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Roundup 8-14-2020

August 13, 2020

Contents

The Great Reopening, Cont.

— One More Thing

— And One Final Thing

Transportation

— Streetcar

— THEA

— Brightline

— Bus Money

Economic Development

— The Committee

— That Was Fast

Parks

— Finally, Fair Oaks

— West Tampa-ish Riverwalk

Parks/Transportation/Bike/Walk — Floribraska

Airport – All Sorts

Built Environment/Warehouses – AmaMall

St. Pete – Moving Up

Politics/Governance – Vote By Mail

Finally

_______________________________________


The Great Reopening, Cont.

This week, the County Commission has taken over and continued the mask ordinance (reasonably lowering the minimum age, and with the usual “no” votes).  The positivity rate has continued its slow, steady decrease. (See here, here, and here) And those are good things.  But to be successful, we have to maintain our discipline.

There are potential issues:

Gov. Ron DeSantis told reporters Friday he would be willing to discuss a new reopening plan with bars, but stopped short of suggesting that a reopening may happen anytime soon.

“We’re in a situation where we gotta get through this viral cycle,” DeSantis said, citing various indicators and positive COVID-19 trends. “So let’s just keep that going. Then, as we get over, we’ll see.”

The chance at a negotiation comes as bars and nightclubs enter their third consecutive month without the ability to sell alcohol for on-site consumption. The statewide closures have forced  many bars to close and many more to the brink of closure.

While DeSantis was anything but definitive on a timeline, he argued that bars should not be blamed for the state’s COVID-19 cases. To his point, DeSantis compared Orlando to Miami, where bars have been shut down since March yet still maintain the majority the state’s cases.

“So let’s just be clear about that, the places that have the biggest outbreaks did not have bars open at anytime since the pandemic started,” DeSantis said, adding: “I don’t think they should be the boogeyman or be blamed.”

First, no, bars are not boogeymen.  And, second, the bar owners are not necessarily to blame for bar patrons’ behavior. And we completely understand why they want to open (we feel really badly for them and think they should get support). But to say that bars and what people do there are not a problem is a bit odd. (And the fact that the numbers are going down with closed bars and widespread masks orders should be an indication of something).  And it is not like the bar conundrum is unique to Florida, or even the US.  Just see here, here, here, here, and here.

While we like bars as much as the next person, social lubrication does not assist in social distancing.  Everyone knows that.  The real key to getting bars opened again is getting the number of cases actually down well below the 5% positivity target, giving officials a buffer to detect any outbreak, so that new cases can be tracked and isolated.  In other words, the key is the exact same thing as before.

Hopefully we have learned our lesson and can do it right this time.


— One More Thing

 We think this is a good idea:

Hillsborough County has inked a deal with a hotel to create an alternative care site for patients who are recovering from Covid-19.

The Hillsborough County Emergency Management group refitted the West Wing Hotel on East Fowler Avenue in Tampa into a site for Covid-19 patients who are eligible for discharge from a hospital but still need support as they recover. The transitional living space was created to help free up bed space in hospitals and provide patients medical care, for those who are Covid-positive and can’t return home just yet, Hillsborough County Deputy Fire Marshal Ray Hansen said in a video.

The move comes as hospitals across Tampa Bay have lost space for general population patients as they care for Covid-19 patients.

Clearwater-based BayCare Health System will use 50 of the rooms, a county spokesman said. There are 115 hotel rooms with 12 converted to “support rooms” for nurse and health care staff areas.

It is a necessary step in this situation.


— And One Final Thing

We were recently in a government office that requires temperature checks and masks before you enter.  However, while we were waiting, the staff let in people who had masks but were not covering their noses (and who, not surprisingly did not respect others’ personal space).  We kind of wondered about that until we saw the manager of the office walking around wearing their mask the same way. (And the staff we dealt with were not happy about it.)

Not covering you nose is not wearing a mask.  And, in addition to simply being a bad practice, government needs to set a better example.


Transportation


— Streetcar

Last week, we discussed HART moving forward with the ferry by asking the county for the money.  This week:

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority is taking the next step to extend the TECO Line Streetcar service even without securing expected transportation surtax funds.

