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Roundup 6-23-2017

June 23, 2017

Contents

Transportation – Go West Some More

Downtown/Channel District – Tear It Down

— Speaking of Which

Downtown/Hyde Park – Build It Up

Transportation – The Gandy Link

Downtown – Underwhelming

Built Environment – About Walking

Tampa Heights – Good Idea,  But . . .

— One More Thing

Bicycles – Paint for Numbers

— One Last Thing

International Trade – Digging Cash

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

____________________________________________________

Transportation – Go West Some More

The airport announced another flight to another target city – this time San Diego.  Cue cool graphic:

From the Tampa International Airport – click on picture for Facebook page

Southwest Airlines will offer new nonstop service from Tampa International Airport to San Diego International Airport beginning Jan. 8, 2018.

By our count, on the West Coast, that leaves a flight to Portland and increasing frequency across the board. (And there is also a few new seasonal flights on Spirit to Hartford and Pittsburgh)

Once again, good job to the airport.  It is just another example of them methodically executing their good plan.

Downtown/Channel District – Tear It Down

The Lightning owner’s group asked the Port for permission to tear down a chunk of the Channelside complex:

The southwest portion of Channelside Bay Plaza will be razed to make way for a heavily programmed park featuring art, festivals and pop-up bars and restaurants.

The Port Tampa Bay board of directors on Tuesday voted unanimously to grant Strategic Property Partners permission to demolish a portion of the plaza and allow for tenants other than retailers and restaurants in the space. SPP is the real estate development company controlled by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investment LLC.

And:

The demolition of the building that houses the Hablo Taco and Thai Thani restaurants will begin this summer, said Bryan Moll, an executive with SPP who lead a presentation at the port meeting. SPP is working with Hablo Taco and Thai Thani owners about relocating the restaurants to another wing of Channelside, though their long-term future there is uncertain.

SPP wants to replace the building with a waterfront park, which will have a stage for music and outdoor film screenings. In addition, SPP wants to lease out temporary, pop up “kiosks” to local chefs and retailers to create an outdoor market-like setting. A communal dining space and pedestrian trails are also part of the plan.

This is how it looks now:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

And this has the new open space in blue:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

We are fine with this.  From the beginning, we never understood why the Channelside design was inward facing (even before the waterfront/wharf was closed off).  This would correct that, but only for a short time because this is probably just the first step to tearing down and rebuilding the whole complex:

In September, SPP CEO James Nozar revealed long-term renovation plans for Channelside Bay Plaza to the Port Tampa Bay’s board of directors. The multi-million-dollar plans, which include new waterfront condos, restaurants and a park, would demolish the entire existing Bay Plaza structure. The project has not yet been approved by port commissioners.

The port owns the land on which Channelside Bay Plaza sits and will need to approve any renovation. If approved, the demolition, part of SPP’s $3 billion plan to reinvent the 53-acre area around Amalie Arena, could occur by 2018.

Port officials said that CBP Development LLC, an entity owned and operated by SPP, has been negotiating “in good faith” with the port to sign a long-term lease agreement for the future of Channelside Bay Plaza and an adjoining surface parking lot. The current ground lease restricts SPP’s ability to add new uses to the retail center, which is why this amendment is being considered before the approval of SPP’s long-term renovation plans for the plaza.

When the board of directors approved the amendment, it extended SPP’s lease of the facility by 18 months. 

Remember this rendering:

From the Times – click on picture for article

It is highly unlikely the Port will get in the way of a deal.  Nor are we opposed to starting over on that land to build in a denser, more urban, and more inviting way.  If only it had been done properly the first time.

— Speaking of Which

Speaking of the Lightning owner’s project, there was an article on Politico by the Times’ Tampa government reporter about downtown.  It paints a favorable portrait, which is fine (though it omits some facts).  Nevertheless, the part about the Lightning owner’s project is good, though, including some nuggets like this:

For context, Nozar and SPP director of development Bryan Moll, another JBG alum, have looked at Tampa’s older neighborhoods, including Ybor City, the city’s historic Latin quarter and the home of its cigar-making industry about three-quarters of a mile from downtown. To enhance the pedestrian experience, they’ve focused on the ground floors of their buildings—their scale, how they interact with the public space as well as the pedestrian’s need for a variety of experience and—crucial in Florida—shade. The new project will include new parks, and one main street will have a double row of mature trees along one side, a single row along the other. SPP is building a centralized air-conditioning plant for the entire district, which is expected to help drive energy efficiency, something that’s rare in commercial developments, though more common in large campus projects like universities and healthcare facilities. For SPP, it makes sense because of the project’s single ownership and long-term focus. It also frees rooftops for dog parks, swimming pools, restaurants and green space. One 300-foot-tall office building will have planted terraces or ledges on every floor, plus a green roof. An apartment building will be topped with 10 feet of soil on its roof so mature trees can grow there.

Along with a name, one thing that Vinik and Cascade have not announced is a tenant list. But Vinik says the company has a long list of prospective tenants. Because they are self-financing, Vinik and Cascade do not have to worry as much about an economic downturn, about repaying construction loans or about building quickly, leasing up and selling out.

“There is no intention of flipping here,” Vinik says. “We’re looking very long term. We believe the real value creation in the district occurs over five to 10 years as it becomes one of the best places to live, work and play in, hopefully, the Southeast.”

And the nice thing is that, so far, he has done nothing to make us not believe him.  We recommend the article for that information.

Downtown/Hyde Park – Build It Up

Last week, a number of developers spoke to the Downtown Partnership.  Of course, being good business people, they were pushing their projects, which is fine.  And there was stuff like this:

The third speaker, Arturo Pena of the Related Group, said the river was a major factor in his company’s decision to buy the riverfront site of the former Tampa Tribune and build a 400-unit apartment complex there. Related is also the lead developer on Tampa’s massive revitalization of its West River area.

Asked why Miami-based Related chose to come to Tampa, Pena had a quick reply:

“In a nutshell, jobs and the waterfront.”  

If he says so, but we were sure it was quick profits on the sale of relatively cheap (by Related standards) projects.

More interesting, though not really providing that much new information:

Riverwalk Place, a 53-story tower planned for downtown Tampa, will have four restaurants, “many, many” outdoor tables and a rooftop bar atop the garage.

* * *

“I don’t want to hear any more, ‘Why can’t downtown Tampa be like downtown St. Pete?’ ” Feldman said Thursday in reference to the bounty of restaurants and cafes along St. Petersburg’s Beach Drive. “I hope (Riverwalk Place) will set an example for everybody else in town.”

Well, Tampa is not going to be the same as St. Pete, but that’s ok.  St. Pete’s downtown has some really nice aspects, but there are many models for a thriving urban area.  More interestingly,

Expected to start construction next year on the site of the doomed Trump Tower Tampa project, Riverwalk Place would be the tallest building on Florida’s West Coast. Its design will be a nod to what Feldman called the “sardine-ization of America” — the tendency of companies to save costs by squeezing more employees into less space.

For that reason, Riverwalk Place will have balconies on every office floor so employees can step outside, get some fresh air and network.

The tower also will cater to millennials, who make up a good part of downtown Tampa’s workforce, by including “chill zones” with cappuccino machines and the type of fitness center where even “gym jockeys will feel really comfortable,” Feldman said.

* * *

Feldman says he expects to open a sales office and release more detailed plans for the tower in September. Although it has generated the most attention, the tower on S Ashley Drive is just one of several projects that will benefit from proximity to the Riverwalk.

We like the concept of balconies for office floors.  We have seen it in other cities, and it can work well. And a rooftop bar, even if just on the garage, could be very nice.

There are rumors of designs floating around already.  We are not sure why they would not be revealed until September, but so be it.  This building has the potential to be a really nice addition to downtown, especially if and when the Lightning owner’s project gets built.

Transportation – The Gandy Link

There was news about the very short freeway segment of Gandy being built in Pinellas:

After missing a spring completion date, engineers working on the Gandy Boulevard construction project pushed the completion date to this summer.

Now they say it won’t be done until the fall.

The $83 million, 2.5-mile project started 3 ½ years ago with the goal of clearing up heavy traffic congestion in northeast St. Petersburg by adding six elevated lanes to Gandy Boulevard.

Drivers are already using some of the overpasses: Two westbound elevated lanes were opened over the weekend , and two eastbound elevated lanes are scheduled to open Friday. But that also depends on the weather.

The Florida Department of Transportation originally predicted that Gandy construction would finish ahead of schedule, but senior project engineer Marty Sanchez said recent heavy rains have delayed construction workers.

Setting aside that, given such delays, the project should be audited,

The DOT estimates that more than 57,000 people take Gandy Boulevard east of Interstate 275, and that many of them cross through crowded intersections as they do so, slowing movement.

The Gandy expansion project was aimed at solving that problem by carrying traffic over crowded intersections via elevated lanes instead of through them.

And we have no problem with the project as far as it goes, but it never went far enough.  It should have at least gotten to 275 and really should have connected to the bridge.  Maybe when Hillsborough finally builds the Gandy Connector, Pinellas will finish the task.

Downtown – Underwhelming

URBN Tampa Bay first reported on a proposal on the north end of downtown:

There’s a new proposal from Ariel Homes for 14 townhomes at 1211 North Tampa Street. The project sits on roughly half an acre of land along Franklin St., Tampa St. and Fortune St. The site plan and an outline map with the location of the project is attached.

This is a suburban-style development in Downtown and we oppose it. There’s simply not enough units for how much land there is, it lacks ground floor retail or any mix of uses and the driveway cuts up the lot’s sidewalks too much.

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

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

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

Built Environment – About Walking

There was news about pedestrian safety.

Pedestrian deaths in Hillsborough County fell by almost 25 percent last year, following the deadliest year on record in 2015 for people walking the streets.

But transportation planners warn not to read too much into the drop. The county is still the deadliest in the region. Bicyclist deaths are up from the past few years. And in Pinellas County, pedestrian fatalities have increased 18 percent in the past five years.

Well, even if not great, that is something, unless you’re biking or in Pinellas. So maybe it is not that much. (As we have noted before, it also would be nice to also have stats about people who get hurt.  That would fill in some of the picture of what is going on. And people should not have to die for government to notice there is a problem and take action.)

For one thing, the 2015 spike was unusually high, with 51 pedestrian deaths. The 39 fatalities in 2016 still is more than any other year since 2010.

As previously discussed, there is a move to have some safety measures installed.

Increasing the frequency of those signalized crosswalks is a big help, though. Transportation officials and local governments are making more of an effort to install mid-block crosswalks, where a light flashes for traffic to stop when people push a button to cross. The Florida Department of Transportation has plans to build four of these in Hillsborough in 2017 and two in Pinellas, and are studying locations for others.

It’s something Pinellas County has focused on for years, especially on the beaches and along Gulf Boulevard, said Pinellas MPO executive director Whit Blanton. And drivers are becoming more accustomed to the flashing signals and driving slower on those roads just in case.

Which is something, but the real change needs to be in planning and design in general.  More grids.  Fewer huge stretches of road lined with strip malls and few real crossroads. More logical and intuitive crossing points.  More of an environment that naturally makes drivers at least consider that someone might be walking or biking nearby (and also people not just crossing in the middle of the road).

There’s a tension in transportation planning between mobility — how quickly and easily we get around — and safety. Often, planning prioritizes mobility, sometimes at the expense of safety, especially for pedestrians.

“We’ve had a mentality of making sure we don’t have traffic signals put too close together because it slows down traffic,” Blanton said. “If you have too many signals per mile, that creates a congestion problem, but it also leave a sort of barren wasteland for pedestrians to cross.”

Regardless of crosswalks and education initiatives, wide, fast roads remain dangerous for pedestrians throughout Tampa Bay. That’s especially true for Pinellas, which is a tight, concentrated, urban community, Blanton said. And those types of roads are at odds with ongoing redevelopment in places like St. Petersburg and Dunedin, which make areas a more attractive place to walk.

Actually there is a tension between mobility in the completely car-centric built environment that has been allowed to be created and mobility. (Even Pinellas is mostly built with the characteristics of sprawl.) That is a matter of choices and bad planning. It can be changed. While some stretches of road are probably beyond redemption, but it is never too late to start trying to do it right.

Tampa Heights – Good Idea,  But . . .

Having said that, we like (most aspects of) the Heights project.  It looks to be a good, urban project that will enhance the area and create a favorable walking, biking, and, maybe, transit environment. This week, as featured on the Heights Facebook page:

Sorry for the inconvenience, Palm Ave will be closed for a little while. We are taking it from 4 lanes down to 2 with parking and 🚴 paths! 🙌🏻👌🏻 #roads #bikepaths #city

With a photo featuring a nice 1970’s look:

From the Heights – click on picture for Facebook page

We have discussed this before.  We are not opposed generally to what they are doing regarding biking and walking, and we are all for bike and pedestrian safety.  However, as a practical matter, doing this work before any buildings in the area are done (or any of the “West River” development that will also probably add traffic) and before the streetcar and transit studies, which both may relate directly to the streets in that area (and if Palm is the best place for a bike lane), are complete seems a little premature (especially if there will be budgetary pressure).

It may be that what they are doing now is the best thing to do, and we really don’t want to delay enhancing the bike infrastructure.  However, we do not want to have to go back and redo the roads again, and we do not want to foreclose transit and mobility possibilities in that corridor right now. It would have been better to work it all out first.  But, of course, it really would have been better if the studies should have been completed years ago.

— One More Thing

A couple of weeks ago, we mentioned the lower rise parts of the Pearl that will shield the neighborhood from the parking garage.  The Heights Facebook page posted a nice shot of what we were talking about though they still have a way to go before finishing:

From the Heights – click on picture for Facebook page

Looks good to us.

Bicycles – Paint for Numbers

URBN Tampa Bay  highlighted a Citylab.com article on bicycle infrastructure.    The article discusses a study on “bike sharrows”:

From Citylab.com – click on picture for article

You’ve seen a sharrow painted on city streets: it’s that image of a cyclist below two arrows in the middle of a lane that—you guessed it—is meant to be shared by bikes and cars. The Federal Highway Administration gave sharrows its official blessing in 2009, and the symbol is now ubiquitous across urban America. It’s also arguably the least-loved nod to cycling, a low-cost way for cities to say they’re doing something about safety and street design without really doing much at all.

That sounds familiar.  And, apparently, they are not better than nothing (as we often say, doing something is not necessarily better than doing nothing):

From the Atlantic – click on chart for article

You can read all the details here. It also reminds of those bike lanes on Dale Mabry which, except the most intrepid long distance riders, are completely ignored by in favor of the sidewalks (bad as they are).  It’s not that we don’t want more and better bike infrastructure.  We do.  We just want it to be safe, useful, and actually better, which brings us to a Guardian (UK) article about Denmark’s infrastructure:

Connie Hedegaard, former Danish EU commissioner for climate action, puts it this way: “One might say that Europe faces a choice. Do we want to pursue an American-style approach where kids depend on their parents to take them to school for many years? Or do we want a Nordic-style approach in which mobility considerations are integrated into urban planning, and where the necessary infrastructure is provided so kids can bike to school by themselves? I know which I prefer.”

The secret behind this Nordic approach is simple: segregated, curbed bicycle lanes, where the layout of every inch has been taken into consideration – such as covering intersections with traffic lights, integrating retracted stop lines for cars and having pre-green lights for cyclists. Give-way lines (“shark teeth”) where smaller roads join bigger ones mean that everyone – including other cyclists – must make a full stop before they move on to a main road. In most places, pavements and bicycle tracks run down smaller side streets as well, illustrating how we give priority to pedestrians and cyclists.

We doubt the US will ever get to the level of biking they have in Denmark.  And that is fine.  It does not change the fact that if you want to really develop a bike infrastructure and create real mobility solutions, you have to do it right. (Like protected bike lanes or urban trails that actually go somewhere.)  And to do it right, you should study from the experts.

— One Last Thing

Which brings us to another article, this one from Mobility Lab.   The main thrust of the article is a plan to build bike infrastructure based on paths that have lower biking stress levels.  Anyone actually interested in building a proper bike infrastructure should read the article. (here)

International Trade – Digging Cash

There was news about the Big Bend channel:

Port Tampa Bay is moving forward with plans to widen and deepen the Big Bend Channel after securing instrumental state and federal funding for the project.

The port was awarded a $5.7 million grant from the Florida Department of Transportation, which will be used toward the widening and deepening of the Big Bend Channel. The port’s board of commissioners unanimously approved the allocation at a board meeting on Tuesday.

* * *

The port will receive $9 million from the Army Corp., this year. FDOT will be allocating funds over the next two fiscal years, which will require the port to match that amount. Mosaic Company and Tampa Electric, two of Port Tampa Bay’s largest tenants, will also contribute to funding the project. Those amounts were not disclosed.

* * *

The Big Bend Channel connects to the Tampa Harbor main channel and will be deepened from 34 feet to 43 feet and widened from 200 to 250 feet to accommodate larger ships. Anderson also noted that the port “has already invested $30 million in infrastructure for the growing Port Redwing maritime complex that will be served by the Big Bend Channel. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has estimated that the widening and deepening of the Big Bend Channel will cost $55.2 million.

As we said before, we are all for improving the facilities, including the channels.  Hopefully, it will bring more business.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

In Miami,

The Maersk Shanghai slipped into Government Cut before dawn Wednesday and headed to its berth at PortMiami, becoming the largest container ship to ever call at a Florida port.

The 1,063-foot-long, 159-foot-wide megaship is almost the length of three football fields. Before PortMiami underwent a widening and dredging of its shipping channel from 44 feet to a depth of 50-52 feet, the Maersk Shanghai wouldn’t have been able to dock in Miami. The ship’s gross tonnage is 115,000 tons.

* * *

It took most of the day to unload the10,081-TEU (the equivalent of a standard 20-foot container) vessel, which arrived at PortMiami at 4 a.m. It was scheduled to leave the port at 11 p.m.

To put that in perspective, according to the Port website, Port Tampa Bay handled 49,716 TEU’s in fiscal year 2016 (and 56,742 in FY 2015).

Roundup 6-16-2017

June 16, 2017

Contents

Transportation – Another Week

— Maybe, But That’s Not Enough

— In Support of That Which Is Not There

— Two More Things

Downtown/Channel District/USF – MOSI, a Little More on the Done Deal

Transportation – Water, Water, Across Water

— Studying

— Clearwater

Downtown/Transportation – Bring the Cars

Westshore – So

Landmarks – Nice, If It Lasts

____________________________________

Transportation – Another Week

 Another week, another bunch of transportation news resolving nothing.

— Maybe, But That’s Not Enough

The Times continued its campaign to support the Tampa Bay Partnership’s plan to merge local MPOs.  First, it had a long article about the MPO issue, which we will not discuss at all because it is basically a regurgitation of previous articles.  Then, a few days later, it had another editorial supporting merging the MPOs.

