, but was temporarily postponed in the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee. Tuesday was the subcommittee’s final meeting, which means the bill will not be heard again.

That is good to hear.

Transportation – What Is Transit Worth in Home Prices

There was an interesting item from Redfin regarding the effect on housing values of access to transit using the WalkScore transit score.

Homes with great transit access are extremely rare in U.S. cities. Less than one percent of homes that are listed for sale today are considered to be in a rider’s paradise (Transit Score of 90 and above). Yet in a survey of more than 1,300 people who bought a home last year, more than one in five said they wish they had paid more attention to the length of their commute from their new homes.To estimate how much transit access is worth when buying or selling a home, Redfin looked at the sale prices and Transit Score ratings of more than one million homes sold between January 2014 and April 2016 across 14 major metro areas.Here are the price premiums of one point of Transit Score on a home, grouped by metro area.

* * *

On average, across the 14 metros analyzed, one Transit Score point can increase the price of a home by $2,040. But the price premium varies widely from metro to metro. One point of Transit Score in Atlanta bumps up the price of a home over one full percentage point, or $1,901.

You can see the results in more detail on the website here.

An Urbanism Tool

We also ran across a very interesting tool from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Atlas of Re-Urbanism.

As the National Trust’s ReUrbanism initiative seeks to build the successful, inclusive, and resilient cities of tomorrow, the Atlas of ReUrbanism is a tool for urban leaders and advocates to better understand and leverage the opportunities that exist in American cities.

The Atlas of ReUrbanism takes the massive amount of data currently available about cities and makes it more accessible, allowing for the exploration and discovery of connections between older buildings and economic, demographic, environmental measures. Whether you’re an activist, journalist, developer, or resident, the Atlas of ReUrbanism contains detailed information about the businesses and residents, buildings and blocks that make cities work for everyone. 

It includes a large amount of information, including maps (see here):

The Atlas of ReUrbanism is an evolving and expanding tool, allowing users to explore the built environment of American cities, block by block. Using our maps, you can interact with data on your city’s built assets, and click to layer demographic, economic, and environmental data from the U.S. Census, American Community Survey, and more. The maps focus on the Character Score for buildings and blocks across 50 U.S. cities, as established in the Preservation Green Lab’s Older, Smaller, Better report. Individual building and block characteristics are also selectable and viewable.

So far they do not have maps of Florida cities, though those are apparently coming.  Nevertheless, the website is very interesting for those interested in such things.

Just Because We Can

Here is a recent picture of Aquatica on Bayshore:

(c) Tampasphere – Click on picture for larger version


Roundup 3-24-2017

March 24, 2017



Transportation – Survey City

— Streetcar Survey

— Some Questions

— Some Thoughts

— Bottom Line

— Regional Transportation Survey

— Conclusion

Transportation – More on Rearranging

Transportation – Another Interesting Bill

Economic Development – The Biomed Back Office Cluster

Transportation – Rocky (including Wasatch) Mountain High

Downtown/Channel District – USF Med School

Rocky Point – Hotel to Start

Transportation – Ferry News

Downtown/West Tampa – Ugh

Transportation – More Than a Rumor, Less Than a Proposal

MacDill – The More the Merrier

Tampa Heights – Progress

Why Reinvent the Wheel?



The Census released their 2016 population estimates on Thursday. For the first time, the Tampa-St Pete-Clearwater metropolitan area is listed as having more than 3 million people, 3,032,171 to be exact.  Sarasota-Bradenton has 788,457 and Lakeland-Winter Haven has 666,149.

All the counties in the Tampa Bay area grew (Manatee 3.5%, Pasco 3%, Polk 2.66%, Hillsborough 2.16%, Hernando 2.5%, Sarasota 1.9%, with even Pinellas county growing by a respectable 1.3%).  Even with not the highest growth rate because of its size, Hillsborough County had the tenth largest actual increase in terms of numeric change among counties. (In Florida, only Orange County gained more people)

The Times crunched some other numbers:

South Florida grew by nearly 65,000 residents from births and migration, and its population stood at more than 6 million last year.

The Tampa area grew to 3 million residents last year, adding 61,000 residents through natural increases and migration. Orlando grew overall by nearly 60,000 residents and had a population of 2.4 million residents last year.

* * *

The U.S. Census Bureau on Thursday said the Tampa area had the nation’s fourth-highest gain from people moving there last year. Some 58,000 new residents moved there.

South Florida had the nation’s seventh highest gain from migration, adding about 48,000 residents who moved there.

Orlando added nearly 47,000 residents through migration, placing it at No. 8.

Coincidentally, 3 million people was about the size of the Dallas-Ft. worth area when they began building their light rail system.  And it is far larger than other cities when they started theirs.

Transportation – Survey City

As anyone who follows such things knows, there are a general transit study and a streetcar study underway in our area.  As part of both studies, there are online surveys.  The one for the streetcar is here  and the regional transit study is here.

We are all for gathering public input and are all for participation in these surveys.  People should take them, but with the understanding that there are some issues. The overriding issue is whether they will produce truly useful information.

— Streetcar Survey

Let’s start with the streetcar survey.

— Some Questions

In it, you will be asked:

What is the biggest transportation challenge facing downtown and surrounding neighborhoods? *

Safety for pedestrians and cyclists

Traffic congestion

Walkability / ease of access between destinations

Cost of transit and other shared mobility services

Availability of transit options

Event related parking and traffic

Access to parking

You can only give one answer.  But there are multiple challenges facing downtown and they are interrelated.  Arguably lack of transit is the key to all that so you can put “availability of transit options.”  Fine.  But then you get to the meat of the survey, where coming up with a pat answer gets harder.  You have this:

What PRIMARY TRAVEL MARKETS should we focus for a streetcar mobility solution? *

Downtown residents

Transit-dependent people

Commuters to downtown jobs

Visitors to Ybor City

Patrons of cultural and entertainment venues

Convention attendees

Visitors from Tampa International Airport  

It asks for markets but only lets you choose one.  A rational system should serve more than one market (a well planned system would create opportunities for basically all those markets to use it) so how do you answer that?  And does limiting the answers give a real picture of what the respondents want?