During a virtual HART board meeting this week, the board members unanimously approved moving forward with getting a rating from the Federal Transit Administration through its Small Starts program to extend and update the TECO Line Streetcar system, a key step in trying to retain federal funds.

The competitive program funds light rail, heavy rail, commuter rail, streetcar and bus rapid transit projects, according to the FTA.

The law requires projects to be rated by FTA in order to qualify for federal funding. A project must receive at least a medium overall rating. The rating is based on reliable funding and operations for the project and other criteria. Each criterion is rated on a five-point scale, from low to high. 

We have no problem with getting started on finding other funding, because:

The city and HART hope to receive nearly $100 million through the federal government’s Small Starts program, which would be 48 percent of the total cost. The remaining 52 percent would be divided among the state, city and HART, Schukraft said.

The financial plan would be refined following the ratings request and adjusted if the surtax is invalidated.

The FTA may require a 20-year financial plan that demonstrates HART’s financial capacity to build, operate and maintain the project. Although the application criteria may ask for the funding plan, commitments are not required until after the rating request.

The FTA funding process may take several years.

HART still expects to have the extension completed by 2024 or 2025. 

It might take a while.

And just to review what we are talking about:

The extension will run from the existing terminus to Palm Avenue in Tampa Heights and run along Florida and Tampa Avenues. The guideway for the extension would be able to also accommodate BRT vehicles and the stops can be shared. 

Remember that, before the pandemic, the free streetcar service was booming. And that with the new, slower grid and development around Water Street, there needs to be a better way to get in and out of that area than just driving.  The same goes for Tampa Heights.  It is a worthwhile endeavor to lay the groundwork for it.

If only there was a dedicated funding source for local transit . . .


— THEA

The Expressway Authority is planning for the future:

As many commuters have worked remotely for months and kept their cars off the road, tolls collected in Tampa and Hillsborough County have decreased by more than $9 million. But investment in Tampa’s roads continues to move forward.

Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority plans to invest $1 billion over the next six years. That’s despite THEA’s toll collection dropping by $9.16 million from March through July compared to the same time period last year, according to information provided to the Tampa Bay Business Journal.

* * *

Projects included in THEA’s $1 billion, six-year work program are:

There is nothing on the list we really oppose.  Most of it we are pretty neutral about.  That being said, unless most of the money is in the connector completion, we just don’t see how it gets anywhere near $1 billion.


— Brightline

Those who follow such things would know that the pandemic has not been kind to the Virgin brand of companies.  Given that, it was no surprise that:

Richard Branson’s splash and bravado is no match for the economic realities of the coronavirus pandemic. Adding to the list of woes facing airlines Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia, his U.S. rail pact appears dead before it even left the station.

On Aug. 7, Brightline Trains notified investors that its rail lines in California and Florida would not be rebranded Virgin Trains USA, after all. The move, announced by the train company in a monthly revenue and ridership report, comes more than two-years after Branson and Brightline officials announced the new pact that would see the Virgin name return to the U.S. domestic market — albeit on rails rather than in the skies.

While Brightline does not say why it is ending the agreement, the Virgin name comes with a hefty price tag. Prior to Alaska Airlines take over of Virgin America in 2016, the Virgin-branded airline paid as much as $7.7 million in licensing fees to Branson’s Virgin Group annually.

It is unclear if the move will have any bearing on Brightline’s business, though this certainly does:

Because of the pandemic, Brightline suspended operations in March on its higher-speed service between Miami and West Palm Beach, but has continued laying track for its planned expansion to Orlando and its theme parks set for 2022. It is also working on a line that will connect Southern California and Las Vegas. It has no date set for resuming operations.

It is also unclear what this all means for the train ever getting to Tampa.  Regardless, given that there is not even an agreement with the State to develop the line, we do not anticipate anything soon.


— Bus Money

There was a little news about our cash starved transit agencies:

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, one of the most underfunded agencies in the nation, will receive $2.8 million to purchase new electric buses and charging infrastructure from the Federal Transit Administration. 

And

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is poised to receive $1.2 million to upgrade its bus fleet.

* * *

With the $1.2 million, PSTA will purchase one electric bus, bringing its total to seven, and an electric plug-in depot for the electric fleet on its property, a PSTA spokeswoman said. The depot is a plug-in to charge the electric buses rather than a charging pad, which PSTA has already constructed. 