Now that government and business leaders throughout Tampa Bay are talking about consolidating the decisionmaking process for regional transportation planning, it’s little surprise that some voices would still try to protect their parochial interests rather than embrace the big picture. Consolidating the Metropolitan Planning Organizations in the bay area into a single voice that serves the entire region makes sense. This is not reinventing the wheel, and there are ways to ensure that local transportation priorities are not lost in a new structure that would amplify the region’s voice.

Setting aside that “government and business leaders” are not clearly defined categories, it is not surprising that people are trying to protect their local interests when the government habitually and business organizations often show disregard for local concerns, most recently highlighted by the TBX debacle (and at various other times throughout the recent and not so recent history of the area).  That the Times would ignore that is strange.

Yet Beth Alden, the executive director of Hillsborough’s MPO, says a merger could cause more problems than it would solve. She contends it could create funding disputes, lead to a reduction in professional planning staffs and ultimately reduce public input on transportation policy at the local level. Some critics also complain that a regional MPO would crowd out the priorities of individual counties, leaving local transit projects at the mercy of a board more focused on moving traffic across county lines.

We do not think it is so much about ignoring individual counties, per se.  We think that the regional MPO risks ignoring neighborhoods and normal people, like happens now, but more so.  That is our real concern.  So what does the Times tell us about that?

Some of these concerns may be legitimate. But there are ways to design a regional MPO that can walk and chew gum at the same time. The individual MPOs already consider county-centric transportation planning with an eye toward the impact on the larger region; that’s the reality of living in a growing area of 3 million residents with thousands of commuters who cross county lines every day. But the current system breaks down at the point of integrating local and regional projects. Having three MPOs also dilutes the region’s voice in competing for outside dollars and allows officials in every county to blame the others for not contributing to regional solutions. Rather than become a distraction, a regional MPO would be the common voice for addressing the region’s mobility problems, from the first mile to the last. It also would be the unified voice Tampa Bay needs to build consensus and seek the financing for regional transit projects that are critical to the economic futures of every county.

Basically, it is a “trust us” argument, and that is the problem.  Based on past performance (including very recent past performance), there is no reason to trust “government and business leaders.”  The entire reorganization project, while having some good points, has a TBX, back room feel (especially the part of the TBARTA bill requiring members to be either political officials or “members of the business community” without any explanation, definition, or discussion).

We get the need to have better focus.  We are all for regionalism.  We are for a coordinated regional transportation system.  But the MPO proposal is not directly connected to that.  As we have said before, MPO coordination is possible now. MPO’s can and do pass plans of regional scope. Just look at the 5 year plan the Hillsborough MPO voted on this week.  there is a whole section on regional priorities and FDOT plans and it references.

This TIP incorporates projects prioritized by the Tampa Bay Transportation Management Area (TMA, which includes the Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas MPOs) Leadership Group and the TBARTA CCC for inclusion in the 2040 Regional LRTP

(That list being basically TBX even though TBX supposedly is  not a thing anymore. See pg 7-8 of the report, and you can find more in the FDOT project list starting at the 40th page of the pdf file. And see next item)

The missing element here is not a regional structure – it is a regional mentality and, even more importantly, good planning.  The Times tells us what a new MPO structure can do – though it fails to say that the present structure can also do that.  It tells us that neighborhoods can be protected – but it does not tell us how or provide any evidence they will be. (See Howard Frankland and TBX) Without that, the simple repetition of how great things will be with the change is less than convincing.  If they want people to support their idea, we really need is some of the detail of the MPO idea so, if there is actually a sound idea, we can actually get behind it.  Just saying “trust us” is not enough.

And we cannot repeat enough that, assuming they work out representation and protect local neighborhoods, we are ok with the idea, but it really does not matter.  There are already structures in place where MPOs can cooperate.  The real issue is actually cooperating and doing so on a good plans.

— In Support of That Which Is Not There

Which brings us to this week’s transportation denouement, which, ironically enough, was all about a county MPO unsurprisingly approving a regional “plan” (more about that in a bit) that the “business community” was pushing:

The Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization — a 16-person board which approves transportation projects — listened to more than three-and-a-half hours of public comment on its Transportation Improvement Program, which lists the county’s priorities for the next five years. Though the TIP includes dozens of projects, from road maintenance to bike paths, the evening’s debate centered around only one of those: Tampa Bay Next, the interstate expansion plan formerly known as Tampa Bay Express.

We are not surprised the MPO voted for it.  That’s de rigueur. But there was something odd that first appeared in the pre-meeting Times reporting.

DOT recently announced Tampa Bay Next, its newest version of its regional plan. Officials have said toll lanes are still included under the new model, but Tampa Bay Next also aims to include transit, bike and pedestrian options.

Money for Tampa Bay Next projects is included in the next five years of projects, something that angers local opponents.

“Even though the FDOT has claimed we are in a “reset” and has rebranded the highway project, it is still very much alive within their new Tampa Bay Next initiative,” said Michelle Cookson, spokeswoman for toll opponents Sunshine Citizens, in a statement.

Tampa Bay Next has garnered strong support from business community representatives, who turned out in large numbers at last year’s public hearing to urge MPO members to vote in favor of the plan.

The oddity reappeared in the reports on the meeting:

DOT officials scrapped toll lane plans for the Howard Frankland Bridge last fall and said the agency was reevaluating TBX. When the department rolled out Tampa Bay Next last month, officials said it would include options other than tolls, such as transit, bike and pedestrian facilities. It was not, local officials said, simply a rebranding of TBX.

Many who spoke Tuesday night were not convinced.

“We’re either in a new day or we’re not,” Fernandez said. “If TBX is still in the TIP, everything to do with this new plan is still a shell game.”

There is definitely an argument for that position, but that was really foreshadowing:

More than $300 million is allocated in the next five-years for land buying for Tampa Bay Next. The plan also includes money to rebuild the Howard Frankland Bridge — which is reaching the end of its lifespan and will soon be structurally deficient — and for construction along I-275 between the West Shore interchange and downtown Tampa.  

* * *

About one in five speakers Tuesday advocated for Tampa Bay Next, which they said provides transportation options for the business community, brings additional highway capacity and includes the much-needed reconstruction of the West Shore Boulevard interchange.

The project also includes plans for express bus and potentially other transit options, supporters said. A vote in support of Tampa Bay Next is not a vote against transit, said Mike Peterson with Greater Tampa Realtors.

* * *

Tampa Bay Partnership president Rick Homans said the Tampa Bay Next has evolved to look at a variety of different options, not just toll lanes. Tuesday’s vote, he said, keeps that project alive and allows that evolution to continue.

“This was a good step forward tonight,” Homans said. “They were voting for collaboration, and they were voting to continue the process.”

We get fixing what needs to be fixed on the interstates (though not express lanes).  And we get wanting money for transit.  We get all those things that a comprehensive, transportation system should be. We even get (maybe) setting aside money for whatever it is as a sort of escrow because there is going to be something (maybe).

What we don’t get is just what exactly this Tampa Bay Next that the “business community” is strongly supporting actually is?  Right now, there is no plan proposed other than TBX, whether FDOT is moving forward with it or not. The TB(n)X website says everything is still being studied?  Which means there is no Tampa Bay Next, yet.  And, yet, it is being strongly supported? If TB(n)X is something other than TBX, it would be nice if it would be pubic described – especially at least a week before there is a vote on it. (And just what toll lanes are already back in the still-to-be-studied plan that supposedly is going to come about after public outreach?  And how does it fit in with the regional transportation that is supposedly being studied and not predetermined?)

Maybe the TB(n)X supporters are just supporting the traditional Tampa Bay something/anything approach (if you listen to the Chamber of Commerce head at the hearing, he basically admitted they were) or are they supporting a plan that has not been made public? (And, just remember, just doing something, anything is not necessarily better than doing nothing.  It may just cause more harm.)

In sum:  The MPO votes are for old plans that are supposedly set aside.  There are a variety of comments in support of a plan that supposedly does not exist.  There are appeals to keep the process going, though it is unclear what the process actually is and will be. And still, no one has said clearly what is going to happen – probably because they do not know (or they just do not want to say, yet).

The fact is that there is no TB(n)X.  Everything voted on is TBX.  Maybe FDOT will show good faith.  Maybe there will be real changes.  But there is no firm, new plan.  People are voting on faith (or with a hidden agenda). Moreover, the MPO – doing exactly what the “business community” wants and negating the argument of the Times above (both that local MPOs can’t act regionally and that they will or do protect neighborhoods) – keeps voting for TBX while saying they expect it to not be built.  And, let’s be honest, much of the MPO did not even know what was in the TBX plan when they were voting for it in previous years.

We are open to a new plan.  We want a new plan.  But there is not new plan right now.

We could really say so much more, but today we’ll stop with this: Trips for a few people to St. Louis (Really? Couldn’t they have found a controversy in San Diego to study?) aside, it is this kind of thing that makes people wonder about the entire process – and about local politics in general.

— Two More Things

In more FDOT new, there was another resignation:

Florida Department of Transportation District 7 Secretary Paul Steinman is resigning his post effective July 14.

Steinman is the second District 7 high-ranking official to resign after Director of Transportation Debbie Hunt left the agency late last year. District 7 covers the entire Tampa Bay region.

It seems to be completely coincidental with the TB(n)X, and we are not going to speculate.  However, it is another change at FDOT at a critical time for our area. It will be interesting to see what effect, if any, it has.

And in other FDOT news:

A former employee of the Florida Department of Transportation was indicted this week, along with her husband, on charges that they schemed to steal more than $300,000 in federal grant money.

Tracy Dean Tronco, 51, was a transit coordinator and passenger operations specialist in FDOT’s Tampa district. She was responsible for administering transportation projects and funds, including grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

She did not tell her employer that she was married to Alejo Tronco-Diaz, 50, who had applied to receive funds for a Hillsborough County church known as Ministerio A Gran Voz De Trompeta Campus Inc., according to federal prosecutors. The church was said to have provided transportation services to the elderly, disabled and unemployed.

Between 2010 and 2015, Tronco helped secure more than $370,000 in federal funds for Ministerio and another church with which it partnered, authorities said. The money was supposed to go toward renovation of a commercial property, job and transportation services and the purchase and maintenance of three vehicles. Instead, prosecutors said, it went into the pockets of Tronco, her husband, and other unnamed conspirators.

Back when we were first discussing the proposed audit of the airport, we noted that the State Senator requesting said that the airport just submitted bills and FDOT assumed they were good.  This had nothing to do with the airport, but maybe FDOT needs to look a little closer at where its money goes and be audited.

Downtown/Channel District/USF – MOSI, a Little More on the Done Deal

There was more news about MOSI.

The museum, known as MOSI, owes more than $2 million to vendors, banks and creditors and doesn’t have the money to pay them.

Additionally, MOSI leaders need $350,000 to bankroll their plan to shutter part of the museum’s building and move operations to a smaller wing of the 80-acre north Tampa campus. Downsizing operations is expected to save money, but in the meantime, they need cash to close the old building and reopen as a smaller science center.

Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill told the Tampa Bay Times this week that the county is inclined to pay off those bills and loans and provide the startup money. MOSI will not have to pay back the county.

Key to the financial rescue is Vinik, who has offered to split the cost of the debt with the county in hopes of keeping the museum afloat as it awaits relocation to his downtown Tampa redevelopment project. His share would be about $1 million

Vinik declined to comment Thursday on the details of his contribution, but he confirmed that his charity, the Vinik Family Foundation, has “agreed to share in the costs of preserving this community asset during its transition period.”

First, before we go any further in this discussion, we are going to commend the Lightning owner for offering to put up the money.  Yes, there is a certain self-interest in preserving MOSI before moving it to his project, but he still did not have to do it.  It’s his money.  He could have invested it somewhere else.

Having said that, the story seems a bit odd.  What was the County logic?

Putting the museum in bankruptcy was considered, Merrill said. However, they ultimately decided MOSI, already in significant decline, couldn’t recover from that kind of negative publicity.

And as the owner of MOSI’s building and land, Hillsborough officials were concerned creditors and disgruntled vendors might have showed up on the county’s doorstep asking to be reimbursed.

They also discussed closing the museum entirely until the move downtown, but MOSI would have had to pay back a $2.5 million state grant it received to host an exhibit.

“At that point we had three options, none of which were great,” Merrill said. “We chose the one that we thought was the best of the worst.

“We debated back and forth: ‘Does MOSI still have a brand that has value?’ And we concluded that it does because it still has a strong following and it has a legacy. More importantly for Jeff Vinik, he had to feel comfortable that there was enough of a brand value that it could transition downtown. So that’s why we rejected bankruptcy or just shutting it down.”

We get the cost of just closing it down was higher than the cost of preserving it until the move.  And we get that the Lightning owner had to see some value to put up half the money.  (We are unclear why creditors would be able to go after the County just because it owed the land.  What kind of deals was MOSI doing or is it just politics?)  On the other hand, we are not very happy about having to bail out MOSI, about not knowing what is going to happen with the land, anything about the downtown location and who is going to pay for it, or any other details.

As we have said many times, we are not opposed to the idea of moving MOSI downtown.  But this whole process lacks transparency or any real explanation of the plan and the details (esp. cost) thereof and the responsibility for that is squarely on the government officials.

Transportation – Water, Water, Across Water

– Studying

There was an article in the Business Journal which made us wonder about when a regional transit study is not a regional transit study.

Forward Pinellas, the county’s metropolitan planning organization, is waiting until next year to launch a waterborne transportation study to evaluate the effectiveness of ferries as transit after Florida Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a $1 million appropriation to pay for it.

In all honesty, it is not entirely clear what this particular study is for.  If it has anything to do with ferries like the South County/MacDill or Cross Bay ferry, why is it not being covered in the regional transit study? (quick answer: because the regional transit study is simply a rehashing of old studies, not an actual regional transit study) And if it is just for the small boats running in the Intercoastal, it has nothing to do with the Cross Bay ferry.

— Clearwater

Which gets us to Clearwater Beach and two developments.  The first involving the Clearwater Ferry:

A pilot route between Clearwater and Dunedin will begin in October on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays between noon and 10 p.m., according to a news release. This route will be added to the water taxi’s current schedule, which runs between downtown Clearwater, Clearwater Beach, Island Estates and North Beach.

The ferry is also offering a new $60 student pass for unlimited rides to and from Clearwater Beach until Aug. 31, available with a valid ID.

The water taxi served 29,180 riders during the Spring Break season, according to the release.

Expansion is good.  There is really nothing to object to.  If people want to pay for a nice boat ride and not drive,  we see no downside.

The second Clearwater issue, involved – you guessed it – a study, this one about trying to get more people to Clearwater Beach more efficiently:

For the first time since 2010 there is a funding commitment to build a dedicated bus lane connecting downtown Clearwater to Clearwater Beach, now that the state Legislature approved and the governor upheld a $1 million appropriation for an engineering study.

That study will look at the feasibility of building a transit connection as well as how much it would cost. A 2010 study estimated about $12 million, but Whit Blanton, executive director of Forward Pinellas, the Pinellas County Metropolitan Planning Organization, said a revised estimate might be less than that even though construction costs have been on the rise in recent years.

He said the 2010 estimate was “sort of a Cadillac plan” and an updated plan wouldn’t be as extravagant.

Planners want to create a transit route across the Memorial Causeway bridge to alleviate parking and traffic concerns. Clearwater Beach doesn’t have enough parking to accommodate visitors, particularly during peak seasons like spring break, and the causeway is often packed with beachgoers.

There is even a regional component, theoretically:

“This is one of the most productive corridors in Pinellas County, if not the region,” Blanton said. “We struggle a lot with really advancing transit in this region so every little success where we’re able to move the ball forward is good.”

So why is it not in the regional study (surely the real utility is not just a bus ride from downtown Clearwater to Clearwater Beach)?  And what is the Cadillac plan of crossing a bridge in a bus?  Does that mean it is a nice bus as opposed to the normal Tampa Bay area bus service?

To be clear, we are not opposed to a transit connection to Clearwater Beach.  We actually are for the idea.  We just don’t see why every discussion is so vague and nothing can be done comprehensively and in a truly coordinated way.

Downtown/Transportation – Bring the Cars

As anyone who witnessed the original service before the old PTC killed it and it was brought back with taxpayer money knew, the Downtowner shuttle would be successful.  It has been.

Buoyed by hitting the 100,000-rider benchmark in just seven months of operation, the Tampa Downtown Partnership is planning to expand the popular app-based service with the addition of four electric Chevrolet Bolts.

The all-electric car would improve upon shuttle rides with air conditioning and protection from the rain. The service’s fleet of 12 golf cart-like vehicles called GEMs have doors but the windows are usually rolled down since there is no air conditioning.

Bolts can also run longer on a single charge, about 230 miles, compared to the six-seater GEM, which averages about 60 miles before its needs more juice.

* * *

The expansion is needed to meet demand, which in peak periods sees wait times run 30 minutes or longer.

Including insurance, maintenance and driver, each Bolt will cost about $110,000 per year to put on the road. The partnership is seeking sponsorship including advertisers who want their logos on the cars.

The service now costs about $1 million per year.

Launched in October, it covers an area from the north end of Harbour Island to Interstate 275, and from the University of Tampa area to the Channel District. The limitation of the GEM’s batteries means that only six vehicles are on the road at one time while the others are recharging.

The Tampa City Council acting as the Community Redevelopment Area is expected to approve spending about $600,000 to run the shuttle for a second year. The money would come from downtown and Channel District community development funds. The Florida Department of Transportation has pledged to pay $150,000 for three years.

One the one hand, we are pleased with this.  Clearly, it is successful.  On the other hand, we are not so psyched about just having more cars running around.  We get the battery issue and the air conditioning, but the present Downtown is very distinguishable and a local transportation system. In other words, they are developing a brand – at least locally.  We like it that way. Of course, the Bolts could be painted like British police cars (without the lights and “police” written on them.

From Wikimedia Commons – click on picture for url

Then they’d stick out (though it may confuse some tourists).

And there is another thing.  We are curious who is using the Downtowner and how far the average trip is.  Basically, we are wondering what the use says about the walkability or lack thereof of the downtown area.  We do not have the data, and we are not going to speculate.  But it would be interesting to see what it tells us.

Westshore – So

The Business Journal had an article entitled “Is Westshore finally getting a grocery store?” with the tease:

A dark retail box in Tampa’s Westshore business district is a rare opportunity — and a prime storefront that’s been vacant for several months is fueling a lot of speculation.

And a picture of the old Sports Authority building on Kennedy.

First, Westshore had a grocery store at the strip center at the southeast corner of Kennedy and Westshore before it was redeveloped to take out the grocery store.  Second, the Sports Authority is not really in walking distance from the vast majority of residences in the Westshore district, though some people in the houses just south of it could walk (despite much talk of walkability, there really is little sign of any commitment to it in Westshore).

Moreover, giving the lack of walkability, the general Westshore area (the boundaries of which are always pretty fluid) already has two grocery stores within easy driving distance of most of the housing, which is north of 275: the Target at Walters Crossing and a Winn Dixie on Dale Mabry south of Columbus.  On the south side, just go to Trader Joes, Publix or all the other places around Dale Mabry and Henderson.  Just adding some another grocery store to drive to is nothing special or unique.  But it is very Westshore.