Then, it gets to the real heart of the matter asking what kind of system you think the streetcar should be, giving you these choices:

Downtown Circulator

A downtown circulator service would be designed to connect housing, jobs, and shopping destinations, and provide a convenient alternative to driving for downtown residents and workers. Service within the downtown core and close-in neighborhoods would be frequent and would run from early morning through late evening.

* * *

Venue Connector

A venue connector service would be designed to directly link cultural, entertainment, and tourist destinations in Downtown and close in neighborhoods. The service would focus on serving the needs of visitors with stop locations close to key venues and service hours and frequency designed to service visitors and event patrons.

* * *

Subregional Link

A subregional link service would be designed to allow for future connections to activity centers in the City such as Westshore and Tampa International Airport. To serve a broader area and more distant destinations, such a service would have fewer stops downtown and faster travel speeds.

We get the distinction of a downtown circulator.  It does not help anyone get in and out of downtown, just around it.  Then you have venue connector.  A transportation system, including a downtown circulator, should connect to venues – it is just a matter of how many and which ones.  (Though clearly any system should not just be for visitors.  That is what we basically have now, and it does not work well.)  The circulator and venue ideas are not mutually exclusive – in fact, they complement each other.

And then there is the idea of a “subregional link.”  URBN Tampa Bay has this to say about subregional link option:

They don’t get into the specifics in the poll, but we have seen the proposal’s details elsewhere. This “subregional” concept would route the streetcar from downtown Tampa to the Westshore area, via the median of I-275 as part of the $9 billion TBX boondoggle FDOT is pushing, with no intermediate stops between downtown and Westshore.

In our opinion, this concept is a non-starter, as such an alignment is not designed to serve urban commuters moving within the urban core, but would instead turn the only piece of true urban mobility we have in Tampa, into another amenity designed to serve suburban commuters cutting across town. That’s flat out an unacceptable use of urban taxpayer’s money. Urban tax collections need to start benefiting urban residents. Period.

We do not know if that is the plan for subregional rail or not because the City has been lacking in providing information regarding the concept of the downtown-Westshore rail, including during the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough process. (Though this presentation to the City Council does seem to indicate that at least the 275 median is a main consideration.)  Whatever they are considering, the survey should say it – clearly.

Anyway, digging around the streetcar study website, this is the closest we could find was from a page 81 of the pdf of a Presentation at the March 7, 2017 meeting:

From City of Tampa website – click on map for document

It is quite vague (and not included in the online survey) and includes no real route or stop options, though it implies, without clearly saying, that there is consideration for at least a stop at West Tampa. (And the graphic does show that the City priorities remain the same from the failed 2010 plan.)

— Some Thoughts

Because the subregional concept is not entirely clear and the survey does not allow for a detail discussion, this seems like as good a place as any to elaborate what we would consider a reasonable “subregional” concept.

The whole point of a transportation system is to transport people – from home to work, to events, to the airport (which is why the “venue” idea makes no sense – people rarely just travel from one venue to another).  A line as described by URBN Tampa Bay above would not do that. (And, if that is the plan, it would leave the “West River” redevelopment area without transit).

We are all for a line from downtown to Westshore/TIA, but any reasonably designed system that has any hope of improving transportation in central Tampa and eventually being expanded to form the spine of a larger system would have to have stops in between Westshore and downtown (and more than just one at West Tampa) to make it useful for urban residents as well as people coming from farther out. It should function more like light rail than a streetcar – with dedicated right of way, faster speed, and fewer stops (at least more distance between stops; the overall number might be the same or increase depending on length of the route) – but, again, with enough intermediate stops and stops near important locations and venues to make it actually useful for potential riders.

As for using the median of 275, that its own issues of making the stops attractive and easy enough to use to convince people to ride and promote development along the line. It is possible to use the median, but it would have to be done very carefully and not on the cheap.

In sum, we would support a properly designed true starter line (not just a City rail line) between downtown and Westshore/TIA.  It should be expandable into the County – especially the near County – and any rail should be relatively quick (far faster than the streetcar is now).  But it also needs to have useful stops and plan for the future when the central part of Tampa (which is Westshore to Ybor) gets denser.  And any system should be designed to be expanded.

— Bottom Line

All this highlights the problem with the survey as a whole – its vagueness.  It does not allow for full answers, it does not even ask full questions, and does not flesh out its concepts.  That vagueness leaves it unclear just what is being asked – and open to manipulation. And even if you argue that things will get fleshed out later, remember the early survey are used to limit later surveys, so inaccuracy early on jsut gets amplified.  Moreover, all of these things should have been discussed during or even before the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough process.

So take that survey.  It is a way to provide input, and it is what we have. Just understand its flaws and don’t assume the results will adequately reflect the thoughts of the participants.

— Regional Transportation Survey

The Regional survey is a completely different animal.  It basically asks if you think there should be better transit and why in a one page survey.  Frankly, it is just an unscientific poll, the utility of which is questionable simply because it is so minimal.  On the other hand, the website for the study provides some interesting information, like the timeline.

From – click on chart for website

And a presentation for what the whole study is about.  And a summary of that:

The Regional Transit Feasibility Plan is underway. This effort will evaluate opportunities for premium transit within the urbanized areas of Hillsborough, Pasco, and Pinellas Counties.

The purpose is to identify projects for the Tampa Bay region that have the greatest potential to be funded (compete for federal grants)and be implemented, are the most forward thinking and make the best use of today’s technology, and best serve our region today while supporting tomorrow’s growth.

Our region is growing, a trend that will continue in the years to come. We have an amazing system of roads with several projects planned and under consideration to ensure our world-class road system remains effective well into the future. While these projects will help, widening and improving our roads alone will not satisfy long-term needs brought on by our growing region. We need to look for complementary mobility options to connect our region and promote continued economic growth and job opportunities.