Of the hundreds of millions given out by the Federal government, our share is not a lot, but it is something, especially while we wait for the Florida Supreme Court to rule on the referendum (and, if it is unconstitutional, to explain how we will get our money back).


Economic Development


— The Committee

As you may remember:

A citizen panel will be formed to advise the city on how to reduce economic disparities after council member Bill Carlson and Mayor Jane Castor’s administration reached a political compromise.

* * *

The Economic Advisory Committee will be modeled after Castor’s mayoral task forces that she formed last year that evaluated Transportation, Development Services, Workforce Development, and Housing Affordability.

Committee members would be appointed by the mayor and council members and will meet up to a half-dozen times over a 90-day period to come up with recommendations.

The members were named in a press release.  We are not going to list the names. You can see them in the press release and here. It is a decent mix of the usual advisory committee people and a more diverse group.

Hopefully, even though the original idea has been watered down, the committee can work together in the spirit of the original proposal and come up with some positive ideas to help move the City (and the area) forward.  Though it really would be better if the committee had a continuing role.


— That Was Fast

Last week, Amazon confirmed that it was building a facility in Temple Terrace and one in Pasco County.  This week,

Site work is underway on the 82 acres Amazon.com owns in Temple Terrace, where a contractor is clearing the way for a massive new fulfillment center that will create hundreds of new jobs.

The online retail giant confirmed the new facility, which is under construction south of Harney Road and west of U.S. Highway 301, on Aug. 5. The Tampa Bay Business Journal first reported Amazon’s plans for the new fulfillment center on June 25.

Amazon said the facility would employ up to 750 people and be used to fulfill orders for smaller items such as books, electronics, small household goods and toys. The company would not confirm the square footage, saying only that the ground floor was 600,000 square feet.

We think it is pretty clear now that warehouses do not need incentives.


Parks


— Finally, Fair Oaks

There is finally news about the plan for Fair Oaks Rec Center and park.

Mayor Jane Castor told a small assembled crowd at the Fair Oaks recreation center in Jackson Heights Wednesday that better times for the neighborhood lay ahead.

She unveiled her proposal to expand the center’s footprint extensively through purchasing adjoining private property. The center would have activities and options for both young and old, she said.

The project, which should be shovel ready within two years, will cost $18 million and anchor a remake of 34th Street that borders the center on the west.

Bike paths and slow-paced traffic will lead to the center, which has been criticized by residents and activists as having fallen into disrepair.

Council member Bill Carlson has kept the center’s plight on City Hall’s radar with near constant references to it being rodent infested, a charge that city officials have said isn’t true,

This other Times article seem to indicate rodent complaints by citizens , but, regardless, the center was neglected.  Now there is a plan.  URBN Tampa Bay posted the general conceptual plan:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

You can see the plan in a larger pdf here.

And this is what is included:

Current development concepts include:

We think the general outlines of the plan are quite good.  It appears to be a nice complex.  However, there was a point that URBN Tampa Bay raised:

Notice how the streets/parking aisles cut into the park. We would much prefer a park that was not chopped up by these roads, so you don’t have to cross roads to enjoy the whole park, and a more continuous green space could be created which could host larger events on a single grassy area.

Although we are usually opposed to filling in of the street grid, a newly expanded urban park like this may be an exception.

It’s especially odd that Caracas St. in this design would come so close to connecting and not connect (it currently connects). If you’re going to cut all the way into the park, you might as well connect the road. But, if you’re not going to connect the road, then why cut in?

Perhaps the limited parking that an urban park like this should have should be concentrated in one corner or ring around the park, so not too cut up the park with asphalt and cars.

We do not disagree.  It is a bit odd to cut the grid only to chop up the land with parking.  It is worth it for the City to consider some modification.

One more note. The Times article has this:

The allocation of scarce city parks resources had divided many East Tampa residents. But activists like Michelle Patty and NAACP county branch president Yvette Lewis praised the proposal. Gudes, in brief remarks, told the crowd to put old disagreements aside and work together.

Park resources may be scarce right now, but they were not so scarce in the last decade when well over $50 million was spent on parks around downtown. ($50 million was just for 3 parks we looked up in a couple of minutes.  It was probably much more.)  As nice as those places may be (some much nicer than others), the fact is that Fair Oaks and other areas were neglected.  Thankfully, the Fair Oaks project appears to be a solid investment, but there are more neighborhoods that deserve the same.