Landmarks – Nice, If It Lasts

There was an article in the Times regarding some local landmarks.

Three Tampa landmarks could soon be listed on the National Register of Historic Places: The Oaklawn Cemetery near downtown, the Kennedy Boulevard Bridge and the Columbus Drive Bridge. The National Parks Service is expected to consider state recommendations to add the cemetery and Columbus bridge to the registry in the next several months. The state’s review board could consider the Kennedy bridge recommendation at its next meeting on Aug. 10.

“When you have these historic resources and they’re recognized at both the state and the national level for being significant, it calls attention to your local history,” says Dennis Fernandez, Tampa’s manager of historic preservation. That, in turn, supports preserving those landmarks “so future generations can look back and understand what was going on during periods of our own history.”

Lafayette (now Kennedy) Street Bridge, from the West Tampa Chamber of Commerce – click on picture for website

All three deserve to be on the list.  They are definitely parts of local history and they should be preserved.  And that last comment was nice. However, before you get to excited, just note from 2013:

To the delight of skateboarders trying to save it, and the chagrin of city officials planning to honor black history there instead, Tampa’s Bro Bowl is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

The designation from the National Park Service comes amid debate over the future of Perry Harvey Sr. Park — home to the iconic skateboard bowl, but also part of the city’s vision for redeveloping the Central Avenue area and honoring its rich history.

And then the City got rid of it. Designation is nice.  Preservation is nicer.

Roundup 6-9-2017

June 9, 2017

Contents

Transportation – The Beat Goes On

– Building for the Future, the Editorial

– Time to Rearrange

— One More Thing

International Trade – A Plan-ish

Downtown – Dealing With Popularity

Downtown – Park Tower

Tampa Heights – More Money

South Tampa – Looking at the Condo Market

Transportation – R.I.P.

Rays – Well, Yes, But . . .

Tourism/Sports – The Cost of a Super Bowl

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

Competition Never Ends, Part I

Competition Never Ends, Part II

Competition Never Ends, Part III

— Adventures in Economic Development

Because It’s There

____________________________________

Transportation – The Beat Goes On

– Building for the Future, the Editorial

The Times had another editorial about transit this week.  The main point:

Still, the foresight shown more than a decade ago in acknowledging there might be a different future for transportation is instructive today as Hillsborough County undertakes a 10-year, $812 million transportation plan heavily focused on road work.

The plan is a stopgap measure approved in March by county commissioners desperate to show they have done something about a transportation system they should be ashamed of. The 6-1 vote came on the heels of yet another scuttled attempt to adopt some form of comprehensive transportation plan that includes mass transit.

So yes, the new plan is a roads plan. But it need not be just a roads plan.

There’s little chance of carving out another 20-foot corridor for the dreams of tomorrow — alongside, say, Lithia Pinecrest Road, where a widening project would eat up some $100 million of the $812 million pot of money.

But roads also carry buses, the cost-effective workhorses of mass transit, and roads can be designed with buses in mind. Hillsborough County has precious few of them now but those shame-faced commissioners have acknowledged that the day is coming when the county will have to make a sizeable investment in buses and other forms of mass transit.

And that is good, as far as it goes.  But first, it is mostly about buses.  Yes, our bus service is woefully inadequate and needs to get much better.  And, yes, it is fine to plan for the future and build in the ability to run buses on widened roads, but buses get stuck in traffic just like cars, unless you build dedicated lanes. (And there is a limit to widening roads, especially if you want them to be useful for transit usage and the people who walk to and from transit.) But there is a bigger point, and that comes up in the example the Times uses for forward thinking:

Make no mistake, it’s mainly about the cars and trucks, but the new, wider Bruce B. Downs Boulevard was actually designed with light-rail in mind.

That’s hard to believe in a county where even whispering the term today is guaranteed to sink any proposal for alternatives to the prevailing one car, one-driver model.

But there it is, on the early proposals for Hillsborough’s biggest current road project — a 20-foot corridor where a Power Point dreamer dropped in photos of the sleek train cars from those other metropolitan areas that have embraced light rail.

Transportation officials confirm the corridor is still there, largely a sodded strip, as work proceeds toward a conclusion late next year for the $140 million road project — eight-laning Bruce B. Downs in four phases from Bearss Boulevard north through New Tampa to the Pasco County line. 

Setting aside that right now there is no sign any light rail will be built anywhere in the area, Bruce B. Downs the road may have been designed with space to build light-rail in the corridor, but Bruce B. Downs was not built for light rail, or even buses.  Bruce B. Downs is the very definition of a sprawling mess.  You can see some typical aerial views here, here, and here.  You can run all the transit you like down Bruce B. Downs, and it will not change the fact that there is no way to reasonably walk anywhere on that road or to any destination near the road (including houses).  Sure, a park and ride lot would work (and there is ample empty space to build one), but having any other kind of transit, even if buses drove into a strip mall parking lot, is essentially useless there. It lacks density, organization, walkability (you can walk but you won’t get anywhere), connectivity, etc.  You would need main buses and circulators of the sprawling neighborhoods off Bruce B. Downs.  None of which would be efficient.

And that is a major part of the problem with how this area generally.  For whatever reason, there is a disconnect between planning, design, and transportation.  They need to be coordinated and rational.  We would not favor spending a large amount of money on transit on Bruce B. Downs before many other more established areas that are far less sprawling (including even Dale Mabry into Carrollwood or into parts of Town and Country not because we don’t like transit but because it just makes no sense unless it is a park and ride, but even then its utility is limited by the fact that the area is so poorly planned that there are bottlenecks everywhere).

Once again, we get the point the Times is trying to make (as far as it goes).  Planning ahead is good.  And transportation ideas should be included in planning and design so they can be implemented when needed.  You should build for future possibilities.  But in New Tampa/Wesley Chapel, land for transit may have been set aside, but the development was not built for any possibility other than driving.  And there is no indication that any lessons in good planning were learned. (Not to mention relying on just buses is problematic.)

And while most of New Tampa is actually in the City, the editorial is aimed mostly at the County road plan.  While the main idea of changing how the roads are built is ok and planners may get the main ideas, the County government itself shows few, if any, signs, of changing the way things along the roads are actually built.  Without that, little will change.

The reality is that the example used by the Times is exactly the exemplar of what not to do to properly execute their main idea.

– Time to Rearrange

Speaking of buses, HART, Hillsborough County’s chronically underfunded bus system, is facing some tough decisions.

Pending public hearings and board review, the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority will roll out 34 routes in October, down from the existing 41. Some of the routes will be new, some will stay the same and others will be truncated, altered or combined.

While the number of routes is shrinking, HART CEO Katharine Eagan said overall service should improve. The agency is increasing the frequency along many routes and also is straightening out some of the paths, so they’re less winding and circuitous. The changes should reduce travel time for most riders and make the system more reliable.

Given its lack of resources and the inherent lack of attractiveness of a system with low frequency, we understand these proposed changes.

Bus agencies across the country are seeing a decline in ridership. But for HART, the cause for concern is even greater. HART receives less tax support than similar agencies in most major cities, meaning it’s hit harder by the decrease in fare box revenue. It’s also struggling with the rising cost of health care, which will cost HART about $4 million more next year.

Note: bus ridership, except in Houston and Seattle which radically redesigned their bus systems, is generally down (though rail ridership would be up, but for stupidity in the DC metro system. probably because rail is much more attractive to choice riders. More generally see here.)

Even if HART didn’t make any changes, it would cost the agency an additional $13 million to operate in the next fiscal year.

It’s money the cash-strapped agency — which spends almost the same per person on transit as Sheboygan, Wis. — doesn’t have.

While HART officials are focusing on the positives — they say about 80 percent of riders will see more frequent service and faster connections — there’s no denying the motivation behind the change is one of fiscal necessity, if not desperation.

“If we don’t change this budgetary footprint, we will run out of money,” Eagan said. “We will shut our doors.”

And because of its limited sources of funding — it’s almost entirely dependent on property taxes — it doesn’t have the protection of agencies in other cities that can tap into sales or gas tax revenue.

“It’s a different universe than our peers in Dallas or Charlotte or elsewhere,” Eagan said. “Other systems have been able to make investments we haven’t been able to. We’ve had to be creative.”

So what does that mean?

In this case, creative means stripping away routes with low ridership so the agency can afford to bulk up service on the routes with greater demand.

It also means redrawing the map and changing the focal points. As it stands now, the system is very centered on getting riders to downtown, Sandusky said. That will change with the new routes, which amp up connections to the airport, the University of South Florida area and Brandon.

A staff presentation described the current network as “thin, overextended.” The new system will be more condensed and gridlike, Sandusky said. Many of the routes also will run more frequently, he said. For example, currently HART only operates one bus on 15-minute intervals. That route — the MetroRapid along Nebraska Avenue — will increase to every 12 minutes, while Routes 1, 12 and 34 — which run along Florida Avenue, 22nd Street and Hillsborough Avenue — will bump up to every 15 minutes from no more frequently than every 20 minutes.

These increased and more streamlined routes come at a cost, and several others will be cut to make way. For example, Route 2, which also runs along Nebraska, will merge with MetroRapid, serving fewer stops but at a greater frequency. A quick scan of the two systems side by side shows gaps along the periphery of the county, such as in Town ‘N Country, Carrollwood and southern Hillsborough.

The cuts don’t stop with routes. Eagan said staff cuts are expected but did not say how many.

Here are some maps (just as an aside, note the lack of Town and Country service – among other locations – in both plans.  We would think there would potential there):

From the Times – click on picture for article

The circumstance also has HART at least considering a millage increase, though how serious that is a question.

Once again, we get the changes and streamlining the system to improve more popular routes is as a rational response to the situation.  The real question is whether we are ever going to have proper funding and proper infrastructure. (Not to mention that if buses are so unfavored, will express buses do any better?)  The challenge of all transit is to get choice riders.  We don’t expect HART to get too many choice riders any time soon, given its lack of funding leading to not really providing service attractive to choice riders (would you really want to choose this experience?).   But without really addressing the sorry state of transit generally (and getting people off roads – including buses), do not expect and solid solution to congestion any time soon.

And without the possibility that transit will actually be improved, the Times’ idea above, while generally theoretically sound (as far as it goes), will remain practically irrelevant.

— One More Thing

As an aside, FDOT has a new boss.

Gov. Rick Scott named Florida Department of Transportation Chief of Staff Michael Dew as the agency’s next secretary, four months after former Jim Boxold resigned the post to work as a lobbyist for Capital City Consulting.

* * *

Dew served as DOT chief of staff since January 2015. He was formerly the chief of staff for the Florida Department of Corrections. Prior to that, he worked on political campaigns for George Bush and John McCain. He received his bachelor’s degree in political science from Ohio State University.

It is not clear what effect, if any, the change will have on TB(n)X.  We shall just have to see.

International Trade – A Plan-ish

While this did not appear to be widely covered, the Tampa Bay Export Alliance (basically a group of local economic development officials, see here), in conjunction with Brookings, released a plan:

. . . the Tampa Bay Export Alliance announced the launch of the Global Tampa Bay Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) Plan, a regional global investment plan that outlines specific steps that local business, civic, and government leaders can take to leverage foreign direct investment to foster global engagement. This strategy is an integral stage of Tampa Bay’s participation in the Global Cities Initiative, a joint project of the Brookings Institution and JPMorgan Chase. The final plan integrates lessons learned from previous GCI endeavors including an initial market assessment followed by export and foreign direct investment strategies.

The press release (and, as far as we can tell, the Export Alliance website) did not link to the report, but it did tell us this:

Some of the key findings from the market assessment which best informed the strategies outlined in the plan include: 

-A significant amount of FDI activity is driven by an existing connection to the region

-Tampa Bay is exhibiting clustering behavior in the financial, professional and shared services industry 

-Foreign owned companies are not immune to the workforce and transportation challenges facing the region

-Tampa Bay needs a globally competitive brand identity and a comprehensive regional marketing effort to be recognized as a top business destination

None of which is new.  There was no indication that we are attracting a lot of new FDI from new sources. We knew that our clusters are more in lower wage back office operations not headquarters, tech, manufacturing, etc. (While all new jobs are useful, we thought a major point of present efforts was to broaden the economy into higher wage industries.)  We knew that our limitation of transportation affects everything.  And we knew that the quest for a brand goes on.  One acknowledgement that is interesting is the vaguely mentioned workforce “challenge.” We keep hearing that we have a great workforce.  What is the limitation?

In any event, since we do not have the plan, it is hard to know what it proposes we do about the issues above.  We hope it is something new.  We have had these issues for a long time.  We need new ideas.

Downtown – Dealing With Popularity

The Times had another article about the Straz and parking:

When the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts opened 30 years ago, it welcomed just 30,000 patrons its first year.

These days, the Straz Center gets more than 600,000 patrons annually — but no new parking spaces have been added nearby. To the contrary, an apartment complex now under construction has gobbled up 500 spaces long used by concertgoers.

* * *

As the Straz Center’s patronage has grown, so have weekend and night-time crowds on the Riverwalk, at Amalie Arena, the Tampa Convention Center, at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, at the Tampa Museum of Art and at the Glazer Children’s Museum.

The result has been evenings like Feb. 14. That night the Straz Center held the curtain for Wicked to accommodate late-arriving ticket holders who were caught in heavy traffic or looking for parking.

But even 20 minutes into the scheduled show time, 547 people had not been able to get to their seats.

People wanting to do things downtown is good.  Inaccessibility is bad, though it is not just the Straz.  It is just that Straz complaints point to a larger issue. Often it seems that downtown is just not ready to handle the people who want to be there.  And, in reality, right now, often it isn’t.  When you try to put a lot of people into a small area, the best way to do it is without their cars.  Since we don’t really have that option on a large scale, there will be problems.  Still, you have to try to deal with what you have:

It also has spurred the leadership of the performing arts center to put together a task force with the city and its own transportation and parking consultants. They are looking for short-term solutions that could be ready by November, when the facility’s busy season begins, as well as long-term solutions.

The problem is not only a loss of spaces to development, the task force concluded. Neither the city’s William F. Poe Garage nor the Royal Regional Lot were set up to handle event parking. The Royal lot, about 0.3 miles northeast of the Straz Center, has just one parking pay station for 315 spaces, forcing patrons to line up to pay for a spot.

Along with adding more pay stations — or maybe even employees — at the Royal lot, other possible solutions discussed Thursday include:

Council members asked for reports on June 22 from the city’s parking, transportation, police and economic development offices about what steps can be taken to address the problem, plus a June 15 report from the city’s chief financial officer on whether the parking division could afford to expand its inventory.

Setting aside that the Straz is not necessarily in the best location for large crowds (you have to work with what you have), those ideas could all help, but will not remove the issue.  Nor is it clear why the Poe Garage, which is connected to the Straz, is not set up for event parking.  In any event, this could help:

Already, the city plans to pave the old Morgan Street jail site to create more than 300 parking spaces, said Bob McDonaugh, the city’s top development official. Also, the garage for the new Crescent Communities apartments next to the Barrymore Hotel is expected to be finished this fall and to provide some parking to Straz patrons. And the city is looking at a cooperative venture that could end up adding structured parking at the Royal lot.

But the problem will remain, especially as downtown becomes more popular (and especially if the Lightning owner’s project gets built out and with the road diets everywhere). And things like expanding the interstate or express lanes will not solve it either.  Simply getting more cars to downtown will not solve what to do with them when they get there.  There has to be (and there is) a way to deal with it.  It’s just that we don’t have it – it is called transit (and not just to Tampa Heights), preferably not in road ways.

The chairman of the Straz Center’s board of trustees told the council that the city and center need to get to work to ensure they can address the challenges within the next couple of years.

Both the Straz Center and the city have grown and prospered over the past 30 years, Gary Sasso said, and “this is a good problem to have.”

“But growth has to be supported by infrastructure,” he said. “Without the necessary infrastructure, we will throttle the very growth we see. . . . We need your help.”

It is something we have said in a slightly different context a number of times, and it is true, both downtown and elsewhere.

Downtown – Park Tower

There was news about Park Tower downtown, a building of which we are quite fond, even if we see some issues with it.

Formerly known as the Lykes Building at 400 N. Tampa St., the 36-story building will undergo a multi-million-dollar renovation which is expected to be completed by early 2018, according to a press release.

* * *

Soon the public will notice changes in the 475,000-square-foot building’s facade. Park Tower will be painted a lighter color, a new entrance will be constructed and it will feature a “light box” that will illuminate the office tower against Tampa’s Riverfront skyline. Building amenities will also be upgraded, including a renovation of the lobby. Other renovations include adding a cafe to the lobby, a 6th floor “chill zone” tenant lounge, a new fitness center and yoga room with spin bikes, new shared tenant conference rooms and an updated parking garage.

Looking like this:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

Setting aside that the rendering has distorted the Bank of America building (including chopping off the bottom few floors), we get that some people don’t like Park Tower’s present color.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

However, we have no problem with it.  First, the building is in an iconic Florida style. (And, as a general caution, often when you try to make an old exterior design style look modern it messes up the old look while failing to look modern.  Downtown is replete with examples, though in other cities some wholesale rebuilding of the façade works.) Second, we like some diversity of styles and colors (and some contrast) in our skyline and, frankly, we see nothing negative in the photo while the rendering looks odd. We doubt it will look more modern, just whiter – and, in a few years, dingy. (Just as an aside this building in Miami is also slated for renovations including removing some 80’s style external “modernizations.”)

Aside from that, we are all for fixing up the entrance and making the street interaction better. (It should be noted that even though older, Park Tower has wide, covered sidewalks and street retail, unlike later office buildings, probably because it was designed to actually be in Florida.)  And we like the big “light box” facing the park which, from the renderings, fits into the present design. We also have no problem with fixing up the interior spaces.  Though we know some will disagree with us (and it is subjective), we just don’t like the proposed paint job, which seems more like change for the sake of change.

Tampa Heights – More Money

We like the vast majority of the Heights project.  The first part of it to start was the Armature Works building, which has seemed to drag on a bit.  Now,

Florida Community Loan Fund has provided the last part of the funding required for Armature Works, a historic building north of downtown Tampa that’s being renovated into an events venue, food hall and co-working space for small businesses.

The funding comes from New Markets Tax Credits, a program that provides incentives for economic development through the use of tax credits that attract private investment to distressed communities, according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

Florida Community Loan Fund, a nonprofit Community Development Financial Institution, provided $20 million in tax credits for the 68,000-square-foot Armature Works, which is being developed by SoHo Capital and has a total project cost of $21 million.

Financing is good.  Finishing is better.  Hopefully, they will get it done soon (This says it will be this summer. ).  Meanwhile, the Pearl is coming along nicely and starting to make Tampa Heights stick out a bit.

South Tampa – Looking at the Condo Market

There was news about the Virage condo project on Bayshore.