We would have rather not had so much hype and a little more focus on the point.  If we had such a great transportation infrastructure (like that “world-class road system” – which, no matter what it actually means, we don’t have), we wouldn’t need to study.

— Conclusion

So, by all means, do the surveys.  But remember that they ask your opinion of a limited number of options that are not really explained.

Transportation – More on Rearranging

A few weeks ago we discussed a legislative proposal to change TBARTA to make it a transit agency and reform its structure. (You can follow along with the legislative fun here)  That is moving forward.

A legislative measure aimed at restructuring the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority to foster greater regional connectivity passed its first committee stop in the Florida House of Representatives Tuesday.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee voted 14-0 on the bill. The measure would change the “transportation” in TBARTA to “transit” and eliminate some local representation in favor of state appointees who represent the local business community.

* * *

The measure, which is also sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater,) amended language that would have limited city representation from the existing board.

The transit agencies in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties would maintain a seat at the table. In the original bill the Florida Senate president and Speaker of the House would each appoint two members from the regional business community. The amendment reduces that to one each.

The amendment answers some criticism that ceding local control to appointed members could have reduced input from the urban centers that drive transportation decisions.

Looking at the amendment, it basically makes the Tampa and St. Pete Mayors board members (though not in so many words).   That is fine, even if it ignores that they have half representation as all the counties (2 seats to 4) while not representing the vast majority of even their own county populations.

More importantly, the amendment does not address our major question: why the appointed members should come from the “regional business community” or what that even means (which no one really knows because it is left undefined.)  For the sake of argument, if it means anyone with a job or who buys anything (a consumer is arguably part of the “regional business community”), it is superfluous language.  If it means anything else, as we noted previously, people other than the business community have an interest in transportation. Sure, business people will be on the board, but there has been no explanation or justification for limiting public membership to them (however they are eventually defined) or how other residents and their interests will be represented and protected.

And then there is this:

“This bill gives me pause,” Newton said, referring to the fact that Tampa Bay voters have rejected recent tax referendums on transit. “I don’t see how changing a board is going to do that.”

Which does raise a relevant point. The problem with transit in this area hasn’t really been mayors, other local officials, and the business community not working together. It is that they have not come up with a plan they could sell.  We still wonder how that will be addressed.

Which leads into this: the proposed structure risks adding to the impression, right or wrong, of many that whatever is proposed is a backroom deal between politicians and big business and help rally opposition. Adding some other voices will enhance the process and give it greater legitimacy.

The Chair of the Tampa Bay Partnership, which appears to be the driving force behind the bill had this to say, among other things:

This legislation is a critical first step to creating a seamless regional transit system that successfully addresses these issues. We thank the sponsor, Rep. Dan Raulerson, and the members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee, which includes Bay Area Legislative Delegation members Rep. Amber Mariano, Rep. Ralph Massullo, Rep. Wengay Newton and Rep. Jackie Toledo, for recognizing the importance of this bill and allowing it to move forward through the legislative process. Their actions today encouraged continued discussion and allow for future efforts to improve the bill. 

And that is positive.  We are all for getting TBARTA to be useful and having a regional approach to transit, but this bill needs some tweaking.  And, even with that, a rearranged TBARTA is just a preliminary step. The real issue of coming up with a plan that sells remains.

Transportation – Another Interesting Bill

Sunshine Citizens noted an interesting pair of bills floating around Tallahassee.

The “High-occupancy Toll Lanes and Express Lanes” bill is known as SB250 in the Florida Senate and HB777 in the State House. You can find your Senator and Representatives here:

This bill helps put an end to the addition of express toll lanes on our interstates throughout the state. And it ensures that all new toll roads will pay for themselves, repealing the tolls once the bond debt is paid off. We think this is a smart plan and ensures that we only plan and pay for infrastructure and roads that are truly needed.

You can find the bills here. Among other things, the bills provide:

High-occupancy toll lanes or express lanes may not be created on or after July 1, 2017. Upon elimination of the tolls on existing high-occupancy toll lanes or express lanes pursuant to subsection (1), such lanes may continue to exist but not as high-occupancy toll lanes or express lanes

The bill would put a crimp in the TBX plan, though we have no idea if it has a chance to pass and be signed.  We’ll see what happens.

Economic Development – The Biomed Back Office Cluster

There was news about more jobs in Tampa:

Biotechnology giant Amgen is opening a facility in Tampa this October with promises to create as many as 450 jobs here by 2018.

The facility will be primarily back-office operations spanning four floors of Corporate Center One in Tampa, which neighbors Tampa International Airport to the east.

Amgen, which is investing $25 million in the Tampa project, specializes in developing medicine for diseases with few treatment options. Their focus areas include: oncology and hematology, cardiovascular disease, inflammation, bone health, nephrology and neuroscience. Based in Thousand Oaks, Calif., the company operates in nearly 100 countries with nearly 20,000 employees worldwide.

* * *

Amgen did not receive any tax incentives through the state job-creation agency Enterprise Florida, or any local incentives, economic development officials said. 

First, the jobs are definitely welcome.  We welcome all jobs.  We also find it interesting that there were no incentives.  That is also a positive, not for a political reason, but because it shows an ability to attract the jobs, though given our well-developed back-office history that is not so surprising.

The only thing is that, much as we are happy these jobs are coming, we would really like to have actual life sciences jobs in addition to back-office jobs. Then we will really be forming a biomed cluster.  Maybe the life science back office jobs will serve as a gateway to the heart of the business, but that remains to be seen.

Transportation – Rocky (including Wasatch) Mountain High

There were a number of news items from the airport in the last few weeks.  First, adding to the accolades, the airport came in third in Money Magazine’s The 10 Best U.S. Airports for a Stress-Free Trip

Silver: Tampa International Airport (TPA)

Florida’s Tampa airport ranked highest for the ease of its security process in J.D. Power’s 2016 survey. That’s a particular achievement, considering that J.D. Power reported an 8% increase in the wait time travelers spent in security lines over the past year. Tampa owes its speed to a decentralized design with multiple security checkpoints. That gives travelers more time to explore the 45 shops and 34 restaurants, a dozen of which opened in the second half of 2016 alone. Southwest, a top MONEY airline, is Tampa’s largest carrier, serving about 35% of the airport’s passengers.