— West Tampa-ish Riverwalk

There was also news about the Riverwalk. From WTSP:

Plans to expand the downtown Tampa Riverwalk are escalating to the federal Department of Transportation, where the city is applying for a $24 million Better Utilizing Infrastructure to Leverage Developments (BUILD) grant.

The grant will help the city expand the downtown Riverwalk to the West River neighborhood in West Tampa.

According to a letter of support from the West Tampa Community Redevelopment Area chair Joe Robinson, the project will include a 12.2-mile path separate from automobile traffic. A draft map shows proposed Riverwalk segments on the west side of the Hillsborough River south of Kennedy Boulevard, as well as near Tampa Preparatory School just south of the newly renovated Julian B. Lane Park. There are also proposed segments along the river north of Blake High School to Rome and Columbus. The extension would continue east over the Columbus Street bridge and south to the end of the current Riverwalk along Cruis A Cade Place.

You can see a video on the website here.  It includes a map with this:

From Corski at SkycraperCity – click on picture for post

Which is here.

First, we are all for having the Riverwalk on both sides of the river.  We think projects on the west side of the river should have had/should have to truly activate the river.  That being said, if you look at the map, you see that much of the proposed “Riverwalk” (the dashes) is not on the river.  That is because the land on the river is privately owned (there is a lot we could say about that but that is for some other time).  Unless the City wants to buy out all those properties, the Riverwalk, as a walk along the river is almost at its terminus.  After that, it needs to transition to a trails or redesigned boulevards.


Parks/Transportation/Bike/Walk — Floribraska

Which brings us to Floribraska (one of the most elegant street names in the area) and its proposed rebuild.

This project provides for reconfiguring the existing 4-lane undivided roadway to a complete street with two (2) 10-feet travel lanes separated by a two-way left-turn center lane plus an on-road bidirectional cycle track, with a raised separator on the southern side of the road. The proposed improvements also include wider sidewalks, raised pedestrian refuge islands, and crosswalks at the intersections of both Jefferson St. and Central Ave.

Currently, the 0.6-mile segment of Floribraska Avenue between N. Tampa Street and 9th Street is an east-west, 4-lanes (two travel lanes in each direction) arterial roadway and bus route with a posted speed of 30 mph with an average daily traffic volume of 9,000 vehicles per day. The proposed improvements will reduce conflicts and sight obstruction hazards along the corridor making it safer for all users in accordance with the City’s Vision Zero initiative while maintaining the existing roadway’s level of service.

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

(City website for the project here)

From URBN Tampa Bay:

This all sounds great.

The combination of adding proper streetscaping, bike lanes, and reducing traffic lanes and traffic lane width, with raised medians will slow down traffic, make the road accessible to those who do not necessarily want to use a car, make the road safer for all user types (including drivers), and improve general aesthetics. This will be a project to watch. Getting it right will be a boon for the immediate area.

Plus:

Our initial suggestions for this: protect the bike lanes and add shade trees for peds.

We agree with both (though it appears from the fact sheet that the bike lanes, at least in part, will be protected by a curb.  They definitely need a curb not flexi-poles).

We are also concerned about what this road segment will connect to at either end.  We understand things need to be done in stages and the City is looking at other roads and we know it is all a work in progress, but we would like to see a map of the present plans of where all this is going and how this segment fits in.  It is a very good idea but it needs to be maximized within a network of like projects.

There is a public meeting Tuesday, August 25, 2020 at 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM EDT.  See information here.


Airport – All Sorts

There was news from the airport.

As the airline industry braces for a years-long recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, Tampa International Airport on Thursday laid out budget shortfalls and cuts it’ll see into 2021 — including a round of staff buyouts starting Friday.

Airport executives outlined ongoing struggles during a Hillsborough County Aviation Authority meeting, including a projected $74.6 million shortfall in operating revenue for the fiscal year ending in September.

Damian Brooke, executive vice president of finance and procurement, said the airport faced a “gradual, almost linear recovery” to its pre-2020 levels of growth, expansion and passenger traffic.