More than half of the units — including a penthouse priced at nearly $5 million — are under contract in Tampa’s newest proposed condo tower, Virage.

* * *

So far buyers have contracted for about $60 million worth of units, including the 6,700-square-foot penthouse that could be Tampa’s priciest condo in a decade if the sale goes through. Still remaining are the second penthouse and units starting at just over $1 million. Sales to date have pushed the 24-story Virage “fairly close” to the amount needed to begin construction, probably this fall, Tallman said.

There are not many condo projects in Tampa right now.  This apparent demand indicates maybe there should be more.

Transportation – R.I.P.

This week, it became official:

Among the bills Governor Rick Scott signed into law on Tuesday is HB 647, which eliminates of the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission by December 31 of this year.

It is welcome and well overdue.

Rays – Well, Yes, But . . .

Everyone knows the Rays are looking for a new home and a major issue is paying for the stadium.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan wants to model a new baseball stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays after SunTrust Park outside of Atlanta, the new home of the Braves.

“It’s the perfect model for what we’re trying to do here,” Hagan said in an interview with Sports Talk Florida. “[Come up with] a financing plan that the development can help pay.”

The new Braves stadium located in Cobb County cost about $400 million and is part of a much larger development. Seven restaurants are already up and running, according to Hagan, who recently visited the site, and there are plans for a total of 20. Residences are popping up; a hotel is in the works and Hagan claims the development’s tax base has tripled as a result.

While generally sound, it is not a groundbreaking idea (and, in all fairness, it is not at all clear that the Commissioner claims it is).  In fact, it is the trend for sports facilities (like the new Red Wings arena, the new Rams stadium, and the new Edmonton Oilers arena. Though, notably, the Braves stadium was built outside of the core of Atlanta)  It is also part of St. Pete’s sales pitch to the Rays for the Tropicana property.  As the article notes, the main focus on Hillsborough right now is the Tampa Bay Park Apartments.  It remains to be seen what can be developed around that site by the Rays themselves, rather than other property owners.  We are not opposed to the idea, but the devil is in the details.

Tourism/Sports – The Cost of a Super Bowl

There was an interesting article in the Times regarding what the NFL demands for a Super Bowl.

The NFL won’t make its demands public, a spokesman told the Tampa Bay Times. The organization in charge of submitting Tampa’s bid won’t, either.

But according to past reports, the list is quite extensive.

Rent-free use of the stadium, 35,000-plus parking spaces and other nearby facilities are a must. In the days leading up to the game, participating hotels must turn over all of their meeting space. For a year, they must keep the NFL Network on all of their TVs. Local governments have to provide security and trash pickup for free and ticket sales can’t be taxed.

The league also has asked for free usage of local golf courses and bowling alleys, a $1 million donation to the charity of the NFL’s choice and its handpicked ATM providers inside the stadium. 

And there is probably more:

In 2014, the Minneapolis Star Tribune obtained and published the NFL’s “Host City Bid Specifications and Requirements” for the 2018 Super Bowl in Minnesota.

The most common refrain in the 153-page document: “at no cost to the NFL.”

In the weeks — even months — before and after the Super Bowl, governments, stadium operators and businesses are expected to provide free of charge dozens of services, facilities and perks for the NFL — a business that reported $13 billion in revenue last year.

Wireless service at the stadium must be “on par with the standards set by the top three NFL stadiums.” Like most requirements, if the stadium doesn’t meet that standard, it has to be upgraded “at no cost to the NFL.” If the stadium’s ATMs are not supplied by a NFL partner, the league may remove or cover them and bring in approved machines before the game.

Cities are expected to provide a concrete barrier up to 16 feet high around the stadium and ensure free parking wherever the NFL sets up shop around town.

The host committee must also reserve three “top-quality” 18-hole golf courses where green and cart fees will be waived for a Super Bowl-related golf tournament, as well as another course for use by the NFL in March following the Super Bowl. Free use of up to two bowling alleys is needed, as well, for an NFL event.

If a hotel is chosen as the league’s Super Bowl headquarters, it must provide “150 complimentary room-nights for pre-event planning trips” in the months leading up to the game. Hotels that host the teams have to offer “exclusive, complimentary use of all meeting function space.”

Meanwhile, the NFL retains 100 percent of the revenue from ticket sales, parking and advertising in and around the stadium. The host committee is required to arrange for all ticket sales to be tax-free, and if it can’t, then the host committee has to reimburse the NFL for any taxes paid.

Among the few expenses the NFL is willing to incur is the cost of utilities at the stadium during the Super Bowl, but not for most events held at other venues. Even the cleanup of the stadium is up to the operator, not the NFL.

It definitely is quite a list. One thing that is not clear is who is paying for it all.  Many of the items on the list involve private businesses.  If they are willing to provide the requests on their own, that is fine with us. Some of it is clearly public money, but the big question is how much?

The sports commission previously bid for Super Bowl LV in 2016 and was unsuccessful. As part of that pitch, the city of Tampa agreed to provide free “public safety, security, fire and medical emergency, traffic, decorative display and public work/street maintenance services and supplies . . . including all planning, training or deployment activities related to the provision of such services.”

Similar services for the 2009 Super Bowl, the fourth and most recent held in Tampa, cost city taxpayers $1.2 million. Some of that was recouped in parking fees.

That was 2009. We are ok with providing some public services.  We expect to have to do that.  We chalk that up as the price of the national/international exposure (think of it as a marketing campaign).  And we know that the NFL isn’t in the business of having to pay for stuff. But, as we said, how much?  It would be nice to know.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

Competition Never Ends, Part I

Normally, we don’t go into suburban development in other parts of Florida, but something in the lake Nona area south of Orlando (where UCF’s medical school and the “Medical City” are) caught our eye.

Audit, tax, and advisory firm KPMG LLP officially starts work Monday on its $400 million learning and development campus being constructed at Lake Nona in southeast Orlando.

“This campus is our firm’s largest capital investment ever. More than that, it’s an investment in our people,” KPMG Chairman Lynne Doughtie said in a statement.

Spread across 55 acres, the project will emerge through the end of 2019 with site grading commencing this summer followed by foundation work in the fall. Work on the building “superstructure” is scheduled for early next year and buildings are to be fully enclosed by the end of next year.

KPMG named Bill Flemming, who previously oversaw New York-based Skanska USA Building Inc., to oversee the construction. The Gensler group will work on design, sources said.

Fleming expects the facility to qualify for a U.S. Green Building Council LEED certification, although its uncertain what level they would seek.

The KPMG Learning, Development, and Innovation facility, as its being called, will have more than 800,000 square feet of meeting space plus living and entertainment quarters. It centers on a residential design with 800 single-occupancy rooms, eateries, a coffee and wine bar, and a pub-like venue. It is also planned to have a fitness facility, hiking and biking paths, a softball field, and a volleyball court.

From the Orlando Sentinel – click on picture for article

It is sort of a strange combination of resort, convention center and office.  It is also very large (and suburban).  We are not that fond of the Lake Nona area, but we are willing to say it is attracting some big developments.  We also find it interesting that with our “Wall Street South,” financial services operations, this facility went to Orlando.  While we want to diversify our economy, it still would have fit nicely somewhere around here.

Competition Never Ends, Part II

And, in another sign that competition for flights never ends,

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport’s vision of being an international hub is not so distant anymore.

The airport gave a sneak peak of its new five-gate international Southwest Airlines concourse at Terminal 1 on Thursday, just weeks before the concourse is set to open to the public at the end of June.

* * *

In concert with the opening of the new concourse, Southwest is inaugurating four flights from Fort Lauderdale on Sunday to Montego Bay, Jamaica; Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands; Cancun, Mexico; and Belize City, Belize. The airline is also launching flights to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic; San Jose, Puerto Rico [ed. Sun-Sentinel says this is San Jose, Costa Rica at http://www.sun-sentinel.com/business/fl-bz-southwest-adds-more-fll-routes-20170518-story.html]; and Providenciales, Turks and Caicos in November. The Turks and Caicos flights begin at $59 one-way through a deal available through Thursday, Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said Thursday at the concourse unveiling.

Southwest is currently working on growing its international presence, and expects Fort Laudedale[sic] to be a launching pad for many of its international flights.

(You can see more in another report here) The fact is that competition for new flights and new connections (and the business they help drive) is constant. We cannot afford to simply sit on our laurels while others work to improve.

Competition Never Ends, Part III

It also applies to ports.

Port Everglades on Tuesday received approval from the Broward County Commission to purchase three new cargo cranes needed to meet growing demands from both existing and new customers as it expands its facility.

The low-profile Super Post Panamax container-handling gantry cranes will cost $13.8 million each or a total of $41.4 million, port officials said in a news release.

County commissioners also approved an option for the seaport to purchase three more cranes within five years of the first order.

* * *

Last month, Port Everglades received unanimous approval from commissioners to begin work on a $437.5 million expansion project that will add new berths for larger cargo ships and install crane rail infrastructure for the new cranes.

The Southport Turning Notch Expansion project will lengthen the existing deep water turn-around area for cargo ships from approximately 900 feet to 2,400 feet to allow for up to five new cargo berths, officials have said.

Not much else to say.

— Adventures in Economic Development

We recently discussed Amazon warehouses around the state (and how they were going to expand in Florida).  Now, there is news of another one:

A new 800,000 square-foot Amazon fulfillment center will become the first tenant at the Carrie Meek International Business Park in Opa-locka.

The online giant unveiled plans for the new center on Wednesday. When completed, it will create 1,000 full-time jobs with benefits and become the company’s tenth center in Florida.

* * *

Amazon already operates a 340,000-square-foot fulfillment and distribution center in Doral.

Enough said.

Because It’s There

Finally, the Tampa forum at skyscrapercity is a great way to get news and discuss development.  This was posted this week by user “ajaksalad” this week showing Channel Club is coming along nicely.

Photo by ajaksalad at skycrapercity – click on picture for skycrapercity post

 

Roundup 6-2-2017

June 2, 2017

Roundup is slightly abbreviated this week.

Contents

Transportation – TB(n)X, The Editorial

Tourism/Sports – Why Not?

Downtown – Bar Moves Forward

Transportation – Airport News

Ybor City – That’s What You Get

Growth – Checking in With the Boom

Hyde Park – Altis Grand Central

Downtown – Encore, Encore Issues

Port – Dig

South Tampa – More of a Kind

Tampa Heights – Because We Can

__________________________________________

Transportation – TB(n)X, The Editorial

As one might expect, the Times had an editorial regarding the rebranding of TBX into Tampa Bay Next.  We will avoid excessive quotation and just go for the main point:

Opponents of Tampa Bay Express were quick to dismiss the announcement by Florida’s Department of Transportation last week that it was renaming the controversial plan to rebuild the area’s interstate system. But changing the name from TBX to Tampa Bay Next is more than a rebranding effort, and regional leaders and activists should take this opportunity to build state support for a more multimodal approach to solving the region’s transportation needs.

It may or may not be, but, note:

The DOT needlessly burned its credibility early on by plowing ahead with TBX without input or buy-in from the cross-section of the community that would be most affected. It’s the agency’s job to demonstrate that this new incarnation, Tampa Bay Next, is more than a marketing exercise. That certainly seems the case. But the state will need to bring hard commitments and money to the planning table. Likewise, those opposed to TBX need to recognize that roads will play a part, that the interstates are where they are, that a solution must be multimodal and that Tampa Bay Next might work.

The public needs a chance to be fully heard and for options beyond tolled lanes and highway construction to truly be on the table. The plan must be forward-looking and consider the value being either added or destroyed to these communities through the various transit modes. The one option that’s unacceptable is to stay put. The state and the region need to move ahead with Tampa Bay Next in the spirit it was proposed and offer a range of transit options where they work best.

That is generally right.  Except you can do worse than stay put.  You can have a bad plan that does more long-term damage and solves nothing while wasting billions in resources that could be put to a good plan. Just doing something, anything, is not always a good thing.  (And, while we are all for fixing the Howard Frankland bottleneck and Malfunction Junction – assuming that it does not mean a road 18 lanes wide or something similar, we note again that “multimodal” does not mean just roads for cars and buses.)

Right now, FDOT is saying a lot of the right things, which we appreciate.  We hope they actually mean it.  But nothing has really happened yet, and the burden is on FDOT (and local officials who blindly backed TBX) to build trust and show they can do better.  We think they can.  We hope they do.

Tourism/Sports – Why Not?

There was another sports announcement this week:

Tampa will host the NHL All-Star Game on the same weekend as Gasparilla Pirate Fest in 2018.

The National Hockey League on Monday announced that Tampa would host the All-Star game and related festivities on Jan. 27 and 28 in 2018. The weekend includes the NHL All-Star Skills Competition and the NHL All-Star Game.

First, we are all for the NHL All Star game being held here (though there are issues with the Winter Olympics).  That being said, we are not so sure about having it on Gasparilla.  It could be epic or it could be an epic cluster (especially given all the traffic and parking troubles that have been seen downtown with multiple, smaller events and our lack of transit) – or maybe both in their own way.  Whatever it is, it will be interesting.

Downtown – Bar Moves Forward

URBN Tampa Bay reported more about the renovation/bar development on Franklin:

The proposed multi-story bar/restaurant/lounge combo set to renovate the historic structure at 1007 N. Franklin Street in Downtown Tampa received preliminary approval from the city of Tampa today.

Here’s the picture they used of what it looks like now:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

On our Facebook page, a commenter wondered what it looked like under that façade (which was probably sold a “modernization” when it was done).  Based on the Google maps shot, the information on the page from the Burgert Brothers Collection, and the Property Appraiser website, we believe it is the three-story building on the left of this picture (how about those street lamps):

From Hillsborough County Library Collection – click on picture of website

You can decide which one you like more.

Transportation – Airport News

April was good at the airport.

Tampa International Airport saw its passenger traffic in April soar to nearly 1.8 million travelers.

The airport served 1,799,519 in April, up 5.6 percent for the same month one year ago.

* * *

April 2017 also boasted the highest total number of international passengers coming through TIA in the airport’s history. TIA served 98,844 international travelers that month, up 16.8 percent from the same period in 2016. Leading the way was Air Canada, which was up 23.4 percent due to larger planes.

TIA’s “Cuba service continues to thrive,” Minner said. “We carried 50 percent more passengers to Cuba in April of this year over last year.”

All of which is very good. And, following up on the Roundup we noted last week,

Additionally, TIA also announced new service to Montreal and Toronto on Air Transat, a 30-year-old airline focused on the Canadian holiday travel markets. The new service begins Feb. 18, 2018 and weekly flights will operate on Sundays. It will provide seasonal service through April 2018.

Great.

Ybor City – That’s What You Get

There was an odd report from ABC Action News regarding Ybor City.

Drivers who live in some of Tampa’s oldest neighborhoods say they are unable to drive down tight, crowded streets because there are simply too many parked cars.

Many streets in Ybor City are very narrow and many people do not have driveways. Many cars are parked on both sides of the street leaving some residents facing head-on traffic!

We are not sure why there is an exclamation point since that happens on many residential streets in many cities.  And note that they are not talking about the nightlife (though that probably plays some part). Yes, there is housing and people park on the street – like they do in old neighborhoods everywhere.  That is a feature of living in such a neighborhood.  We are not suggesting it is ok to park in such a way as to block the road – it isn’t.  But the road may get a bit crowded.

Transportation leaders say it’s illegal for any driver to leave less than ten feet of travel lane width when they are parked or stopped.

City Transportation leaders said when the department gets these types of complaints, they go out and investigate, and on occasion we install “No Parking” signs for one or both sides of the street.

The City of Tampa Code, Chapter 15, references parking restrictions and requirements.

They also said Tampa Police would enforce this code, if it were deemed that a parked vehicle was creating an impassable situation. 

While we think no parking signs on both sides of the road would be kind of silly, making sure the road is not blocked is fine (as long as the Police can figure out which car parked last and actually blocked the road, as opposed to all the cars parked properly that came before it).  The basic point is that Ybor is an old, urban neighborhood.  That is part of its charm.  But along with that come some challenges.  Parking is one of them.  And, as long as Ybor is doing ok, it will stay that way.

If you choose to live in Ybor you should do it with eyes open.

Growth – Checking in With the Boom

The Business Journal had an interesting item on the fastest growing (population growth rate between 2010-2016) cities in Florida.   Bradenton was the tenth fastest growing large city at 12.8%.  The rest of that list in ascending order is: Miramar, Miami, Jupiter, Orlando, Cape Coral, Kissimmee, Bonita Springs, Ft. Myers, and Doral.  Normally we would say that our larger size made our growth rate lower, but, with Orlando and Miami on the list, that is not the case. (Though Tampa probably came close to making the list – we calculate 12.3% growth for the city itself.)

Maybe there were high levels of growth in some smaller towns in the area.  None made the list.

So how about wage growth?

A bump in average annual wages for most Florida workers is ending a long period of stagnant paychecks.

Wages in the state averaged $46,236 in 2015, the highest they have been in a decade, according to a report released last week by the Florida Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

Data in the report shows that years after the Great Recession ended, workers’ paychecks were still feeling the pinch.

You can see their report here.

In the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metropolitan area, wages averaged $46,925 in 2015, compared to $44,175 in 2005. Like the statewide figures, the biggest gain came between 2014 and 2015, when wages went up 3.03 percent.

That is .61% over ten years or low wages to low wages (but not quite as low).  On the other hand, at least it is some growth and most of it came recently.  Some other areas of the state had no growth or negative growth.  Nevertheless, while any growth is good, we need much more.  Remember just how low our wages are to other areas around the country.

Hyde Park – Altis Grand Central

Per URBN Tampa Bay, the Altis Grand Central has finally been approved.

After an obnoxiously long (6 months) substantial change request process, the city signed off minor site modifications to Altis Grand Central yesterday. The mixed use project features 314 units and 10,000 square feet of retail across from the Oxford Exchange and should be starting construction in the next couple of months. Here’s what the modifications were:

– Increase the retail space by 423 square feet
– Increase height of the sundeck (this isn’t the tallest part of the building so it didn’t affect the overall building’s height)
– Increase the number of public parking spaces by 2

Again, why the city took so long on this is beyond us, but we’re happy to have it approved and ready to go now. The developer has already closed on the land.

We don’t know why the City took so long to approve it (whether you like it or not, if they are going to approve it, why drag it out?).  If it is a matter of staffing, they should get more resources.  If it is a political (or personal) thing, it should not happen.  Either way, it needs to get fixed.

As for the building, we are interested to see what it will actually look like given the oddly angled (and probably distorted) rendering:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

We shall see.

Downtown – Encore, Encore Issues

The Tempo saga continued this week. First, a reminder of the backstory:

Tempo was already behind schedule when the Housing Authority fired original Tempo contractor the Siltek Group, saying it was not complying with inspectors. There was also concern about the involvement of Siltek project manager Rene Sierra.