That pesky Portland airport came in first.  Salt Lake City came in second.  Speaking of Salt Lake City,

Delta Airlines is launching a new nonstop daily flight from Tampa International Airport to Salt Lake City starting Dec. 21. 

Cue the cool graphic:

Screengrab from a Tampa International Airport video – click on picture for tweet with the video

The nonstop daily year-round flights will begin Dec. 21 on a Boeing 737, departing for Salt Lake City at 7 a.m. and arriving at 9:41 a.m. Service from Salt Lake City to Tampa will depart at 5:15 p.m. and arrive at 11:41 p.m.

That is a good schedule.

TIA has been working on getting this nonstop route for about a year, Strickland said. The airport did a study and found that Salt Lake City, as a destination, suffered from an abnormally high amount of travelers diverting from Tampa and going to Orlando to get a nonstop flight to the Utah capital. 

This flight will help retain some of those lost passengers and develop more traffic.  As usual, we also like the airport’s methodical approach;

“We added Seattle and then San Francisco and now Salt Lake City,” Lopano said in a telephone interview. “It’s very difficult to get that first route, but once you start adding routes, people start noticing. Our strategy is working. Tampa just added three (Western) destinations. Airlines have taken notice of our growing market.”

Indeed, it seems they have:

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Starting later this spring and summer, Frontier Airlines will launch seasonal service to five cities from Colorado Springs. . . Later this fall, Frontier will add new seasonal service to both Fort Myers and Tampa, Fla. Frontier is offering special introductory fares as low as $29* on these new routes as of today at 

Once again, the airport is showing why it gets so much love in this area.

Downtown/Channel District – USF Med School

Recently, the rendering of the USF Med School was released.  For all their glitz, literally, renderings are nice but real details are nicer.  URBN Tampa Bay recently posted a first floor plan for the building.

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

You can find a bigger version here.

The notable detail is the 14,000 sq. feet of retail facing Channelside and the plaza.  It is unclear what will go there (probably a restaurant in at least one space), but having this retail is a positive sign that the building will be integrated into the surrounding area and not be just a dead academic streetscape.

Rocky Point – Hotel to Start

It seems that a hotel on Rocky Point is finally going to start construction.

A boutique hotel with a rooftop bar will celebrate its groundbreaking next week on the Rocky Point waterfront.

Current, which will be the Tampa Bay region’s third Autograph Collection by Marriott property, is a 180-room, nine-story hotel on the former Crawdaddy’s Restaurant property, which is currently used as the Rusty Pelican’s overflow parking. A groundbreaking ceremony is slated for March 30.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

Setting aside the rendering trying to make a nine-story building look towering, the building looks fine and the rooftop bar should have great views.  We just wish that Rocky Point had been developed properly.  It has residential, office, and hotel (not to mention a great location), but they are built in such a way that it is very difficult to get around the island, certainly by walking or biking.  It could have been so much better.

Transportation – Ferry News

There was more news about the ferry ridership:

The Cross-Bay Ferry is now attracting enough riders to send money back to the local governments that helped finance the 6-month pilot project, said Ed Turanchik, a project advisor.

In just the last 40 days, Turanchik said in an email, more than $50,000 in operating revenue has been returned to the City of St. Petersburg, the City of Tampa, Hillsborough County and Pinellas County.

That’s because HMS Ferries is now covering its management costs, he said, which means money from ticket sales “reverses direction and start(s) going back to the four governments.”

The “switchover” moment happened in late January, and ticket sales are accelerating, Turanchik said. The ferry sold 2,000-plus tickets during the first week of March, with as many weekday tickets sold as weekend tickets.

Which is a good sign (though nowhere near the money that local governments paid for the test), though the increase in ridership is not surprising given it is tourist season and

After a bumpy start, the CrossBay Ferry linking the downtowns of St. Petersburg and Tampa had a good month of February, helped by slashing weekday ticket prices in half.

A record 6,070 tickets were sold last month, a 57 percent increase from January. Ferry operators credit cutting the weekday one-way fare from $10 to $5 and also cutting by half a value package. 

As we have said many times, one of the problems with the test was the high fare, so cutting prices logically brought more ridership.  On the other hand, the whole purpose of a test is to find the sweet spot (if there is one) for the fare, so good for them for adjusting. Sadly, the trial is almost over.  We would really be interested to see how the ferry functions in the summer when it is hot and rainy.

Downtown/West Tampa – Ugh

The Housing Authority is caught in another muddle (in addition to the Tempo muddle and having to ditch the initial developer for redoing North Boulevard Homes):

The Housing Authority is being sued by a developer who agreed to a $7.4 million contract to buy land and develop a hotel and residential block as part of the Encore project on the northeast edge of downtown.

The Housing Authority in July terminated its contract with Pinnacle Group Holdings after giving it two years to close on the deal, officials said. The Tampa development firm, owned by Frank DeBose, had paid a $50,000 deposit for the land and subsequently paid $250,000 in additional deposits to extend the closing date.

In what may be a first step toward a damages claim, Pinnacle is suing the Housing Authority, saying it failed to fully comply with a public records request. It is seeking records that would show that the agency was working behind the scenes to get another developer, Miami-based Related Group, to take over the project.

From the Times – click on map for article

Of course, there is another side to the story:

Housing Authority officials said the contract with Pinnacle was terminated because the firm defaulted on a $10,000 deposit required for the most recent contract extension, which was signed in April. It was the 10th revision to the original contract. There was also doubt that Pinnacle was ever going to come through with the project.

That decision did not go for approval to the Housing Authority’s governing board because it was made by Central Park Development Group, a development entity composed of the Housing Authority and Banc of America Community Development Corp., said Leroy Moore, the agency’s chief operating officer.