“Obviously, there’s been a lot of unknowns with traffic projections over the next 18 months,” Brooke said. “We’ve based our longer-term forecast more on the generally accepted recovery timeline of about three to four years for the industry.”

For the full fiscal year, ending in September, the airport anticipates seeing 13.2 million passengers, about 43 percent lower than their budget and 40 percent lower than the previous year. Despite savings measures already taken this summer, it expects a net loss of more than $40 million.

The airport will offset those losses through an $81.2 Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act federal grant, using $44.2 million of that money to cover its debt. It plans to use the remaining grant money next year.

And next year doesn’t look much brighter. From 2010 to 2019, the airport’s passenger traffic rose every year, from 16.6 million to 23.3 million. In 2021, it expects passenger traffic to be 15.7 million, its lowest tally since the Great Recession. Operating revenues are budgeted at $219.4 million for next year, an 18.6 percent drop from 2020.

Given the known problems and all the unknowns about recovery, it is prudent to be cautious.

Starting Friday, the Authority will offer buyout packages aimed at cutting employee expenses by $2.5 million. The Authority has 657 employees who have until Sept. 22 to take the buyout. There’s no set head count for the reductions, said airport spokeswoman Emily Nipps, as compensation will be based on service time.

“We felt this was the best way to approach payroll expense cuts because it gives our employees a choice,” Nipps said, “and we have many employees that have been with the Authority for 30-plus years who may consider this to be the best option for them.”

That is a reasonable approach (even if the circumstances are unfortunate).

In other news:

Silver Airways has notified the state that it will conduct a permanent mass layoff at Tampa International Airport.

The Fort Lauderdale-based airline will lay off 55 Tampa employees on Oct. 1, and at other airports in Florida including Orlando International Airport and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.  

Once again, given the circumstances, that is not surprising, but this is:

United Airlines announced today it will add four new routes between Tampa and key markets in the Midwest and Northeast, providing additional options for travelers in and out of the Sunshine State.

United is scheduled to launch new service to Boston, Cleveland and New York – LaGuardia on Nov. 6. Milwaukee is slotted to begin on Dec. 17.

* * *

United will operate nonstop serve from Tampa to Boston, Cleveland and New York – LaGuardia on peak days from Nov. 6 through Jan. 10, 2021.

We will see what the fall brings.


Built Environment/Warehouses – AmaMall

There was some interesting news this week about malls and Amazon:

The largest mall owner in the U.S. has been in talks with Amazon.com Inc., the company many retailers denounce as the mall industry’s biggest disrupter, to take over space left by ailing department stores.

Simon Property Group Inc. has been exploring with Amazon the possibility of turning some of the property owner’s anchor department stores into Amazon distribution hubs, according to people familiar with the matter. Amazon typically uses these warehouses to store everything from books and sweaters to kitchenware and electronics until delivery to local customers.

The talks have focused on converting stores formerly or currently occupied by J.C. Penney Co. Inc. and Sears Holdings Corp., these people said. The department-store chains have both filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and as part of their plans have been closing dozens of stores across the country. Simon malls have 63 Penney and 11 Sears stores, according to its most recent public filing in May.

It wasn’t clear how many stores are under consideration for Amazon, and it is possible that the two sides could fail to reach an agreement, people briefed on the matter said.

In a way, it is not surprising:

The talks reflect the intersection of two trends that predate the pandemic but have been accelerated by it: the decline of malls and the boom in e-commerce.

As the decline of bricks-and-mortar retail rolls on, commercial real-estate developers are left with huge abandoned properties. Who will fill that underutilized space? A series of recent acquisitions by associates of Amazon in Northeastern Ohio provides some clues.

Malls were struggling for years, as more customers stayed home to shop online. The spread of the coronavirus, which forced malls to temporarily close and limited their crowds even after reopening, has worsened the situation. Amazon, meanwhile, was able to navigate new logistical challenges during Covid-19 and recently reported its greatest quarter ever.

For Amazon, a deal with Simon would be consistent with its efforts to add more distribution hubs near residential areas to speed up the crucial last mile of delivery.

But for Simon, any deal to surrender prime space to Amazon would signal a break from a longtime business model for malls: reliance on a large department store to draw foot traffic to neighboring shops and restaurants.