In December, he was sentenced to three years of probation, including six months of home detention with electronic monitoring. He was also ordered to repay $1.2 million to the government for his part in a multimillion-dollar kickback scheme involving affordable housing in South Florida.

* * *

As underwriter of the project, Berkley took over construction after the Housing Authority fired the original contractor, the Siltek Group, one year ago. Against the wishes of the Housing Authority, however, Berkley hired Tron Construction, a new firm run by Siltek’s owners.

Now,

The Housing Authority and its development partner announced they were terminating their contract with Berkley Surety Group and its contractor Tron Construction, bringing to a halt work on the Tempo at Encore, a seven-story building on the edge of downtown Tampa.

* * *

Housing Authority officials said it was obvious the building was not on track for its scheduled August opening, and they doubted it would be finished this year. Part of the problem was that Tron did not have enough workers on site, said Leroy Moore, the agency’s chief operating officer.

* * *

There were plenty of other problems with Tron’s work, Moore said. Windows were installed incorrectly, leaving the building prone to leaks. A separate clubhouse/office building was not built to specifications and had to be demolished and restarted.

And we have no problem with that decision.  This project is taking way too long.  What now?

The building will now be finished by a new contractor, Moore said. The estimated $10 million cost will come from leftover funds, with the shortfall being made up by the Housing Authority’s development partner, Banc of America Community Development Corp.

In exchange, the bank will be entitled to recoup that outlay if it and the Housing Authority win any damages from Tron and Berkley in future litigation.  

Fine, if it happens.

We hope the Housing Authority is learning many lessons from this project so they do not repeat the same mistakes if/ when the North Boulevard Homes land (where there have already been some unfortunate decisions) get redeveloped.

Port – Dig

There was news from the Port:

Port Tampa Bay has secured a $9 million grant from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the widening and deepening of the Big Bend Channel in southern Hillsborough County.

The channel project overall will cost $55 million, a press release said. The Big Bend Channel connects to the Tampa Harbor main channel and will be deepened from 34 feet to 43 feet and widened from 200 to 250 feet to accommodate larger ships.

“The members of our Board and our entire team are excited that the administration, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Office of Management and Budget recognize that the Big Bend Channel project will set the standard for innovative partnerships by utilizing a less than 20 percent federal stake in this estimated $55 million strategic project to support navigational improvements,” Paul Anderson, president and CEO of Port Tampa Bay, said in a statement.  

We are not sure how innovative it is, but we are happy they are improving the channel.  We are all for infrastructure improvements at the Port (and focusing on being a port).  Hopefully, it will help bring in additional business.

South Tampa – More of a Kind

There was news of redevelopment in South Tampa.

A St. Petersburg developer will demolish a strip of aging storefronts on South Dale Mabry Highway to make way for a new Starbucks Inc. drive-thru in one of South Tampa’s prime retail nodes.

J Square Developers is planning to begin construction Tuesday on the project at 1300 S. Dale Mabry Highway, which is adjacent to Wright’s Gourmet House and across the street from Publix Super Markets Inc. It is about two-and-half blocks from where Sprouts Farmers Market Inc. opened at the corner of South Dale Mabry and West Estrella Street. (See map below.)

The Sprouts project is disappointing from a design perspective.  It is basically a broken up strip center. (This is an example of how to do a smaller grocery store in an urban way and still provide parking)  Maybe, this will be better.

The existing strip center is 6,000 square feet; the new freestanding Starbucks will be 2,200 square feet with 28 parking spaces.

Not really.

Maybe, they will maintain the South Tampa tradition of having the curb cut extend across the entire length of the parking lot.   That is always a good look – and very pedestrian and bike friendly.

Tampa Heights – Because We Can

And finally, progress on the Pearl from the Height’s Facebook page:

From the Heights – click on picture for Facebook page

Note, it includes 28000 sq feet of retail.  We also like how there are apartments wrapping around the north side of the parking garage (which you can’t really see in this photo) that is not as tall as the south side but shields the neighborhood.  So far, it looks to be a good transition.

 

Roundup 5-26-2017

May 26, 2017

Contents

Transportation – TB(n)X?

USF Area/Channel District/Downtown – Done Deal

Economic Development – Jobs

The Accidental Event

Tampa Heights/Seminole Heights – A Very Hard Problem

Downtown – City Or Not?

Walking/Biking/Transit – Tales from the Field

Temple Terrace – At Serious Risk of Blowing It

Airport – News?

Economic Development/Tourism – ¿Q?

St. Pete –Oh, Those Consultants

Art – One Brick at a Time

____________________________

Transportation – TB(n)X?

FDOT unveiled its TBX restart this week, Tampa Bay Next. (website here)

From the Times – click on picture for article

The landing page of its website tells us: “Tampa Bay has a traffic problem. We’re working on a comprehensive set of solutions.” Setting aside that the Tampa Bay area has a transportation problem – not just a traffic problem, we are fine with the idea of a comprehensive set of solutions (contingent on what they are).  We have been asking for that for a long time.

The website does not really say much after that (what can they say, really, other than “we’re looking at it”), but the Times had an article:

The Florida Department of Transportation announced Tampa Bay Next on Monday as its replacement for the controversial TBX plan, which faced steady community backlash for the past couple years.

DOT officials said the most controversial aspect of the old TBX plan is still under consideration: spending $6 billion to add 90 miles of toll roads to Interstates 4,75 and 275 that do not currently have tolls. Any projects that were part of TBX will be evaluated under Tampa Bay Next, along with alternatives, said local DOT director of development Bill Jones.

“The department — right, wrong or different — two years ago focused on express lanes as the method of solving congestion in the Tampa Bay Region,” local DOT secretary Paul Steinman said. “What people are saying is they want to see the department reach out and look at all the potential solutions …so that all opportunities are considered.”

Ok, but

Express lanes will still happen, officials said, in some parts of Tampa Bay. But the purpose of Tampa Bay Next is to make sure other options — such as transit, bike lanes and other creative road solutions — are included.

* * *

Under Tampa Bay Next, DOT is still planning express lanes for the Gateway Connector in Pinellas, the Howard Frankland Bridge and I-4 and the Selmon Expressway Connector. Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise is building express lanes on portions of the Veterans Expressway.

But the future of the express lanes planned along I-275 from the bridge up to the University of South Florida, along with those on the Westshore and downtown Tampa interchanges, is dependent on the conversations that happen at these community workshops over the next several years, Steinman said.

If you are looking at all the different solutions and really want input, you do not predetermine segments, especially to include something that many people do not want at all.

There’s no end-date for these community meetings, Jones said. As the meetings continue, DOT will build incremental projects that have received community consensus.

This new approach puts the department about two years behind its original schedule to implement TBX, Steinman said.

“When people propose something, we’re going to look at it,” he said. “I’m not saying you’re always going to get what you’re asking for, but we’re going to look at what the best opportunities are as we sit here and reopen this thing.”

Best opportunities as defined by whom?  And if you are going to have comprehensive solutions, they should be integrated and coordinated.  That goes back to the new website landing page – the solutions need to form a transportation system to fix a transportation problem, not just traffic – with emphasis on transportation and system. Determining a few segments before having any idea about the rest makes no sense.  Though, maybe, just maybe, they are really reevaluating everything:

For all the discussion of this “reboot” as a way of starting over in coming up with a transportation plan the community can buy into, express toll lanes remain an option the FDOT is considering, but not necessarily in areas where Tampa transit activists are most concerned.

That would be the downtown interchange area just north of downtown Tampa on I-275, as well as the Westshore interchange.

“That’s all under re-evaluation,” says Danielle Moran, program consultant for FDOT on the Tampa Bay Next project. “FDOT is doing exactly what everybody asked them to do last year. They have slowed down the pace of the project to wait for the results of the Transit Feasibility plan.”

Also known as the “premium transit plan,” that study recently came up with five transit routes that are being considered a “starting point.” It will continue deep into 2018.

That sounds good, but it should be noted that it does not necessarily mean any actual changes to TBX.

Given the seemingly conflicting information, it will be interesting to see how much of the new TB(n)X is basically the old TBX in new wrapping.  While talking about community input and putting a picture of a bike and some nondescript transit vehicle is positive (sort of), what counts is what plans emerge.  As the FDOT consultant said:

DOT consultant Len Becker said the differences will show through once DOT starts rolling out projects that the community supports.

“Trust is built with time,” Becker said. “To me, this is all about follow through.”

Exactly.  The acknowledgement of that is positive.  We’ll see about the rest.

USF Area/Channel District/Downtown – Done Deal

For anyone who thought that the MOSI move was not a done deal:

The Museum of Science and Industry this fall will begin seriously preparing for a relocation to downtown Tampa, with a goal of opening in 2022.

MOSI on Thursday announced a “visioning” process that will begin after Aug. 13, concurrent with the reconfiguration of its current real estate into “a reimagined, financially sustainable science center.”

The museum will close for two to three months during the reconfiguration process which begins in mid-August. There is no firm reopening date, but spokesman Grayson Kamm said Thursday that it could be in October or November.

The reconfiguration should save money, slashing “massive operations costs,” according to the museum. It will also mean the end of the museum’s IMAX theater, some outdoor features like the butterfly garden and new, lower ticket prices.

Robert Thomas, incoming MOSI board chairman and CEO of 2 Rivers Ranch, said Thursday that the closure was timed to coincide with the museum’s slowest time of year to minimize impact to the bottom line.

“This will serve as a proof-of-concept testing ground for fresh ideas that may be implemented in the new downtown facility,” MOSI said in a news release.

At the same time, the museum, along with the Vinik Family Foundation and Hillsborough County, will form a task force to shape what a potential downtown location might look like. A feasibility study MOSI released in 2016 showed that a downtown location would be a financial boon to the organization. 

All of which got an enthusiastic editorial from the Times:

Tampa’s Museum of Science and Industry made a difficult but necessary decision Thursday in announcing it would significantly downsize its campus in advance of relocating to downtown Tampa. The move will save MOSI money while preserving its presence and educational mission, and it signals that museum leaders are willing to confront the reality of the marketplace. This is a good move that should bolster public confidence in MOSI and better position it to succeed at its new location.

It’s not that we necessarily oppose moving MOSI to a downtown/Channel District location (depending on the plan).  It’s just that it sure seems like a decision made without any real public input or discussion.  (Of course, that is not really unusual for local decisions historically.) It is entirely likely that, even with such input and discussion, there would be the same outcome.

The thing we really wonder about any new location is whether MOSI can actually be made interesting enough to really bring people in.  And what will the county do with the present MOSI site?

Economic Development – Jobs

There has been a lot of news about the good job performance in this area (and the state) over the last few years. This week is no exception, like this:

The state’s unemployment fell from 4.8 percent in March to 4.5 percent in April, the lowest rate since November 2007. Nationally, unemployment was slightly lower than the Sunshine State’s, coming in at 4.4 percent for April, according to figures released Friday by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

Tampa Bay’s overall unemployment rate shaved off 0.3 percentage points over the month to hit 3.8 percent for April.

* * *

The entire Tampa Bay region saw declining unemployment in April. Hillsborough County’s unemployment was 3.7 percent, down from 4 percent in March. Pinellas dropped from 3.9 to 3.6 percent, while Pasco dipped from 4.6 to 4.2 percent. Hernando also saw a drop from 5.4 percent to 5 percent.

Since March, Tampa Bay added 2,300 jobs, and a total of 33,400 since April 2016. Among the sectors with the greatest job growth in the region were professional and business services and construction.

“The Tampa area also led the state in job openings, which means there are thousands of opportunities for Floridians to find the opportunities they need to succeed in Tampa Bay,” Gov. Rick Scott said in a release. “We will keep fighting to make Tampa, and our entire state, a top destination for job growth.” 

So it was interesting to see this in the Business Journal:

The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metropolitan statistical area showed strong job growth from 2012 to 2016, but was well below other Florida metro areas.

A new report from the U.S. Conference of Mayors shows the Tampa metro area had a 2.9 percent growth in jobs from 2012 to 2016, ranking in No. 54 nationally. While this indicates a strong job market, eight other Florida metros grew at a faster rate.

Cape Coral-Fort Myers had the highest rate of growth at 5.1 percent, which ranked third-highest in the country, followed by North Port-Bradenton-Sarasota at 4.3 percent (sixth nationally), The Villages at 4.1 percent (eighth) and Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford (ninth) at 4 percent.

While Tampa’s mouse-eared neighbor up Interstate 4 outpaced it in growth rate, Tampa still ranked higher in total number of jobs. However, that gap is now only 78,700, with 1.28 million jobs in the Tampa metro and 1.2 million in Orlando.

The other two major Florida metros, Jacksonville and Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, also outpaced the Tampa region. Lakeland-Winter Haven fell slightly lower at 2.4 percent.

(The report can be found here) Note that those numbers are over a period of time, which is truly a better measure of performance than a one year or quarter snapshot. (There were also predictions about the future, but we are not going to put much stock in those.)

We are not going to put down the overall numbers of new jobs in this area.  However, as we have said numerous times, you can compare present performance to our previous performance and/or you can compare how we are doing to how other areas are doing.  On the first, we are doing very well.  On the second, the results are mixed.  And then there is always the issue of our low incomes.

So, yes, we are doing better, but we still have a way to go.

The Accidental Event

Sometimes opportunity just falls into your lap.  Thus it was this week with Super Bowl LV.

NFL owners voted unanimously Tuesday to shift Super Bowl LV, which will be played in February 2021, from Los Angeles to Tampa.

It will be Tampa’s first Super Bowl since 2009, when the Steelers scored a last-minute touchdown to beat the Cardinals 27-23. Tampa also hosted the NFL championship game in 1984, 1991 and 2001.

The league had originally awarded the game to Los Angeles, which is building a stadium for the Rams and Chargers. The stadium was set to open in 2019, but heavy rains have delayed construction and pushed back its debut to the summer of 2020.

Because NFL rules prohibit stadiums from hosting Super Bowls during their inaugural season, owners decided to relocate the game to Raymond James Stadium, which has seen more than $150 million in renovations that have included video board and sound updates as well as concourse improvements.

Tampa was a finalist for the 2019 and 2020 Super Bowls but lost out to Atlanta and Miami.

In other words, we were originally snubbed but Mother Nature gave us a reprieve.  Cool.  We are all for big events in the area.  They may not do all that some boosters say, but they definitely show off the area, and they often bring some fun stuff for locals.  We’ll just say that usually having them is better than not having them.

Rob Higgins, executive director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, said his organization had been monitoring the situation in Los Angeles and began to seriously prepare for the possibility of hosting the game about three or four days ago.

Higgins said his group will now revisit its previous bid, reaching out to hotels, event venues and other community leaders to ensure their commitment to the 2021 game. That has to be done before the league will officially award the game to Tampa, Higgins said.

Based on the Sports Commission’s past efficient performance in big events, we expect they will get everything worked out.

Tampa Heights/Seminole Heights – A Very Hard Problem

There was an article in the Times about what is one of the hardest problems in trying to redevelop areas – how to deal with the homeless.  Clearly, there have to be facilities to deal with the homeless and others down on their luck.  However, if we are honest, it is harder to get investment or attract customers to places where the homeless congregate.  On the other hand, if you move a facility serving the homeless from one area to another, you just move the problem and just put it on different people.  With that in mind:

The Salvation Army operates the Red Shield Lodge in Tampa Heights, the city’s only homeless shelter that takes in single men and women. It provides temporary emergency housing for up to 110 people each night.

But the organization’s 90-year-old building on N Florida Avenue is well past its prime. And the land, in a flourishing part of the downtown corridor near Water Works Park and Ulele Restaurant, is a coveted piece of property that has generated plenty of interest.

And, yes, we have often wondered about that location.

Hillsborough County has a vacant building in Seminole Heights. The Salvation Army is weighing a move of its homeless shelter out of downtown.

Might there be a match?

Hillsborough officials have approached the Tampa branch of the Salvation Army about turning the old Emergency Operations Center on E Hanna Avenue into a homeless shelter.

The conversations were described as preliminary, but both sides have expressed interest in a partnership.

“We’re seriously considering it,” said Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill. “It would really benefit everyone.”

It appears to be the property at 2711 E Hanna Ave.  First, that is not really Seminole Heights.  It is more East Tampa.  Second,

Salvation Army Capt. Andy Miller acknowledged the value of the [Tampa Heights] property “might make it a wiser move to liquidate our assets downtown and we can accomplish our mission better elsewhere with the right situation.”

But he said a deal with the county is not the only option under consideration and nothing is imminent.

“If we can accomplish the mission best by staying downtown, we will,” Miller said. “If we can accomplish it best by going someplace else, we will.”

Which, from the perspective of the Salvation Army’s and their mission, totally makes sense.  We know the City would like them to move, so what is their approach?

The discussions come as relations between the city of Tampa and some groups that help the homeless — including the Salvation Army — are strained.

* * *

In fact, Buckhorn refuses to talk to the Salvation Army and the two haven’t talked since Miller took over nearly a year ago.

“Some people had said to me, ‘The mayor is putting pressure on you and that’s why you’re leaving,’ ” Miller said. “He’s not even willing to talk to us. It’s really frustrating to me.”

Buckhorn spokeswoman Ashley Bauman confirmed the mayor won’t meet with Miller.

“He’s never found them to be good partners nor recognize the impact of that use on adjoining communities,” Bauman said. “He’s met with them repeatedly during his tenure as mayor and has never had a productive conversation.”

Frankly, that characterization is a bit odd (everyone knows what the Salvation Army does and what their priorities are) and not talking is also not productive (miscommunication/lack of dialogue seems to be an issue this week. See here and here), but anyway . . .

Working of this one report, like all issues dealing with this matter, we have mixed feelings.  Would it be nice to move the homeless facilities from Tampa Heights?  Yes.  But just pushing the homeless into another neighborhood out of sight is not really fixing anything.  And will they even be able to get to the new facility or will they just be where they are now without and facilities? And what of the neighborhood where the new facility is put? Do they want it? Who speaks for them?

Like we said, it is a complicated issue, which is why talking, even if people disagree, is important. Nothing is going to improve without talking about it.

Downtown – City Or Not?

URBN Tampa Bay highlighted a proposal to renovate a three-story building downtown.

There’s a proposal for 1007 North Franklin Street causing a stir. The owners of Drynk SoHo want to renovate the 3 story masonry building at that address into a restaurant/bar/lounge combo, including utilizing the rooftop for lounge space. Some residents have already sent in letters opposing the project on the grounds of noise, excess alcohol consumption, parking (or lack thereof) and other miscellaneous objections.

We have a different perspective. This is Downtown, and Downtowns of major metropolitan areas like our own get larger entertainment venues like this. It is up to the city to enforce their noise ordinances and for businesses to comply. If businesses can’t comply, they get shut down and owners lose out on their investment for not complying. The Franklin Manor has already been successful and reviving their little pocket of Downtown, and these types of entertainment options are necessary in creating vibrant live, work, play neighborhoods. Also, Downtowns are inherently “loud” due to their density and mix of uses. That doesn’t mean residents should have to put up with sources that break code or are unreasonable, but if you want dead silence outside at 1 AM on a Thursday night, then we have a gated cul-de-sac or noise preventing window tint to sell you.