“As we got longer and longer into the contract, we kept saying to them, ‘the extensions are going to stop,’ ” he said.

You can read the article here for all the details.   We are not going to judge any of this, because we have no basis to judge any of it.  At this point, it is just two stories being told.  The real question is whether the Housing Authority is going to sell the lots to Related and, even more importantly, why the Housing Authority seems to do everything the hard way.  With Encore now and the North Boulevard Homes on the horizon, we need the Housing Authority to focus on the actual projects not these kind of distractions.

Transportation – More Than a Rumor, Less Than a Proposal

We have often asked why the discussion regarding the Brightline (formerly All Aboard Florida) rail has been so muted here.  Frankly, we are still wondering, but there was a tidbit from Brightline itself which is intriguing.

Executives responsible for Florida’s Brightline passenger rail project say they’re open to taking passenger services to other U.S. markets that could “benefit from the type of service” Brightline offers. Tampa, Fla., is a definite.

The news comes as Florida East Coast Industries executives announced that they’ve hired a former Madison Square Garden and New York Mets executive, Dave Howard, as Brightline CEO. His job is to get the FEC subsidiary ready to start Miami-West Palm Beach passenger operations this summer. Current Brightline President Mike Reininger moves to a new position as Executive Director at FECI to concentrate on constructing the line to Orlando International Airport.

In a Trains News Wire interview with both men, Reininger made it clear that the reason for the reorganization now is that the parent company intends to expand and replicate Brightline’s passenger rail blueprint to other markets, starting with the next segment from Orlando’s airport to Tampa, Fla., while “Dave can keep his hand on the wheel of the operating company.”

“Tampa is Florida’s next largest population center. For years we’ve had an expression of interest from leaders in that marketplace who are more than a little interested in a connection into our service,” Reininger says, “So we will be able to research and apply ourselves to that opportunity for sure. And [Florida East Coast Railway] already controls the right-of-way into Jacksonville, so we will start to explore whether that is a feasible and reasonable alternative.”

The first thing to note is that they say Brightline will research the opportunity for connecting to Tampa.  There is no imminent plan, and there may never be one.  Second, it seems someone has been talking behind the scenes, though it is not clear who that was.  Regardless, if there is a statewide transportation network, we need to be connected.

And we’ll just toss this out: right now Brightline is connecting to Orlando’s airport, which is not really the best option for a connection from here to Orlando, though it is fine if you are going to Miami.  Moreover, where would the connection be in Tampa?  Would it be in the land that was to be for a high speed rail station?  Union Station, which is already built and has land around it that could be redeveloped?  Should it go all the way to the airport? What is best for the City and area? (If you look at page 25 of this consultant presentation to HART , at least one consultant thinks that the station will go where the flour mill in the Channel District now is, though we wonder if CSX would let a competitor use its rails or if the competitor would even want to.)  And, of course, none of locations have any connection to local transit – even the streetcar.

It will be interesting to see what, if anything, happens.

MacDill – The More the Merrier

MacDill may be in line to get more tankers.

The Tampa Bay Times has learned that MacDill is one of two bases competing to host 12 more KC-135 Stratotanker aerial refueling jets and the estimated 400 personnel who come with them.

That is in addition to 16 Stratotankers already there and another eight set to begin arriving this year.

The Air Force is moving the planes to make room for newer KC-46A Pegasus tankers — part of a $50 billion program to replace the aging fleet of Stratotankers with 179 new planes by 2028.

The 12 Stratotankers will be coming from McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, Kan., said Ann Stefanek, an Air Force spokeswoman. MacDill is competing with Fairchild Air Force Base near Spokane, Wash., for the older jets.

The more activity at MacDill the better.  It is already an important base and more activity protects its status that much more.  The one thing we don’t get is this:

Twice, the Air Force has found MacDill unsuitable to house the new tankers.

If MacDill is good enough for the older tankers, we are not clear why it is isn’t good enough for the new ones?  We are happy to get the relocated Stratotankers and possibly some more, but we would be even happier to have the next generation.

Tampa Heights – Progress

And, just because we want to and it is a cool picture, here is the latest photo from The Heights, showing the Pearl under construction to the left.

From the Heights – click on picture for Facebook page

One thing you can really see in this picture is just how much land they have to work with and just how transformative a full build out of the Heights project would be.

Why Reinvent the Wheel?

Every now and then we come across something that we want to share but that does not really fit into a specific category.  Recently we ran across an interesting online library from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard called the Operational Excellence in Government.

The project seeks to promote government transformation through an open-access website outlining efficiency and cost savings examples. As a free resource, the Operational Excellence project eliminates common financial and functional barriers to attaining, analyzing, and implementing proven practices. The project positively impacts the ability of individual governments to share ideas and build momentum across jurisdictions to achieve operational goals.

By providing a free resource to inform and support government transformation, Operational Excellence in Government promotes the attainability of effective governance across all jurisdictions, ultimately leading to a more effective, efficient, and accountable government for all.

As the project develops we will populate the website with additional resources, case studies, and tools highlighting efficiency initiatives and successful government implementation projects.  

Basically, it is an online library of reports from various jurisdictions about efficiency and best practices.  The idea is to disseminate good ideas and make it easier to spread those practices without having to create new reports in every jurisdiction.  Our local governments, which are so fond of consultants, seem like they could use it.  It can be found here.

Roundup 3-17-2017

March 16, 2017

There will be no Roundup this week.

Roundup 3-10-2017

March 10, 2017


Transportation – Rearranging

— Yes, Florida, You Can Change a Road Plan


— Bottom Line

Transportation – Streetcar Thoughts

Economic Development – Another Look At How We Are Doing

Downtown/Hyde Park – Lafayette Place Gets the OK

South Tampa – New Day at New Port Tampa Bay

Transportation – Airport Gets More Well-Deserved Kudos

Port – Containment

Hyde Park/Built Environment – It Can Be Done


Transportation – Rearranging

As usual, there was much news about transportation, though the actual impact is not clear.