This is how the Business Journal evaluates the prospect:

For Simon and Amazon, the deals have the potential to be a match made in heaven. Demand for industrial real estate is booming, and demand for traditional retail space is shrinking. CBRE Group Inc. reported in July that retail-to-industrial conversions have accelerated in the wake of Covid-19; there are now 59 such projects that have either been completed, proposed or are underway since 2017 — up from 24 in January 2019.

For Amazon, taking mall space gives it the vast sea of surface parking its last-mile fulfillment centers require and also puts it in close proximity to dense population centers.

That may be good for the mall owner and Amazon, but do we really want to maintain large warehouses with seas of parking in what are usually central locations that are prime areas for redevelopment?  While it is not a Simon property, would you rather the Sears and JC Penney’s at Westshore become a warehouse or part of the large Westshore rebuild project?   We do not think that is a hard question at all.


St. Pete – Moving Up

The proposal to build St. Pete’s tallest building is moving forward.

Despite barriers caused by the pandemic, the people behind one downtown development say they continue to make progress toward breaking ground.

In November, New York-based Red Apple Real Estate announced the $300 million project on the 400 block of Central Avenue that would include a 46-story residential condominium tower. Now, Red Apple has announced it has filed foundation plans with the city of St. Petersburg for review and has plans underway to obtain preliminary worksite permits.

The 515-foot-tall residential tower in the development would exceed the height of ONE St. Petersburg, which stands at 456 feet, and would be the tallest building in St. Petersburg. The tower was recently approved by the Federal Aviation Administration, Red Apple announced Tuesday.

* * *

Developers initially hoped to break ground in the spring of 2020 but now say construction is planned to begin in 2021.

 

From the Times – click on picture for article

We are glad they are still working to get this built.  We like it.


Politics/Governance – Vote By Mail

There has been a lot of discussion about voting by mail this year.  We are not going to get into all that, but we did notice on the Election Supervisor website the following:

RETURNING YOUR BALLOT

Don’t forget to put your ballot in the return envelope provided and sign the envelope.Then choose one of three ways to make sure your voted ballot is in our office no later than 7 p.m. on Election Day:

In other words, you have options to get your “mail” ballot in.  And good for the election officials for providing them.

You can get more information here.


Finally

Remember, regardless of openings being allowed and the mask rules, the virus is still here and the real issue is whether people will follow the proper advice because it is really up to people to care for themselves, their families, and their neighbors, even during the opening. So be responsible, stay safe, and take care of your community.

Wash your hands, wear a mask when appropriate/necessary (and cover BOTH your nose and your mouth), and practice social distancing.

While there are many places online you can buy them, you can find a number of videos on how to make a simple mask, including this from the CDC, this from the Times and this from the County.

Here are some links to government resources:

CDC

Florida Department of Health

Florida Department of Health Updated Statistics/Map Dashboard

Hospital Availability Dashboard

Florida Health, Hillsborough

Hillsborough County

City of Tampa

This week we return to RoughRider at SkyscraperCity for a look at Water Street, the street, and how it is developing:

From RoughRider at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

We still find it amazing.

Roundup 8-7-2020

August 6, 2020

Contents

The Great Reopening, Cont.

Transportation

— HART

— Ferry

Bayshore – Related

Hyde Park/South Tampa – Hugo’s

South Tampa – Westshore Yacht Club

Tampa Heights – Sprouts

USF – Fait Accompli

Port – Not Anytime Soon

Economic Development – Another Example

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

— This Is a Test

— The Dirt on Electric Vehicles

Politics/Governance – Vote By Mail

Finally

___________________________________


The Great Reopening, Cont.

Recent covid19 trends continued this week.  The positivity rate was slowly decreasing, so the 7-day average was below 10%, which is good.  The mask ordinance was renewed (with the same three inexplicable “no” votes).  Then there was this:

Hillsborough Commissioner Kimberly Overman wants the county to consider toughening its face mask rules to include wearing the coverings outdoors.

Overman made her suggestion at the conclusion of the Emergency Policy Group meeting Thursday afternoon, saying the county’s emergency order should align with the recommendation from Dr. Scott A. Rivkees, Florida’s surgeon general.