Unlike Franklin Manor, the vast majority of this venue is indoors, with the exception of the rooftop part. Therefore, we suggest a condition that would restrict or ban live music and also set certain volume standards for DJ’d music on the roof. That should remedy all of the legitimate fears the residents in opposition have brought up thus far.

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

We are generally in agreement with that view.  We are all for renovating the remaining old buildings downtown (far too much has been torn down over the years).  And, it is downtown.  If you choose to live there, you should expect some nightspots to be open a bit late with some noise.  We are also good with the proposed restriction of the rooftop portion of the bar.  One other issue brought up in the comments is that the people proposing this project have another business elsewhere that has drawn some complaints.  We do not know all the details behind that and those facts may change this specific proposal.  However, if there is such an issue, it can be dealt with and has nothing to do with the basic idea.

However, as a general rule, downtown is downtown.  There will be some noise (though some reasonable restrictions make sense).  If you don’t want it, don’t live there.

Walking/Biking/Transit – Tales from the Field

There were some interesting articles about what it is like to walk, bike and use transit in the Tampa Bay area.  We are not going to get into all the details but, first, from the Times:

Six months ago, Kyle Simon ditched his car and pretty much walked where he needed to go. And he did this here, in one of the most dangerous places in America to be a pedestrian.

Can you see where this story is going?

Yea, you can guess.  Or you can read it here.

A few weeks ago, we noted a Creative Loafing series where the head of the Innovation Alliance was going to write about getting around only using transit.  The latest installment is here.  It is also going pretty much as you would assume.

The whole point of these stories is to detail what is actually happening the in the area while there is much talk about fixing the alternative transportation infrastructure.  And if you actually have tried to use it, you know it is not too good (though there are a few places where walking or biking actually work).  As far as we can tell, decision makers still do not really understand how bad it is (probably because they do not get out and try it.  Why else would you have so many sidewalks to nowhere and bike lanes that no sane person would use?)

While FDOT is reevaluating its “traffic solutions,” they need to be mindful of the alternatives to driving and the impediments that exist to them.  And so should local officials.

Temple Terrace – At Serious Risk of Blowing It

Over the years we have touched on Temple Terrace’s attempt to build a “downtown” on a large property at 56th and Busch/Bullard.   So far, despite much talk and many proposals, nothing has actually happened.

Some in Temple Terrace are concerned an empty plot of city-owned land will be turned into another big-box store or chain retailer.

* * *

Instead of empty parking lots, they would like to see a mixed-use plan for the land, including apartments, condos, restaurants, office spaces and green space.

This is all a part of an original idea city leaders and community members came up with together several years ago, Long said.

“We just need some place where people can shop and go and enjoy themselves and have a good meal,” Long said.,

But then, community members say delays happened when it came to developing the land and it has since sat vacant.  Now, the City of Temple Terrace is planning to sell the land again.

However, some community members are concerned the city will sell the land only to the highest bidder instead of what they feel is the best option for the area to grow and develop.

* * *

City Man[a]ger Charles W. Stephenson said he could say very little at this time about the plans for the land because it is currently up for bid. . .. City leaders are taking bids from all different kinds of companies. Stephenson said. However, just because a bid is taken doesn’t mean that city leaders will approve it, he said.

The city will stop accepting bids for the land on May 26th.

The last thing Temple Terrace needs is big box retail on that lot, especially given that many big box retailers are on questionable footing at this point.  The original concept of building a walkable, mixed use project on the land is plainly the best idea for the neighborhood, the city, and the area.  Given all the development around the area, why Temple Terrace cannot get it done is somewhat of a mystery. All we can say is don’t blow it.

Airport – News?

While there has been no official announcement (and like Bahamasair, you never know), it appears that next year there will be additional Canada service:

Canadian carrier airtransat in winter 2017/18 season is adding several new nonstop sectors to sun destinations, including Florida, Mexico and the Caribbean. Planned new sectors as follow. Note operational date listed above is based on departure from Canada.

* * *
Montreal – Tampa 18FEB18 – 29APR18 1 weekly 737-800
* * *
Toronto – Tampa 18FEB18 – 29APR18 1 weekly 737-800

The flights are also listed on their website. Any new service is welcome.

Economic Development/Tourism – ¿Q?

The headline from the Business Journal daily update really caught our attention: “How Visit Tampa Bay is reaching out to the Spanish-speaking tourism market for the first time.”  How could that be, especially given this:

“Tampa Bay has one of Florida’s oldest and most dynamic Spanish-speaking communities,” said Santiago C. Corrada, president and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay. “On top of that, our 131-year relationship with Cuba enhances our status as a must-see destination for Spanish-speaking travelers.”

* * *

Research shows that the Hispanic travel market likes to go to areas like Tampa “where there is some similarity but also something a little different from home,” said Patrick Harrison, Visit Tampa Bay’s chief marketing officer.

Don’t get us wrong.  We are no opposed to such marketing.  We are wondering how, with our long history, it could possibly be the first time such marketing is done (aside from the normal Tampa Bay are complacency).

We sure hope they are actively marketing to markets in Latin America.

St. Pete –Oh, Those Consultants

We don’t really get too much into the whole Pier discussion in St. Pete because, well, it just seems to go on and on.  However, recently, something caught our eye that has broader implications.

An economic analysis of the future Pier District promises a rosy return on the project’s current $66 million pricetag.

The study by Lambert Advisory of Miami estimates that the district — which is not yet under construction and is expected to open at the end of 2018 — will have a potential annual economic impact on St. Petersburg of $80 million, create hundreds of jobs, bring in close to two million visitors a year and boost demand for hotels and restaurants.

Lambert expects spending by the anticipated crowds of local and out-of-town visitors to have a broad impact beyond the 26-acre Pier District and the surrounding downtown area. Visitors are expected to spend about $30 million for food and beverages, $10 million for retail and services and $15 million for hotels.

And

Lambert also said many of the assumptions were conservative, and echoed the city’s stance that the recently-increased project scope and budget will produce a major tourist attraction for the region.  But he admitted there was no accounting for “displacement,” which is money locals might spend at the new pier instead of other parts of the region, possibly hurting other local businesses.

It’s not that we don’t like downtown St. Pete (we do) or that we were big fans of the upside-down pyramid (we weren’t), but those conclusions seem a bit inflated. As Creative Loafing put it:

. . . whether it’s a pier or a stadium or a shopping mall, all predictive economic impact reports commissioned by invested parties are bullshit. Now, we’re not saying we think the pier will be bad for the city. That’s not what we’re saying. We’re just saying that ALL PREDICTIVE ECONOMIC IMPACT REPORTS COMMISSIONED BY INVESTED PARTIES ARE BULLSHIT. Learn it, know it, live it.

Ok, that may be overstating a bit.  Such reports are not universally overly sunny, but very often are. Sometimes, rarely, they underestimate impact.  Occasionally, they come close.  But you can never really tell beforehand except by knowing the market generally, the market for the specific thing, and what has happened elsewhere (which is what studies are supposed to do, but …). In sum, with economic impact reports, it is hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. Given all that, whether we are for something or opposed to it, we generally don’t put that much faith in such reports unless it can be clearly quantified.

That does not mean don’t do it.  It doesn’t mean it is a bad investment. It does not mean that there may be a number of reasons to do something and it may attract more interests in a longer time frame or when a better support structure gets built around it. And it does not mean a project will definitely not be a success. It just means that view such reports with healthy skepticism.

Art – One Brick at a Time

In another sign the Lightning owner gets it,

The Vinik Family Foundation is announcing today that it will sponsor a free, family-friendly art installation from June 23 to Sept. 4 called “The Art of the Brick.” It’s a touring exhibition of imaginative Lego creations by Nathan Sawaya that has been drawing huge crowds around the world since 2007.

In an interview at the couple’s art-filled home in South Tampa, the Viniks said it’s the kind of public art experience they plan to seek more of as the Channelside area is remade. It’s not just for fun, they said, it’s good for business.

* * *

The exhibit will be set up in a Channelside area warehouse that used to be the District 3 nightclub at 802 E Whiting St. With more than 18,000 square feet of space, it will be roomy enough that organizers are not requiring visitors to obtain tickets, like they did with The Beach Tampa.

At the end of the exhibit, there will be a Lego play area and visitors will be invited to leave a creation of their own on one of the shelves to be uploaded on social media at #artofthebricktampa.

The exhibit will arrive just as dirt starts turning on the redevelopment plan devised by Jeff Vinik and Bill Gates’ Cascade Investment, which formed the development company Strategic Property Partners. The development will have a strong public art component for what he envisions is a walkable urban experience, Vinik said.

“We want a vibrant downtown urban district with artwork, parks, green space, dog parks and all these different amenities to give you a great street-level experience,” he said.

The exhibit looks interesting and fun.  And it is just another instance of the Lightning owner following up on what he says with action.  We can only hope his development overall does the same.  The evidence so far is encouraging.

Roundup 5-19-2017

May 19, 2017

Contents

Transportation – Bring on the MPOs

Transportation – FDOT, a Case study

Airports – Goings On

— There Is One Thing

— Across the Bay

Transportation – Channelling Billy Gibbons

West Tampa – Coming Down

Economy – Tourism

Economic Development – Money for Building

Sometimes You Just Have to Wonder

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

____________________________________

Transportation – Bring on the MPOs

Now that the TBARTA bill has gotten through the legislature, it seems it is time to move on to part two of the Partnership plan, merging MPOs.

Politicians, citizens, civil servants. Residents of multiple counties. Light rail advocates and opponents. The nearly 200 participants were a microcosm of a diverse population that could, one day, be represented by a regional Metropolitan Planning Organization that represents all of Tampa Bay — and not just each individual county.

But Friday’s workshop at St. Petersburg College’s Collaborative Labs showed just how complicated it can be to reach consensus, especially on one of the region’s most hot-button topics.

So what were the sides (at least the reported sides.  We assume there was more diversity of opinion among 200 people)?

Business leaders believe that a regional MPO is the next step in the bay area’s transportation future. Tampa Bay Partnership president Rick Homans and other economic development leaders successfully lobbied the Legislature to turn the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority into the Tampa Bay Regional Transit Authority.

If the governor signs the bill into law, the new TBARTA will focus on transit. But the bay area needs more than an operating agency, Homans said, there’s still a void in regional planning.

For some, a regional MPO is the next logical step. Most major metropolitan areas across the country have one MPO, but it’s less common in Florida.

For others, it’s a loss of sovereignty. A regional MPO would remove local control and could make vying for transportation dollars even harder than it already is.

The group listed the key ingredients for a successful regional planning group: accountability, equity, public engagement, a focus on economic development and improved mobility.

That’s all fine, but not very specific.  Of course, there was not agreement:

Hillsborough Tea Party co-founder Sharon Calvert, for one, opposes a regional MPO. She said there’s too much risk of losing local control. The bigger the entity, she said, the more removed it is from the individuals it serves.

“It makes it a bigger food fight into a smaller amount of money,” Calvert said. “Who is responsible to me in this regional group?”

But others see it as a way to focus regional priorities without casting aside local needs.

“The overall sense I got was that we need a strong regional entity still with strong local input that goes into that,” said Chiaramonte, executive director of TBARTA.

We get the concern for local control to protect neighborhoods from being run over by crappy, imposed plans, though the present system does not really protect neighborhoods.  TBX certainly did not take into account local needs, but, then again, the Tea Party representative supports TBX.   Still, we are actually concerned that neighborhoods don’t get destroyed.

So what is the next step?  You guessed it – a study:

Friday’s input will be used by the group studying the idea. That group is also supposed to search the nation for best practices for a regional MPO structure. There will be more other opportunities to gather local input, Montalvo said, and more workshops. The study should be completed by December, complete with a recommendation.

The group could come back, Pinellas MPO executive director Whit Blanton said, and declare that a unified, regional MPO will not work in Tampa Bay.

“The local, regional tension will never go away,” he said. “There’s this respect you always have to have for local community and local needs, but at a certain point you can’t let it paralyze what you need to do to move a region forward.

If that is the case, it seems that maybe such a study should probably be done before deciding on a specific policy.  Moreover, there already are mechanisms for MPOs to work in a unified way through TBARTA.  There is nothing stopping them from working together and approving an agreed upon plan now.  The organization is not the issue – actually working in a unified way is the issue. Any paralysis is voluntary.

In any event, the Times editorial board already is advocating for merging MPO’s:

Area business and political leaders met Friday to discuss whether to merge the county-based transportation planning agencies across the region into a single Metropolitan Planning Organization. Comprised of local elected officials and the heads of transportation agencies, MPOs oversee transportation planning at the local level and serve as conduits between cities and counties and the state and federal governments. Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties each have their own MPO, and that is two too many.

The county-by-county approach no longer works in this growing region. The Pinellas beaches are a regional draw. Tampa’s airport and seaport serve all of Central Florida. The University of South Florida is a major engine on both sides of Tampa Bay. Tens of thousands of residents commute across county lines to work. Pinellas and Hillsborough have joined hands in promoting tourism and funding a cross-bay ferry. The 3 million residents in the region all depend on access to the bay bridges and the interstate system, and there should be a single champion to ensure that Tampa Bay sets the right priorities and speaks with one voice to get its fair share of state and federal dollars.

Once again, that is all fine, and, done right, we don’t have an objection.  But it is not needed.

Critics fear consolidation would lead to a crowding out of local projects, as big-ticket regional initiatives consume the lion’s share of time, money and political attention. But there is no reason to believe a unified MPO would lose its sense of mission merely because it expanded its scope. Most major metros in the country have a single MPO, and those agencies have balanced local needs with larger visions for their communities. Tampa Bay’s growth in recent years also has sparked an intense public conversation on how to use different transit options where they work best. If anything, a unified MPO would build accountability into the planning system by ensuring that local and regional projects were compatible. 

One again, we are more concerned that a unified MPO would ignore the interests (not necessarily projects) of communities even more than the present MPO’s do.  Nothing in the TBARTA bill or the MPO proposal – or anything in the arguments of the proponents of those ideas – alleviates that concern.

Friday’s meeting was the first of many in the coming months. There are myriad concerns that need to be addressed, from the geography of a unified MPO and its representation to the role that local governments will continue to play in planning decisions. This discussion should not take forever, and it should not focus on who might lose their job or power. This is an opportunity to put the region’s transit needs in a stronger position for funding, and for the area to think longer-term where it is headed. Local leaders should embrace this goal and work constructively to make it happen.

The representation thing will be interesting, especially seeing who will cave.  And it seems that should be discussed up front.  If that cannot get worked out, nothing will get worked out.  And, no, the discussion should not take forever, but our transportation discussion has been going on for at least 30 years.

As we said, done right, we don’t really care about merging the MPO’s, as long as neighborhoods concerns don’t get run over and the members actually pay attention to the plans they are approving (see TBX Howard Frankland).  Whether it can be done right is another question.  And, despite the talk about the reorganization, the real issue remains not the arrangement of the chairs, but what the people sitting in them actually do.  And that remains to be seen.

Transportation – FDOT, a Case study

There has been much talk about the TBX reset and FDOT listening to the community.  And it is good talk.  In light of that, news from Miami caught our interest.

After 90 minutes of sometimes ardent public testimony, a state transportation panel — without a single word of discussion — stuck with a controversial ranking on Friday to select a contractor for the $800 million reconstruction of Interstate 395 and the design of its long-awaited “signature bridge.”

Each of the three panel members endorsed a proposal by a joint venture team led by Archer Western and The de Moya Group by saying “I concur” to signal agreement that scores given the three finalists by two previous review panels had been added up accurately. The Archer Western team beat out its closest competitor, the Fluor-Astaldi-MCM team, by a razor-thin margin of half a point.

Archer Western’s winning plan for a new bridge over Biscayne Boulevard: Six support arches of varying heights that sprout from the center of the elevated span toward its outer edges, a design explicitly meant to evoke a fountain.

But that was not the bridge preferred by a panel of community representatives charged with evaluating competing proposals on aesthetics, a key element in the competition. By a significant margin, the four-member panel preferred the runner-up’s bridge — a design consisting of two scissor-like support towers meant to resemble dancers cavorting before the adjacent Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.

Setting aside the whole idea of the $800 million rebuild of a part of the interstate in downtown Miami is a few hundred million more expensive than replacing a span of the Howard Frankland, that hardly seems like listening to the community.

This is what won:

From the Miami Herald – click on picture for article

And this is what the community reps wanted:

From the Miami Herald – click on picture for article

While we like the runner-up far more than the winner, that is not the point.  This is:

The Florida Department of Transportation won’t even answer questions on its process. Dick Kane, the agency’s communications director, emailed the Editorial Board that a “cone of silence” issued on the project remains in effect. That’s ridiculous. FDOT should explain itself. It’s a contagious lack of transparency that FDOT seems to have caught from the state Legislature, which did too much of the public’s business behind closed doors.

This time, the rush to get something past residents is not just sneaky: In court, it represents the breach of a legal settlement reached in 2013 between the FDOT and the city of Miami. Miami attorney Mason Pertnoy, who helped craft the original agreement with FDOT, plans to push the point: “It’s not my concern which bridge is more pleasing, they have breached their agreement.”

FDOT had promised a special bridge, then reneged, saying only a segmental bridge would be built, with no regard to aesthetics. The city, with then-Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff in the lead, sued FDOT. The case was settled with an agreement to set up two five-member panels: an aesthetics panel with the power to vote on the final look of the bridge, and a technical panel, made up of FDOT personnel who would deal with logistics, but not vote on the final design.

But questionable shenanigans, unfortunately, reared up. In the end, the technical panel did vote, improving the odds for the winning side. “FDOT math,” said Sarnoff, who should be praised for stepping up to enforce the agreement even though he’s no longer a public servant.

This is an expensive, and long-lasting, bait and switch by FDOT, and it needs to be revisited.

Last week, FDOT, trying to save face, held a 90-minute public meeting. Those who came to speak about the flaws and benefits of the competing projects thought they would be heard. After they spoke, the state transportation panel listening — but without discussion — stuck with the controversial ranking to select a contractor and design.

Which really makes one wonder what the TBX reset really will accomplish.  As we have said before, the nice talk is good (and bro hugs are fine), but far more important is the plan that emerges. The story from Miami is not encouraging.

Airports – Goings On

There was more good news about airport traffic:

TIA beat its previous record by more than 50,000 passengers in the two months combined. In March, the airport’s busiest month, TIA served 1,979,244 passengers. In April, the airport served 1,799,519 passengers, bringing the two-month total to nearly 3.8 million passengers.

There was also an interesting dialog regarding the requested audit of the airport renovation/expansion.  When the audit was requested, it was not clear exactly why it was necessary, though there was some talk of spending impropriety. Then the Times carried a letter to the editor by the Florida head of Americans for Prosperity, a Tea Party affiliated group:

The first phase of the expansion, originally due to be completed this year, has been pushed back to 2018. And the project is experiencing cost overruns at a time when its sources of funding are in jeopardy. The airport has financed the project with a $195 million grant from the state and approximately $800 million in new bond debt, to be funded by increased parking rates, new fees on car rentals and existing sources of revenue like fees on airline tickets.