— Yes, Florida, You Can Change a Road Plan

First up was this little nugget.

The Showtime Speedway, once thought to be a temporary attraction until a connecting road was built, is here to stay.

State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and speedway’s owner Bob Yoho recently announced that a compromise was made with the Florida Department of Transportation to reconfigure a planned road connecting Interstate 275 to the Bayside Bridge so that it bypasses the speedway. The change will allow the quarter-mile, figure-8 speedway and dragstrip originally named the Sunshine Speedway to continue operating.

Latvala said it took “just me sitting down with the department and explaining how important this was to people in the community and they just figured out a way to do it.”

“We worked with the property owner and were able to design the Gateway Expressway so the roadway alignment did not impact the operations of the Speedway,” said FDOT spokeswoman Kris Carson.

The road will run on the drag strip’s west side and will be more compact, with walls as buffers instead of dirt. Yoho said the speedway will lose some parking. 

So, as shown with the Howard Frankland issues, it is clear that FDOT plans are subject to change.  And like the Howard Frankland, the impetus for the change came from a Pinellas State Senator (the same one, in fact) who bothered to voice concern.  That’s all it took.

Sadly, there does not appear to be anyone in Hillsborough County that cares enough to get some fixes to TBX through Tampa.  As we have said a number of times, the biggest blame for TBX and bad local planning is on local officials.  But legislators could get changes.


The other big transportation news was a move to change TBARTA.

Two Tampa Bay area lawmakers are looking to put a dent in the region’s long-stagnant access to transit by creating a regional entity to oversee plans throughout the region rather than isolating solutions to individual counties.

* * *

Sen. Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater) and Rep. Dan Raulerson (R-Plant City) filed bills to replace the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority with the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority. The bill represents a lot more than just changing “transportation” to “transit,” and aims to include local business leaders. 

You can find the senate bill here.

The Business Journal told us this about the proposed new TBARTA:

The bills filed in the Florida House and Senate would charge a restructured TBARTA with coordinating regionally significant transportation projects and creating a conflict resolution process to address problems associated with implementing regional plans.

The new board would be immediately tasked with establishing a committee structure and plan for developing a regional transit plan and bringing those findings back to the legislature ahead of the 2018 session.

The legislation would leave intact local transit agencies like the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority and the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, but would create a regional board whose sole purpose would be to establish regional connectivity plans. Those plans could later be implemented through a series of interlocal agreements.

Interestingly, that is pretty much what TBARTA does.  So what are the changes? The biggest addition is (starting line 313 in the pdf):

(a) Plan, implement, and operate mobility improvements and expansions of multimodal transportation options for passengers and freight throughout the designated seven-county Tampa Bay region.

(b) Produce a regional transit development plan, integrating the transit development plans of participant counties, to include a prioritization of regionally significant transit projects and facilities.

As a general idea, we are fine with that.  However, we are not sure it solves the problem of how they would operate anything and how HART and PSTA would fit in to the mix.  It is also not clear where any money would come from.

Another issue arises from another big change, which was referred to above: the structure of the board. From Stpetersblog:

The board would consist of 13 members, three of whom would be selected by the Governor. The Senate President and Speaker of the House would get two selections. The four counties would select one representative; there would be one representative from the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA). They would serve two year terms, for no longer than three terms. 

What is not made clear in the articles is that the people appointed by the Governor, Speaker, and President of the Senate who would be the clear majority of the board have to be “members from the regional business community.” While, as a practical matter, people appointed to boards are often successful business people and the business community definitely has an interest and should be involved, it is unclear why there should be a statutory requirement that the citizens involved need to be exclusively businesspeople rather than people interested in serving with knowledge to do a good job.

Even more problematic though is that “members from the regional business community” is not defined.  If you are going to put it in a law, the meaning needs to be clear.  Do you have to own a business or do you just have to have a job somewhere?  Does your business have to be a certain size?  What is the “regional business community” as opposed to just a small business? What if you are retired? What if you are a professor?  What if you hit the lottery and decide to serve but never owned a big company?

And a final concern is that most of the members of the board are appointed from Tallahassee. What of local interests other than the business community?

We do not have a ready-made, air-tight solution, especially given that the Hillsborough County Commissioners put anti-transit people on the HART board. Yes, the composition of a board requires balancing various interests, but the bill as written is not very balanced.

— Bottom Line

We are all for having a real regional transit authority that can actually do something.  We appreciate that the State Senator is out front in efforts to get the region to work together and has been the one to show that TBX is not set in stone.  We think the TBARTA bill is a start, but it needs some tweaking.

We are all for the involvement of the business community.  Like we said, as a practical matter, many appointed members of the board will be business people, but the language used in the bill is ambiguous and will lead to problems.  Additionally, there are others who can also provide useful service, and there are other interests that should have a voice.  The bill would be much better if those things were fixed.

And there is always the question of funding. . .

Transportation – Streetcar Thoughts

This week, the City held the first of three public meetings regarding the streetcar in downtown.  From Monday’s Times:

The city’s project, being called “Invision: Tampa Streetcar,” will look at a range of corridors and equipment, including autonomous transit vehicles, and will recommend alternatives and possible funding. If an upgrade is seen to be doable — that decision should come by this summer — then local officials will start to consider a preferred alternative.

Tonight’s meeting will be from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Tampa Bay History Center, 801 Old Water St. Officials say its agenda is to brainstorm on the purpose of and need for the streetcar.

A second meeting to discuss technology and alignment alternatives is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. April 4, also at the history center.

A third and final meeting to discuss results of the effort will take place at 5:30 p.m. May 2 at Hillsborough Community College’s Ybor City campus at 2001 N 14th (Republica de Cuba) St.

Setting aside the small number of meetings, there was something in interesting from the first meeting.  URBN Tampa Bay linked to another Facebook page:

From Kevin Thurman – click on picture for Facebook page

At the streetcar public meeting and when asked the biggest barrier to expanding the streetcar. It wasn’t even close: “Political Will”

Are you listening Tampa/Hillsborough elected officials?