Rivkees issued an updated recommendation July 20, calling for masks to be worn both indoors and outdoors when social distancing isn’t possible and to limit social gatherings to no more than 10 people. The previous recommendation called for limiting group gatherings to 50 people and for masks to be worn “in any setting,’’ but did not specify outdoors specifically.

The faster the infections/infection rate goes down, the faster we can get to some more activities (with restrictions and masks, etc.).  We have no real problem with that.  And while it takes not effort to find cases of people acting stupidly about masks, they are still the best balance, allowing people to get things done but also be safe.  As other countries have shown, we are not at the point we can let up.

In any event, it is now up to the County Commission, not the EPG:

Control over the coronavirus pandemic is now firmly in the hands of the seven elected Hillsborough county commissioners after they unanimously approved dissolving an emergency policy group and taking control over its functions.

The effort, led by Commission Chairman Les Millter, shutters the emergency policy group, which included Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, Temple Terrace acting mayor Andy Ross, Plant City Mayor Rick Lott, Sheriff Chad Chronister and School Board Chairwoman Melissa Snively.

Instead, the county commissioners will meet weekly at 1:30 on Thursdays, starting tomorrow. At Wednesday’s commission meeting, members signalled their positions on controversial issues, including face masks. 

And what happened:

After hearing from public health and emergency management officials that the county’s recent uptick in new cases has begun to flatten, the commissioners voted 5-2 to extend the county’s indoor mask order (in effect since late June) for another week.

Commissioners Les Miller, Sandy Murman and Kimberly Overman voted in favor of the extension until Aug. 13. All three commissioners had been on the policy group and had voted in favor of that group’s mask orders.

Commissioners Stacy White and Ken Hagan voted against the extension. White said he opposed government mandates and thought government policy might have caused a backlash among the general public.

“It’s too heavy-handed to mandate this from the government level,” White said at the virtual meeting. “I’m a firm believer that (mask orders) could be counterproductive.”

Yes, in theory, a mask order could be counterproductive, but, in reality, all the evidence (and basic science that a pharmacy professor should understand) is that the various mask orders have had a positive effect.

In any event, there is a mask order.


Transportation


— HART

You may remember that HART has an interim director because:

[Previous CEO] Limmer, who took over the organization in March 2019, was placed on paid leave in November following a whistleblower complaint about purchasing issues and improper vendor relations. A three-month investigation found he violated board policies. Limmer was allowed to resign.

Stewart, the agency’s director of risk and legal services, as been interim CEO since Nov. 4.

Well,

The interim chief executive of Hillsborough’s transit authority is under investigation to learn whether she acted in an abusive and humiliating manner.

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority board voted Monday to hire an outside lawyer to investigate an anonymous ethics complaint that was submitted against interim CEO Carolyn House Stewart. Stewart will keep her position as interim CEO during the investigation, despite a request from complainant that she be placed on paid leave.

Agency attorney David Smith told the board the complaint was filed through a web portal that protects the identity of the complainant but makes it possible to communicate with them and ask follow up questions.

The person alleged that Stewart, who was appointed interim CEO following a whistleblower complaint against former CEO Ben Limmer last fall, has acted in an “abusive, hostile, humiliating” manner. No other details were released.

We do not know anything about the complaint other than what is in the article and, thus, have no opinion.  Moreover:

“It’s important to remember these are only allegations at this point,” Smith said. “There’s not a lot of backup information about that. That having been said, obviously we have to take the complaint seriously because it does allege a violation of HART policy which, if accurate, would place persons working at HART in an environment we do not wish them to be under.”

Nevertheless, with the AFT referendum suit still out there and already having lost a CEO, this is just another issue for HART.


— Ferry

Given the above, it was a bit bizarre that

During a virtual meeting on Monday, the HART board approved in a 7-2 vote, with Commissioner Les Miller and board member Gil Schisler voting no, to recommend that the county provide $2.4 million over an 18-month period for the first phase of design and environmental permitting for the MacDill and South County connection.

Why was it a bit bizarre? You may remember:

The HART board and the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners have been playing a game of hot potato by tossing the responsibility of funding the Cross Bay Ferry project that would connect Tampa, St. Pete, South County and the base.