The revenue from all these sources is likely to disappoint. Passenger numbers at Tampa International grew only 0.6 percent last year — far short of the 2.7 percent annual growth the airport projected. Ticket sales, therefore, will probably fall short of expectations. Meanwhile, ridesharing services will cut into parking revenue and rental car fees.

Taxpayers are right to worry they will be on the hook for the shortfall. They might also ask why they are funding a nearly $1 billion rental car facility in the first place. Tourists may enjoy the convenience, and rental car companies will profit handsomely. But the average family is unlikely to see much benefit.

Florida’s lawmakers should support auditing Tampa International Airport. Taxes ought to support core government services — not be wasted on special interests.

Setting aside that it is unclear how rental car companies will profit handsomely if people use ridesharing so much, the letter is interesting in that it frames the audit in ideological terms, not in terms of corruption or improper disbursement of funds. (It also does not mention other airport expansions, like Orlando’s $3 billion project).   More interestingly, we could not find any widespread local Tea Party objection to the airport work (sure, someone may object, but, looking at blogs, news reports, and websites, it does not appear to be widespread).

About a week later, the Airport Director had a guest column in the Times:

As the gateway to the west coast of Florida, it’s essential that the airport grow at a pace consistent with Tampa Bay, one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country.

We’re already bursting at the seams. Though the numbers of takeoffs and landings are flat, airlines are flying bigger, fuller planes. (It’s not your imagination: There really is less leg room.) That means more people use the airport than ever before. We served nearly 2 million passengers in March, marking the busiest month in the airport’s history. Peaks and valleys occur, but the numbers show us meeting passenger forecasts developed during the planning of the expansion in 2012.

Since then, we’ve seen a 12.5 percent increase in passengers and anticipate serving a record number this year. With new service to Panama, Germany, Cuba and, soon, Iceland, international passenger traffic has increased more than 100 percent. Those flights and new service to Seattle and San Francisco support our tourism economy as well as the growth of other business sectors that rely on easy access to domestic and international flights.

There is not much to add there.

Our financial picture is also strong. Even in the midst of a $971.9 million expansion, Wall Street has given us an enthusiastic nod of approval: Tampa International is the only airport in North America with Double A ratings from four different bond rating agencies. In giving those ratings, agencies cited diverse revenue streams and conservative management of our capital program.

Phase one funding comes from a variety of sources. User fees attached to car rentals cover almost all the cost of the rental car center, an approach common nationwide for such facilities. Visitors largely pay those fees, but Tampa Bay residents and visitors alike will benefit from the resulting decongestion of roads and passenger dropoff and pickup areas. Bonds backed by airport revenues and user fees attached to airline tickets cover about 33 percent of the project. The state of Florida also invested nearly $200 million in the program, a generous contribution to a vital state asset that supports more than 81,000 jobs and generates $7.8 billion in economic output each year, according to the Florida Department of Transportation.

Not to mention adding 2400 spaces to the long-term parking garage by moving rental cars out – adding parking revenue and convenience.

Setting aside infrastructure spending on express lanes doesn’t do anything for the “average” family (especially in an area where incomes are as low as ours) and/or in a world where traffic is supposedly flowing smoothly because everyone is using shared automated cars (probably won’t happen, but just for the sake of argument) express lanes are a total waste of money because no one will need them, we are all for careful management of taxpayer money. (Though if you can turn a $200 million investment into a $1 billion improvement, that is a pretty good deal.  And if the money comes from user fees, all the better.)  However, we are also aware that infrastructure is a key government function and requires investment.  Moreover, air service is critical to business and competition for developing air services is fierce (and will help pay the debt for the renovation/expansion).  Maintaining the airport’s excellent reputation and functionality is key. (Which includes attracting more of those tourists who benefit from an efficient rental car facility). And developing business to help the local economy helps local families.

And, in any event, the funding is a political question that has already been answered.

So, by all means, audit to make sure the money is spent where it is supposed to be spent.  But if the audit is just a way to make an ideological objection to infrastructure investment, the audit is a waste of taxpayer money. The maintaining and improving public assets that help drive the local economy is not a special interest – it is public interest.

We need an airport.  We have a great facility that consistently ranks as one of the best in the country (if not the world).  Neglecting it out of ideology makes no sense and wastes the previous investment.

— There Is One Thing

There is one thing we hope the airport is paying close attention to:

Recent malfunctions with Orlando International Airport’s new shuttle provoked astonishment that a broken train could trigger such a debacle for which there was no immediate rescue plan.

* * *

But the shuttle stoppages that happened over five days in April weren’t caused by an easily corrected hiccup at an airport that is now immersed in big-ticket projects.

* * *

The train that failed last month, however, wasn’t one of the airport’s proven workhorses. Nor was it backed up by a parallel train; the companion shuttle was under reconstruction. The train expected to run tirelessly went into service in February, built and installed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

Also new: an elevated track; high-voltage circuitry; computer servers; and a control room of consoles, monitors and even a line printer, zinging out hard copies of the train’s heart beat.

Tested for a month before service, a period that included hauling 60,000 pounds of water bottles, a load equal to the limit of 300 passengers, the train still was in its infancy.

The SkyConnect system in Tampa will also use Mitsubishi vehicles (we think they are also the same model, but we could be mistaken).  Regardless, we hope they are watching so we do not get a repeat here.

— Across the Bay

Meanwhile, at St Pete- Clearwater International Airport:

In March 2017, PIE served the most passengers in its history with 206,806 travelers. It also marked the first time the airport surpassed the 200,000-passenger mark in a single month. April followed with a 24 percent increase over April 2016, serving 181,649 passengers.

PIE reported a record-breaking year for passengers in 2016, surpassing its stated goal of 1.8 million.

Which is good.  The only problem is that those numbers are too reliant on one airline.

Transportation – Channelling Billy Gibbons

Normally we don’t pay that much attention to specific Pasco bus routes, but something in an article in the Times caught our eye.  First the background:

Getting from her home in Lake Padgett Estates to the bus stop at Collier Parkway and State Road 54 can be the hardest part. But from there, it’s smooth riding — on what Pasco County calls its cross county route between Trinity and Zephyrhills — to the Shops at Wiregrass or the 16-screen movie theater at the Groves in Wesley Chapel.

Beginning Monday, the connection to that cross county route will be a little easier. So will access to county offices, parks, the library, grocers, retailers, physicians and social agencies for central Pasco residents who do not have reliable transportation.

Pasco County Public Transportation is beginning a new north-south bus service that will circulate though Land O’Lakes on U.S. 41, SR 54 and Collier Parkway. It also will connect to the existing east-west route on SR 54 and link to Hillsborough’s bus service, HART, at the Target store on County Line Road in Lutz.

Which sounds good. Now the thing that caught our eye:

Buses will run hourly, with southbound vehicles leaving the Pasco Utilities building on Central Boulevard beginning at 6 a.m. weekdays, with scheduled stops at Gator Lane, SR 54 and the Walmart store south of the apex of U.S. 41 and Dale Mabry Highway. Other destinations on the route include Publix at Connerton, the government offices at the Pasco County David “Hap” Clark Jr. Building (Central Pasco Professional Center), the Land O’Lakes Community Center and Target.

We suppose an hourly bus is better than no bus (but it may not be).  But an hourly bus is nothing you can really plan for or rely on.  Such poor service is the essence of what happens when you are just providing the minimum for the need rider.  If you have no choice, you will take the awful frequency.  If you have a choice, there is no way you would rely on an hourly bus.  Simple as that.

West Tampa – Coming Down

There was an editorial in the Times regarding the demolition of North Boulevard homes.

The shuttered complex will be demolished in two phases, part of a broader effort by the city to remake 120 acres on the west side of the Hillsborough River. The cinder block, World War II-era public housing project fronts the commercial core of the West River district. Officials expect to convert this area into a walkable neighborhood of shaded streets, apartments, restaurants and shops sloping toward the river and new public parks. Already the city is remaking Riverfront Park, several blocks to the east, which will serve as West River’s central outdoor space.

First, it is West Tampa.  (“West River” is some recent marketing thing.)  See map from 1910:

From tampapix.com – click on map for website

It’s West Tampa. (Just check the West Tampa CRA.)  It should not be hard to say.

Moving on, Riverfront Park is not the central outdoor space of the plan.  This is from the updated plan document:

From 2016 update – click on picture for document

Frpm 2016 update – click on picture for document

(You can see the original idea here.) Setting aside that it will probably change again, the first thing you notice is that Riverfront Park is way at the bottom right of the picture, not really connected to the neighborhood.  In fact, the entire “West River” plan is north of the interstate and Riverfront Park is south of the interstate (not to mention that if TBX gets built, that green strip north of the interstate in the pciture will be under the interstate/paved over).  The old plan had a central (actually central) riverfront plaza in the middle of the project.  They took that out (at least in part because there is no money to consolidate the schools in other parts of the plan area).  Now there is no central, outdoor space.  (So Riverfront Park is sort of a default open space near part of the project though the western Riverwalk, however it is formulated, is really the main public space.)  But anyway,

The elements of West River are coming together in a timely and orderly way as the urban market for housing and retail in Tampa remains strong. Aside from the remake of Riverfront Park and the clearing of North Boulevard Homes, the city has vacated its 12-acre truck yard to the north, presenting an opportunity for mid-rise apartments on a bluff overlooking the river. Virtually the entire area in the West River footprint is publicly owned. That creates great leeway to redevelop the area with a common vision and quality that can be missing when working piecemeal with many different property owners.

And that is true, as is this:

West River is one of the most ambitious remakes in Tampa’s history, and challenges remain. President Donald Trump has proposed eliminating a range of transit and development grants that Tampa and other cities have used to rebuild their downtown cores. The market still will rely in part on urban pioneers willing to take a chance. And creating the full development will take years; property owners will need to have confidence and a commitment to the long term. Whoever succeeds Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn when his term expires in 2019 will need to follow through in concert with other local agencies to meet the demands for schools, policing and other essentials. But West River has great promise, and it should be a city priority. It has all the elements of a live-work-play environment on a grand scale.

Redevelopment of this area certainly does have great promise (if a silly name).  And, by the time anything gets built (which should be a while), it will not require urban pioneers.  There is all sorts of development going on in Tampa Heights and just south of the interstate on Rome.  Nevertheless, hopefully, it the City will not settle and will really fulfill the promise.  Though, one thing that did go unmentioned: the need for strong transit connections.

Economy – Tourism

Time to check in with tourism.

Despite controversy surrounding reduced funding for Visit Florida, the Tampa Bay region hit new highs with its tourism revenue.

Visit Tampa Bay reported that for the first time, revenues from the tourist development tax — better known as the bed tax — were more than $10 million for the first three months of the year and broke $3 million a month for three consecutive months during the first quarter of 2017.

In March, $3.59 million in bed taxes were collected, up 4.4 percent from the same period in 2016. That brought tourism revenue to $10.1 million for the first three months of the calendar year and $18.5 million for the fiscal year that started Oct. 1, 2016.

In fact, March was the third straight month of $3 million-plus revenues. Bed tax revenues have set new records for six of the last seven months of the fiscal year.

Visit St. Pete Clearwater also had strong bed tax revenue numbers. For the first three months of 2017, bed taxes collected in Pinellas County totaled $17.5 million, with March being the largest single month in its tourism history at whopping $7.8 million. The county’s beaches have been garnering national accolades and new hotels have been springing up, particularly in Clearwater in the past year.

Setting aside that the Visit Florida thing is about next fiscal year and have nothing to do with the numbers referred to, the numbers are all very good (and note that tourist taxes are user taxes). It is part of a larger trend:

Florida drew 31.1 million visitors during the first three months of the year, the highest number during any quarter in state history, Gov. Rick Scott said Monday in Miami.

That’s a 2.5 percent jump over the same time period in 2016.

Florida’s tourism numbers were bolstered by a 3.2 percent increase in domestic travelers from the first quarter of 2016. People from other U.S. states accounted for 27 million of Florida’s visitors during the first three months of this year.

That is all good. Maybe Hillsborough will finally qualify for the extra percentage point on the tourist tax.

Economic Development – Money for Building

Which brings us to an interesting article in the Times about real estate lending:

That could be a smart move. Both nationally and in the Tampa Bay area, businesses are finding it harder to get money from banks these days.

No one is saying that bay area’s building boom is about to screech to a halt. But borrowers for many types of projects — especially new hotels, apartments and retail outlets — can expect to pay higher interest rates, put more of their own money into the project, or both.

What explains it:

In a recent report, the big Ohio-based financial advisor Bahl & Gaynor states: “Loan growth has plateaued… for now.” The total dollar amount of loans nationwide plummeted after the 2008 financial crash but began a steady climb between 2011 to mid-2015, when it far surpassed even pre-crash levels. Since then, the volume has leveled off or even dipped a bit.

Uncertainty over health care, tax reform and spending on roads, bridges and other infrastructure is contributing to “anemic loan growth,” the report said. 

And what sectors are feeling a pinch?

In Tampa Bay, apartment developers are among those likely to feel the loan squeeze. Thousands of new upscale apartment units have been built since the recession, especially in Tampa and downtown St. Petersburg. And while the bay area has enjoyed strong job growth, incomes have not kept pace so the demand for rentals as high as $3,900 a month could start to wane.

“For new construction, we are absolutely seeing a pull back from the lender community,” said Darron Kattan, who specializes in multi-family housing for the Tampa brokerage Franklin Street. Banks prefer developers with proven records and even those might have to increase their equity in the project by 5 or 10 percent, he said.

On the flip side, it’s easier to buy an existing apartment community.

* * *

New hotel construction could also be challenging to finance, even though the Tampa Bay area currently is one of the hottest hotel markets in the country.

“Tampa is performing significantly better than other markets, still the pace of growth in the bay area has slowed,” Plasencia said. “If you are a new investor in the lodging sector and don’t have strong lending relations, in all likelihood lenders are going to require you to put more equity in the deal.”

And with more and more people shopping online, loans for brick-and mortar stores will be tricky to get. 

Which all makes sense.  There has been a lot of construction in those sectors, so there is risk of market saturation.  Not that there won’t be any new projects, but the deals will be a little harder to get done, which, in the long run, maybe be a good thing.  It may help avoid a bubble (though rates are still pretty low).

On the other hand:

Even as lending tightens, however, some Tampa Bay businesses should still have little trouble borrowing.

Self-storage facilities are easy to finance because they are cheap to build, generate good cash flow and don’t require much work to operate. Medical offices will be in demand as the population ages. More warehouse space will be needed as Tampa Bay continues to grow. 

Can’t have too much self-storage.

Sometimes You Just Have to Wonder

Now that Hurricane Season is upon us, there are articles about various subjects, including an interesting one in the Times about evacuations.

And if a monster hurricane takes aim at the bay area, the highest evacuation level in Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas and Manatee counties would result in a total of 1.5 million — half the region — ordered to leave their homes over two full days.

The Tampa Bay area has a booming population but a busted road network. Emergency management officials wonder how a region that can’t handle rush-hour traffic will deal with the realities of a major hurricane evacuation. The bay area hasn’t had a direct hurricane strike in nearly a century and hasn’t had a major evacuation in more than a decade.

So what is the solution?  You can read the articles for the recommendations.  This is the part that really caught our eye:

The Florida Department of Transportation is hoping its new evacuation plan will help.

The state’s old plan called for converting major highways — like Interstate 4 and Alligator Alley (I-75) — into one-way exit routes. If people were evacuating to the north, the southbound lanes would change direction, so the entire interstate would move in one direction. (In the case of a southbound moving storm — a much less likely scenario — the reverse would happen.)

Converting both directions of an interstate to a massive one-way artery boosts capacity, but it also calls for more resources, said Angela Allen, emergency coordinating officer for DOT’s Tampa Bay office. It required about 100 officers to close ramps and direct traffic.

There was also a safety concern: reversing traffic meant signs faced the wrong direction. Drivers could become disoriented.

The 2017 hurricane season starts June 1, and so does the state’s new evacuation plan for the Tampa Bay region: Instead of making I-4 a one-way road, DOT will convert the inner shoulder to an additional lane. That won’t provide as much capacity, but officials said it’s safer than the reverse-lanes plan. The I-4 corridor is the escape route for Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas residents if they need to seek shelter in Central Florida.

Another perk? It requires far less law enforcement resources.

The state will do the same for three other major evacuation routes: I-75 from Wildwood to the Georgia line, I-75 through Alligator Alley and I-10 from Jacksonville to I-75.

So it has the benefit of using fewer resources, but will not provide capacity to move people as fast, which would seem to be the point of an evacuation plan.  But more to the point, all sorts of states use counterflow/contra-flow. (South Carolina; Georgia; Mississippi; Louisiana; Texas even has these nice brochures.)  We don’t remember too many news reports about large numbers of drivers in other states getting disoriented and wandering off into swamps or having huge pile-ups.  Maybe they do and we just don’t hear about it. We are open to that possibility, but, if that is the case, we would like to know.

It just seems odd that all these other states can do it, but we can’t.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

There was news regarding the Brightline rail project.

Martin and Indian River counties’ battle with the high-speed, Miami-to-Orlando train has come to screeching halt.

The challenge was thrown out on May 10 by U.S. District Court Judge Christopher Cooper.

And that means Brightline finally can move forward with construction on Phase 2, which will bring the South Florida passenger train into Orlando International Airport. The project’s Orlando leg is anticipated to bring $400 million worth of construction opportunities and create 6,600 jobs, as previously reported by Orlando Business Journal.

You can read the details in the article here.

Recently there has been talk that the next phase (after Orlando) for Brightline may be the Tampa Bay area.  We shall see.

Roundup 5-12-2017

May 12, 2017

Contents

Transportation – Playing Nice, But . . .

Channel District/Economic Development – Incubation

Airport – Building

— Just For Reference

Hyde Park – Update

South Tampa – More Land

Economic Development – Not Like That

Tampa Heights – Addition

Transportation – The Greenway

Meanwhile, In The Rest of Florida

___________________________________

Transportation – Playing Nice, But . . .

There was an interesting, in a bizarre way, article in the Times regarding FDOT’s new approach to TBX:

For more than two years, Tampa has been a community divided. Tampa Bay Express, a $6 billion project to expand the region’s interstates by adding up to 100 miles of toll lanes, was the line in the sand.

Business leaders and government officials stood on one side. Community members — especially from the urban neighborhoods threatened by construction — stood on the other.

About two dozen people from those opposing groups gathered Thursday to discuss a two-day trip they took to St. Louis last month. The federally funded peer exchange aimed to bridge the discord between state officials and the community. The goal was to learn from Missouri’s experience in bridging that community’s gap over a controversial road project.