Any regular reader will know, we totally agree with that sentiment about political will. And the best way to develop political will is to call local officials on it.

Economic Development – Another Look At How We Are Doing

The Business Journal had an item about a recent economic report from Brookings:

Median earnings in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metropolitan statistical area slipped 3 percent from 2000 to 2015.

A meager 0.1 percent gain in median earnings in the metro area between 2014 and 2015 still left that benchmark short of where it was at the turn of the century.

Those figures are part of a new Brookings Institution report about economic growth in the 100 largest U.S. metropolitan areas.

In other words, for all the much-talked-about recent boom and job announcements, our incomes are still lacking.  Sure, some people are doing very well, but overall, not so much.  And, while over time, there has been improvement, it is not strong and steady.

We decided to dig a little deeper into the Brookings report (which you can see here), but it only mentioned Tampa once, in the “Inclusion” section, on page 19 of the report (21 of the pdf):

Tampa ranked eighth on reducing the gap in the employment rate between whites and people of color from 2009 to 2014, but its sizable increase in the median wage gap ranked it 85th on that indicator. 

Do with that what you will.

There is a related Brookings database that can be accessed here.  The database measures changes in three categories for three different periods 2005-2015, 2010-2015, and 2014-2015.  The categories are growth, prosperity, and inclusion. You can see the methodology here. To summarize, growth tracks GMP, jobs, and jobs at young firms.  Prosperity tracks standard of living, productivity, and average annual wage.  Inclusion tracks employment rate, median wage, and relative poverty.

Because the report tracks three categories for three different periods, it is difficult to determine an area’s overall rank.  Instead, we have made a chart of major Florida cities and a number of the usual suspects to which we are often compared and/or which are of relatively similar size to us.  We compiled the numbers over the three categories for the three periods.  Finally, because of the difficulty in comparison, we decided to add up the ranks for each area for each period to give a “total” (in red).  The lower the number, the better they have ranked across the three categories.  It is not an exact rank, but just gives a quick reference.  This is a chart of those numbers:

Click on chart for a larger version

A quick glance tells one that Austin and Denver consistently have done pretty well.  The Tampa Bay area did well in the 2010-2015 category which tells us that we have recovered somewhat from the depth of the recession.  On the other hand, the 2005-2015 numbers are not so good, which means we still have not gotten back to where we were before the recession.  The 2014-2015 numbers are not that good either.  There is good growth, but prosperity and inclusion are lacking – which is another indication of our poor wages/incomes, which also can be seen in the relatively poor scores of other Florida areas.  (And note that in this study increased growth can just be more people having low paying jobs, which is better than unemployment, but not really optimal).

As with most of these reports, the most useful part of them is tracking performance over time.  And over time, our Achilles heel has been our low incomes.  The cheap land, cheap labor, real estate based economic model has long been standard in these parts, and, while it has gotten a bit better, it is not clear that it is substantially changing.  Yes, people are working and we are growing (and that is great), but it we still have a long way to go, especially compared to the best performers.  Hopefully, we will get there.

Downtown/Hyde Park – Lafayette Place Gets the OK

Last week, the City Council approved Lafayette Place.

A three-tower complex with more square footage than International Plaza has won final City Council approval, setting the stage for a huge transformation of the area south of the University of Tampa.

John Avlon, president of the Hillsborough River Realty Corp., which owns the property, said the company can now move to the next stage of design for the project, which does not have an announced start date.

“City Council’s unanimous approval of Lafayette Place reflects public confidence in the emerging development which brings new urban density to the west bank of the Hillsborough River,” Avlon said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times.

Lafayette Place will be anchored by Lafayette Tower, a 40-story building rising south of Kennedy Boulevard at the foot of the bridge leading to downtown. It is planned to include 12 floors of hotel rooms and 24 of offices, plus retail.

Lafayette Tower will be connected by a skybridge over Parker Street to the Lafayette Parkview, a neighboring 26-story tower with high-end residential, retail and a parking garage.

A couple of blocks away at Cleveland Street and Hyde Park Avenue will be Lafayette Central, another 26-story residential tower. 

As regular readers will know, our biggest concern about this project is the parking garages, which are really big.  The developer had said that it will have a light feature screening part of one of the parking garages.  Below is the most recent rendering of the project:

From the Times – click on picture for article

You can see the screen on the parking garage to the rear of the rendering on the left side.  From the rendering it does not appear to be much, but it is better than nothing.  Still, you can see how big the garages really are, especially for the neighborhood.

In any event, we did not think the City Council would really address the issue.  That’s just not how they work.  The biggest question remaining is whether this project will get built, especially given that the same group has owned the land for decades and had previous proposals that never happened.  We shall see.

South Tampa – New Day at New Port Tampa Bay

There was more news about the old New Port Tampa Bay project site.

A Fort Lauderdale company, BTI Partners, is moving steadily ahead with plans for what will be a new waterfront community near the intersection of Gandy and Westshore Boulevards. If all comes to pass, there will be apartments, townhomes and condos with sunset views of Tampa Bay. There will be a hotel, shops, a marina and two boat-up restaurants. The public will have access to a waterfront park and up to three miles of trails.

At an estimated cost of more than $600 million, Westshore Marina District will rival other mega-projects that are transforming Tampa’s Channelside district and blighted areas along the Hillsborough River. 

So what is the plan now?

Since 2015, BTI has been successfully marketing the site to builders:

BTI is keeping about eight waterfront acres to develop a pair of condo towers, each about 16 stories with ground-floor shops. A third tower might be added later along with shops, a cafe and hotel.

In all, Westshore Marina District will have about 1,250 residential units — 500 fewer than originally proposed for New Port Tampa Bay. 

We have not said much about this new project, because, while large, it has not been very inspiring. (You can see a site plan here)   The rendering of the Related proposal (here) is quite ordinary.  The other aspects have no renderings.  The one thing that still give us a little hope that this can be more than a generic development is the part about the condo towers with ground-floor shops, but, as New Port Tampa Bay taught us, there is no guarantee.

Transportation – Airport Gets More Well-Deserved Kudos

While we’ve come to expect the airport to get awards and high rankings, it is always nice when it happens.  This week:

On Monday, TIA was named Best Airport in North America in the 15-25 million passengers per year category, as part of the Airport Service Quality awards. The program is conducted by Airports Council International, the international trade group representing airports.

You can dig into the awards more here.

Well done. We still think it is the best overall airport, not just for its size.

Port – Containment

It is well-known that the Port is lagging in container service compared to other ports in Florida.  This week, WFTS had an interesting report on what might be going on.

While Anderson brags about the weight of containers coming in, “…for an annual total of over 37 million tons!” he says during his 2017 State of the Port speech.

The Tampa Port is lagging way behind when it comes to the number of containers coming in.

In 2015, Tampa, the largest Florida port land wise, shipped a total of 39 thousand (39,761) cargo containers, according to the most recent data by the Army Corps of Engineers.

But smaller ports like Jacksonville shipped more than 700 thousand (755,452). Miami (765,980). And Port Everglades (716,182) Also topped 700 thousand.

Usually, when you are trying to attract business from competitors, you go for competitive pricing and features.

“Being in Tampa is a disadvantage in my business” says Omer Ozer.

Omer and his brother Ugur own Stonemart, one of the biggest importers for stone and tile in Florida. They have been using Tampa’s port exclusively for 15 years. But now, they are considering leaving and alternative resources.

“We really love to stay in this town, we really enjoy here for family and everything but of course from business point, it doesn’t really make sense to stay in Tampa.  I’d rather be in Jacksonville or Miami” Omer says.

Omer says Tampa’s port only has one major ship line run by Zim, and the other ship line, MSC, piggybacks off Zim’s ships. They say a lack of competition drives up prices.

 “If we were in Jacksonville or Miami we would be making more than a million dollars a year and have less overhead.” Ugur says.

 “Tampa bay customers will end up paying more because the cost of freight to Tampa port is higher” Omer adds.

That would be a unique strategy for building business.

National chain, Rooms To Go, while headquartered in our area, is using Jacksonville’s port way more than Tampa.

According to industry used data company, Import Genius, they’ve shipped more than 11 thousand (11,775) containers in Jacksonville, and only 588 in Tampa all of last year.

Rooms To Go’s CEO Jeffrey Seaman tells us there just aren’t enough ships coming into Tampa.  

Local Kanes Furniture shipped 1,536 to Jacksonville while only shipping 122 to Tampa.

Badcock Furniture shipped 1,507 in Jacksonville and only 89 in Tampa.

“Tampa freight has always been higher than the rest of the ports” says Scott Taylor

Scott knows about freight costs, he’s Vice President of American Chung Nam, he says they’re one of the largest exporters per container in the world.

Scott tells us they have business in Tampa, but use other ports to save money.

“We have been forced to haul a lot of our business up to Jacksonville” Scott says. 

So what does the port have to say about it?  First, apparently nothing:

Reporter: “Mr. Anderson, Jarrod Holbrook ABC Action News good to meet you. Is there a reason why you won’t sit down and interview with us sir?”
Anderson: “No I have no reason not to sit down and interview with you.”
Reporter: “Ok we got an email from your office saying you have no interest in sitting down and talking to us.”

An email to the I-Team from Edward Miyagishima Port Tampa Bay’s VP of Communications and External Affairs states, “…..we believe there is no reason for a face-to-face interview.”

Setting aside that the port is partially funded with taxpayer money and is not a private company so the reticence to speak to the public is a bit odd, he finally said something:

Reporter: “Can you explain why businesses based here in Tampa, are using other ports other than Tampa?”
Anderson: “Listen we have been in a growth of our business here.  We have the most diversified port in the state of Florida. That’s something our citizens are so happy for.  It’s like your portfolio of your 401k.”

Diversification is a good thing.  Lack of competitiveness is not.  We all know that the Port underperforms in terms of containers. We get there are some challenges to building business at the Port. But some of the issues raised above have little to do with the usual reasons for not handling many containers.  What would be really helpful would be if there was an honest discussion about them and a clear plan to overcome them. (And less focus on real estate development.) Trying to avoid discussing obvious problems will get us nowhere.

No one wishes the port ill. We all want the Port to do well and help drive the economy. Nevertheless, reports like this and a seeming reluctance to address them head on creates concerns.

Hyde Park/Built Environment – It Can Be Done

There was new about the Morrison, mixed use (really mixed use) development on South Howard this week.

A Pilates studio and a new concept from a Tampa entrepreneur have committed to ground-floor retail space in The Morrison, a mixed-use development under construction in South Tampa’s SoHo neighborhood.

The Morrison, at 936 S. Howard Ave., will be home to the region’s second Club Pilates studio as well as the third location of the Blind Tiger Cafe — one that will be open for happy hours and dinner, serving food, wine and cold-pressed juices alongside its coffee menu.

We are actually not that interested in what retail will actually be in the building.  We are more interested in the building itself.  It looks like this:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

What is remarkable about the project is that it is remarkable at all.  It is a building built to the street with apartments above and retail below.  In other words, it is a standard, urban building.  It may be nicer than some but the concept is not new (just look literally across the street to the building that housed Hugo’s.

It just makes us wonder why it seems so hard to get something so straightforward to be the basic model of development (not necessarily even of that size, 2 stories is fine) in all of our urban corridors.  It does not have to exclusive to “upscale” areas.  Yes, we have gotten better, especially in historical areas (and with renovations), but we still have too many new buildings that either are set back with surface parking out front or that, if built to the street, fail to interact with it (or are built up with parking underneath and barely even have a front door) even in areas that the City says it wants to be walkable (like this in Westshore).

Hopefully, the success of this project will breed copy-cats.  Having a truly supportive code would be even better.