“It became abundantly clear that we needed much more community engagement than what we’ve had,” said DOT director of development Bill Jones.

Yes, that was clear, though, really, that should be regular policy in the first place (we’ll see if the new TBARTA with its unique structure learns from this experience). But, anyway:

Rick Fernandez has been a vocal leader of Sunshine Citizens, a group that vehemently opposes TBX. He has spoken at countless government meetings, including one that spanned eight hours and stretched into the early morning.

* * *

Most of the time, that side included Rick Homans, president of the Tampa Bay Partnership, a group representing some of the area’s biggest businesses.

Both individuals were on the St. Louis trip. Fernandez’s biggest takeaway? Having real conversations during the trip with the people he has spent two years arguing with, he said, changed his perspective about them.

“The only thing I’ve thought of, Rick, every time I’ve seen you in the last few years was, ‘How is he going to try to screw me tonight?’ ” Fernandez said. “Then there was that brief shining moment in St. Louis by the bar when we had a chance to just talk person to person. I don’t think my head will explode next time because of that. And there’s some benefit to that.”

Homans responded by crossing the room and giving Fernandez a hug.

And that is fine.  People getting along and having civilized discussions is good.  And who’s going to object to some bro hugs? However, what does that mean for fixing the folly that is TBX?

Fernandez still opposes TBX. It’s a bad plan with a bad premise, he said. But he’s willing to sit at the table and try to find a way forward. And for the first time in years, he said, he thinks the DOT is making an attempt to listen.

“Cautiously optimistic is the best thing you can say right now,” Fernandez said. “I at least feel like we’re open to discuss other things and that’s a big, big difference from where we’ve been the last two years.”

Who Knows?

They continued that discussion Thursday. One at a time, participants tossed out terms describing what they thought the area needed to focus on when considering transportation projects: Community values. Cost. Neighborhoods. Alternatives. Collaboration. Respect.

It was a simple, but deliberate, exercise by the state. The message? We’re here to listen.

“These are all your words,” said DOT official Alice Price. “This is all non-DOT input.”

The word cloud is nice, too, but, once again, what does it mean for the actual project? And transit?

While Fernandez and fellow Sunshine Citizens member Chris Vela said they’ve noticed a change in the DOT’s willingness to discuss other options, there’s still concern that all these discussions won’t lead to actual change.

“I’m just highly skeptical,” Vela said. “I think we’re seeing a pushback from the community, and hopefully FDOT will take this opportunity to really listen.”

Exactly.  Like we said, it is good for people to have civilized discussions and respect it others’ opinions.  However, that does not mean anything material will change.  Real changes are actual changes.  Talking is important.  But without substantive changes to the mess that is TBX, it really does not matter.

Which brings us to an ABCActionNews item:

On Tuesday, FDOT updated Hillsborough County leaders on the so-called “Reset” TBX plan, the $6-billion project that would expand the interstates by adding express toll lanes.

But it’s not just expanding the roads, FDOT also wants to expand the rails by adding mass transit into Tampa’s daily transportation diet.

“It’s not going to be one solution, it’s not going to be transit, it’s not going to be expanding roadways…it’s going to be technology solutions, traffic management, and working with companies on staggering work hours,” says McKinney.

Solutions that don’t come cheap.

When asked if there are concerns about funding McKinney says, “Absolutely, this region needs to stay committed to finding a solution we can’t back off from that.”

And that all sounds positive, if vague and not really new.  But the question remains – what is actually going to become of TBX? And will we get a real, coordinated, transportation system? So far, we have heard nothing substantive.

Channel District/Economic Development – Incubation

There was interesting news in the Times from the Lightning owner about his project:

The owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning and a leader of one of the biggest urban redevelopment efforts in the nation, Jeff Vinik today is announcing he will personally partner with New York-based Dreamit to bring its high-end business accelerator and about ten elite startups specializing in urban technology to Tampa this fall.

If successful, the partnership has high hopes it could help Tampa grow to become a regional, if not international mecca for innovative urban technology and development.

For now, the partnership will focus on choosing young companies with urban technology ideas deemed most promising and disruptive. We do not know yet what startups will be chosen. But their ideas could include such urban tech niches as wearables that direct visitors to the nearest hospital or restaurant. Or bike lanes carved out next to self-driving cars. Perhaps advances in construction materials.

You can find the Dreamit urban tech website here.

The Vinik-Dreamit partnership has three related goals:

We are all for this, for a few reasons.  First, it is all private (except the infrastructure spending).  Second, even if we do not become the urban tech mecca, it should help develop our tech and entrepreneurial community with a much-needed focus on the area. (And if not a mecca, maybe we could be an urban tech petri dish, which is still more than we are today and would attract attention, interest, investment, and talent) And:

“We want to do our part to accelerate innovation in Tampa Bay,” Vinik said in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times.

* * *

“We want to make this area more attractive to young people starting companies, to venture capitalists who might want to invest in these emerging companies,” Vinik said, “and to the best and brightest graduates in our area and state so they will want to stay or come to Tampa Bay because there is opportunity here.”

The Lightning owner is a money man and understands the need to bring more investment money and opportunities to this area. And he understands what he is trying to sell and to whom.  And he is doing his best to help.  Of course, it helps his project by filling space and creating buzz.  But that is fine with us.  There is nothing wrong with a business man making business decisions, especially if they have a wider benefit.  And this also helps the area generally.  And we want his project to succeed.

We are pleased with this development, though there is a long way to go with his project and with this urban tech concept (especially in an area that really does not even have transit).  But, as far as we can tell, there is no real downside. (If it pans out, it will be interesting to see if, if and when they get their rolling, the companies stay here or move elsewhere.)

Airport – Building

The airport expansion/renovation plans appear to be staying on track:

The Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, which governs Tampa International Airport, has approved plans to go ahead with Phase 2 of TIA’s ambitious expansion plan.

The board voted to approve a $132.4 million amendment to the authority’s Fiscal Year 2017 budget, at its regular monthly meeting on Thursday. This portion of the $543 million Phase 2 of the master plan will allow the airport to begin demolition of the Red Side garage and former Airside D guideway, as well as start on the Gateway Development Area. The Gateway project will cost more than $121.7 million, while the garage demolition will cost approximately $10.6 million.

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The Gateway project includes site preparation of 17 acres at a cost of $13.5 million along with a remote commercial curb of $12.1 million that includes five lanes. There will also be an atrium and pedestrian bridge at $53.6 million and buildout of the Aviation Authority facilities and operations centers at $42.5 million, along with additional office space.

The developer portion of Gateway includes a 240,000-square-foot, eight-story building plus a gas station, convenience store, two hotels and 20,000 square feet of other retail.

The airport plans to fund the Gateway and Red Side garage demolition projects through general airport revenue bonds and passenger facility charges. Approval of the amendment was predicted to result in an increase to the Authority’s FY 2017 operating and capital budget, rising to nearly $200.7 million from approximately $88.3 million.

“We’ve been aggressively paying down debt to afford this project,” TIA’s Chief Executive Officer Joe Lopano told the Authority at the meeting Thursday. He said that during the past two months, airport officials have been conducting public outreach — appearing before county commissions and other groups — to be as transparent as possible about this next phase of the master plan.

While it was not made clear in the reporting, we assume the “Red Side” garage is the small garage to the west of the hotel.  As for the rest, it is fine with us (though, as we said before, the office building is the least interesting part of the project).

In other airport news:

The Tampa airport also reported Thursday that March was busiest month in the airport’s history with a 0.5 percent growth in domestic passengers and a 0.7 percent growth in international passengers. The airport served 9.8 million passengers during the first six months of fiscal year 2017, which matched 2016 levels. International passenger traffic is up 2.3 percent so far this year, thanks to full flights on Copa Airlines, Lufthansa and Southwest’s service to Havana, Cuba.

That is great (and points to the need for more Latin American service).  Part of that is the recovering economy and part of that is the strategic plan and route development by the airport staff that allowed the airport to take advantage of the improved environment.  We look forward to more route development to help continue to drive passenger traffic up.

And it is not just passenger traffic that is up.

Seattle-based Amazon has opened two enormous distribution centers in the greater Tampa Bay area. To supply those warehouses with merchandise, Amazon is shipping goods to Tampa International Airport daily aboard a Boeing 767 cargo freighter plane.

It’s a lucrative arrangement for Tampa’s airport, which has seen a spike of more than 20 percent in cargo activity over the last year. The Amazon deal alone has generated more than $275,500 in revenue for the airport through fees and building rental payments, which continues to go up.

The daily flight is part of a national deal that Amazon quietly inked with Air Transport Services Group in 2015 to lease five Boeing 767 cargo planes and use them to move merchandise across the country. Tampa was one of the first regions to be a part of Amazon’s air cargo delivery network. Amazon and ATSG renewed the contract last year and extended the lease to 20 cargo planes.

Business is going well enough that LGSTX Services Inc., a firm under the same parent company as Air Transport Services, wants to lease additional warehouse space from the Tampa airport.

Which is all good.

In addition, board members agreed to change the language of the airport’s air service incentive program to accommodate more domestic cargo freight business. The incentive program has been used mostly to lure new commercial airliners and flights to Tampa Bay, like the direct flight to Frankfurt, Germany, on Lufthansa and to Panama City, Panama on Copa Airlines. The airport waives fees and has written checks for marketing reimbursements through the program.

For cargo flights, the incentive program only allowed international carriers to participate. That changed Thursday when board members voted to revise the language to include incentives for all cargo air service.

We have nothing against that move either, provided the incentives are well targeted.  Despite its growth, our cargo business is still quite small and could use some development.

Nevertheless, overall, thing are going well.

— Just For Reference

Just for reference, here is a ranking of Florida airports based on traffic, from the Business Journal (see here):

Business name Total passengers 2016 Total passengers 2015 Percent change passengers
Miami International Airport (MIA) 44.58 million 44.35 million 5%
Orlando International Airport (MCO) 41.92 million 38.81 million 8%
Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL) 29.2 million 26.94 million 8.4%
Tampa International Airport (TPA) 18.93 million 18.82 million 6%
Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW) 8.6 million 8.37 million 2.8%

Downtown – Another Attempt

Once again, the City is looking to for some new restaurants downtown.

City Hall is back out in the market seeking private-sector partners to open restaurants in two spots close to the Riverwalk.

One is a 10,000-square-foot space at the Tampa Convention Center.

The other is a 2,600-square-foot space overlooking the lawn at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.

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So Buckhorn’s administration has issued requests for proposals seeking restaurateurs for both spaces. Proposals are due for the convention center on June 9 and for Curtis Hixon on June 12.

City officials see the time as right for new restaurants at each location as developers plan or build hundreds of new apartments on the old Tampa Tribune site, on Harbour Island, in the Heights, in the Channel District and at the $3 billion project being planned near Amalie Arena by Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investment.

Both sites have been discussed for years as possible sites for public-private partnerships, but previous initiatives did not pan out.

We don’t have an opinion about the convention center location.

As for Curtis Hixon Park, we  have mixed feelings. We get that the City could get some money from it, but the park is busy as it is. And there are restaurants all around it. And the building is not even that nice. Though a small restaurant would be ok.  Really, to us, it really doesn’t matter one way or the other. The park is fine without it, and the Art Museum has a better restaurant space.  Filling the small space in question won’t add that much, but probably wouldn’t detract much, either.

In any event, we shall see.

Hyde Park – Update

There was an update to a previously announced proposals for an assisted living facility on Hyde Park Boulevard. From URBN Tampa Bay:

We have new elevations for the proposed senior living facility at 509 S. Hyde Park Ave. The building’s height has been increased to 122 feet (not including flag pole) and goes up for approval on July 20th. While we like the height and density, we oppose the design due to poor street interaction. 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

We don’t really like the frontage on Hyde Park (west elevation).  With or without retail, it is quite bland with almost not features and few windows near the street.  It’s just not that nice and should be fixed.

But setting that aside for a moment, we like the flag pole on top (even if the building overall is a jumble of styles).  We have often wondered why there are no more buildings with that feature, which we kind of like in moderation.  One might think it is because of lightning, but there are a number of buildings in Houston and New Orleans with that feature.  And the feature looks quite nice on a bright, sunny day.

South Tampa – More Land

There was news that more South Tampa waterfront land is up for sale.

Tampa-based Viper Ventures is selling Rattlesnake Point, nearly 31 acres on a peninsula that lies south of Gandy Boulevard and close to the Westshore Marina District master planned community.

With unobstructed views of Old Tampa Bay, the property most likely would be redeveloped for multi-family housing with space for a restaurant, shops and a hotel.

“Hopefully, a developer also will incorporate some sort of esplanade area that the general public can walk along because we have over a half mile of waterfront,” said Trey Carswell of Avison Young, the real estate firm that began marketing the site Monday for an undisclosed price.

From the Times – click on picture for article

It is an interesting plot of land.  There definitely is quite a bit of waterfront property, though road access is quite limited to one road.  While we are all for density, especially on a good, waterfront lot, access is an issue.  However,

The tract currently contains a 67,000-square-foot warehouse used by a boat repair firm and several smaller industrial buildings. A CSX rail line runs along the south edge of the property, which is on Tyson Street across from the popular Hula Bay Club restaurant.

While residents might not want a freight train running nearby, the rail line that goes from Tyson to Tampa’s city center eventually could be part of a regional transportation network.

“Down in Miami there were railways that all of a sudden turned into a commuter train,” noted Michael T. Fay, another Avison Young agent.

It is interesting that they are promoting the property with nonexistent transit connections. Years ago there was an idea to use those tracks for transit. (you can see the tracks better here)  That was killed by South Tampa residents.  Whether it could come back is an open question.

The land certainly has potential.  Whether it will be realized remains to be seen.

Economic Development – Not Like That

While we understand supporting local businesses, and do so, there was some oddness in St. Pete this last week:

Mayor Rick Kriseman led a march down Central Avenue on Wednesday night to signal his support for independent businesses who fear getting priced out of a booming downtown.

Kriseman said he’s working on a draft ordinance — no timetable has been set yet on when it might reach City Council — that would privilege locally-owned businesses along Central Avenue to 31st Street and Beach Drive. Those commercial areas, the mayor said, are essential to keeping St. Petersburg unique.

The measure would make it difficult for chains or even stores that use similar logos in multiple locations to set up shop in those corridors. They would need a variance to do so, the mayor’s staff said. However, the mayor said the final details of his proposal were still in flux.

In reaction, the Times had an editorial that got it right:

Kriseman held a campaign-style rally and march this week to promote his plan, which is still being drafted into a proposed ordinance. The idea is to keep chain stores and businesses from opening on Beach Drive and along Central Avenue from the waterfront to 31st Street. Any such “formula business” would have to obtain a variance from the city before it could open on those corridors. The new restrictions wouldn’t just apply to national chains, which include bank branches, drugstores and other necessities. They would also affect local businesses that operate multiple locations.

So a Kahwa Coffee couldn’t open a new store on Central without special permission from City Hall. Or a Columbia Restaurant. Or a locally owned Ace Hardware. Or a badly needed locally owned men’s clothing store with multiple locations. How does that benefit the city and thousands of new downtown residents who will be moving into the new condos and apartments?

Kriseman, who is in the midst of a re-election campaign, says he wants to preserve the unique character of Central Avenue, which cuts through trendy stretches of downtown, the Edge district and Grand Central. He says the proposal is not meant to discourage chain stores from coming to St. Petersburg but rather to nudge them toward areas in need of new development, such as 16th Street or Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street. Encouraging preservation, economic development and locally owned businesses are fine priorities, but Kriseman’s proposal invites unintended consequences and claims of unfairness. It won’t stop market-driven rents from going up for locally owned shops, and it’s hard to conceive of a variance process that isn’t arbitrary. Some will be granted, some won’t and lawsuits will fly. And what about landlords, who would be unfairly restricted on which tenants they could sign?

And, as noted by the Times, the highly touted second downtown Publix in St. Pete is on Central Avenue.  And, as noted, this idea seems to give an odd level of power to a city government to choose what goes into private space.

Once again, we get supporting local business, but that should be voluntary, not determined by the City.  We are all for good planning and health and safety regulations, but this proposal is neither.

Tampa Heights – Addition

It appears that the developers of the Heights have bought the building at 220 W 7th Avenue.  That is the Beck Building.  It is not clear what exactly that means for the project (if anything.  It may just be more property for the owners). It is the two-story building above the Armature Works building at the bend of the river in this photo.

From The Heights – click on picture for Facebook page

In other news about the project,  construction on the Pearl is coming along nicely.

Transportation – The Greenway

When we say that things get overhyped and painting a stripe on a road does not make for real bike infrastructure, we mean it.  We can also show you what we mean.  Let’s take the Selmon Greenway – the much hyped trail under the Selmon connecting Ybor to downtown.  We were driving around and noticed some segments which can be highlighted with the help of links to Google maps and Street View.

For instance, this is where it gets to the outskirts of Ybor. While not exactly part of the Greenway, it is the logical path to Ybor. Not only is that just a sidewalk.  It has pole in the middle of the sidewalk making both walking (especially with two people of a double stroller) and biking difficult. It does not appear to be officially part of the Greenway, but that is the gateway to Ybor – so what is the point of riding your bike to that point and then having that.

But if you want to keep going on the Greenway, you also have to cross Adamo again going south, even though the Greenway came from the south. (see here) and then it just kind of dies out.

And in other places it kind of disappears, like here, where there is not real trail, but there is a sidewalk heading east into the Channel District (like this) which sort of defeats the whole trail idea.

It’s not that we are opposed to the Greenway at all – we aren’t.  We just want it to make sense and be truly useful.  It needs to connect to Ybor – the heart of Ybor.  And it would be nice if it was much greener downtown, where it is more like a shaded Mulch-way.  It is a good idea, but it can be executed much better.

Meanwhile, In The Rest of Florida

We often discuss VC and attracting capital investments.  Well,

Warburg Pincus, a global private equity firm, may have just made the biggest investment of 2017 in a Florida-based tech company, Boca Raton-based Modernizing Medicine.

The firm announced Wednesday it was plowing $231 million into the company to provide liquidity for existing shareholders and to fund expansion.

Modernizing Medicine provides a mobile, cloud-based, platform for medical records and health care business management — and it is adaptable to specialties like dermatology, gastroenterology, and plastic surgery. The company was founded in 2010 by Daniel Cane and Michael Sherling, a Palm Beach dermatologist.

The investment is a large private equity infusion, which can mean the investor assumes control of the company. With the new investment, two Warburg people are joining the board of directors: Fred Hassan, managing director at Warburg, and Amr Kronfol, principal. Hassan is also the former CEO and chairman of Schering Plough and executive chairman of Bausch & Lomb.

The investment is one of the largest in a Florida-based tech firm since augmented reality firm Magic Leap attracted more than $500 million in venture capital in 2015, led by Google Ventures. Magic Leap is also based in South Florida.

So that is a positive sign, in that Florida companies can attract the investments, but it would be nicer if the investments was a little closer.  Maybe the Lightning owner’s new partnership will help that along.