Last year, the county commissioners ultimately voted to have HART take on the project. The board believed a 2018 voter-approved 1 percent sales tax would come to fruition, which included granting HART 45 percent of what was expected to be $276 million annually, as well as authority to fund much needed projects and restore bus routes. But the sales tax is in limbo and caught in a legal battle. The Florida Supreme Court has yet to make a ruling on the legality of the tax.

In other words, HART does not have the money.  So, the HART Board asked the County, which punted on the project already, for the money.

“No.1, the county doesn’t have the $2.4 million neither does HART,” [County Commissioner] Miller said regarding why he was against the motion. He also thought the slide showing the support from MacDill was questionable, but didn’t specify why.

Miller was not immediately available for further comment.

* * *

Board member Gil Schisler concurred with Miller’s thoughts. He doesn’t know how the county could cough up $2.4 million when it is financially stressed from the impact Covid-19 pandemic has had on its budget, he said.

Exactly.  The County does not have the money either.  (They are busy paying for existing needs in a time of lower revenue.)

And regarding the proposal itself, nothing has changed.  This proposal puts a burden on Hillsborough County for service that serves Hillsborough but also Pinellas.  That alone makes the deal questionable.  In addition, we do not think the Tampa-St. Pete  fun cruise service is a transit cost Hillsborough should be paying for.  Fun cruises are for the ferry company.  And Pinellas should also be paying for their service.  That does not even get to some of the questions about the MacDill service, which has value but also has issues.

In short, ferry service has potential, but we are dubious about this proposal.  Moreover, after years and years, the questions have not been cleared up.  And money is short.  It can wait.  We have other priorities.


Bayshore – Related

There was a new rendering for the Related Ritz-Carlton Residences, Tampa, project From the Business Observer:

From the Business Observer – click on picture for article

We thought the other renderings looked better, but it is what it is.

As you may remember, there is no hotel:

“Tampa made a lot of sense to us, as it’s a growing and dynamic market with a flourishing economy,” says Dana Jacobsohn, a Marriott senior vice president of mixed-use developments.

“The site is incredible and will offer tremendous water views, and we’re finding that stand-alone residential projects without a hotel component attached to them are becoming increasingly popular,” Jacobsohn adds.

* * *

“People know what Ritz-Carlton stands for; that hasn’t changed much perception-wise over the years, and there’s no one better at delivering consistency than Marriott,” says Kent Schwarz, an executive vice president who specializes in the hospitality sector with commercial real estate brokerage firm Colliers International, in Tampa.

Schwarz agrees that Ritz-Carlton likely won’t attach its brand to a Tampa hotel anytime soon.

“Downtown Tampa has enough of a new supply of hotel rooms for the time being,” Schwarz says.

Apparently, we will just have to settle for the W Hotel actually downtown.


Hyde Park/South Tampa – Hugo’s

URBN Tampa Bay had some news about the old Hugo’s building at Howard and Morrison (where we have spent a not insignificant amount of time over the years):

The Hugo Building (circa 1920) in SoHo at 927 South Howard is set to be renovated. This project was announced a while back and has been in a bit of holding pattern. However, as of earlier this month, the developer received approval for some modified plans. The project includes 7,802 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor and 16 residential units on the 2nd floor.

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

They also include floor plans here. This is their view of the project:

Although changing the building’s architectural style is divisive, this is a good example of the type of historic renovation we like to see use-wise with commercial space on the ground floor and residential units on top. A similar type of project would be welcome a little farther up Howard, in the building that used to house Cheap.

We agree.  We are not that fond of changing the façade of such an iconic, Tampa-traditional building that much.  We understand it, but we are not that fond of it.  On the other hand, we are fond of the planned uses.


South Tampa – Westshore Yacht Club

As reported by URBN Tampa Bay, Westshore Yacht Club has new filings (in Accela under 5713 Bowen Daniel Dr) for a condo project just north of Castillo (see map here)

Westshore Yacht Club is moving forward with plans to develop the rest of their project. The proposal includes 3 condo towers, each of which appears to be 15 stories, with a combined 230 condos along with 26 townhomes at the base of the condo towers.

It is essentially 3 narrow towers rising to not more than 160’ on top of a parking structure.  That is about all we know right now.  (Given that Westshore Yacht Club does not have any uses other than residential, there would be a use for retail in this project, but other uses do not feature in the filings.)


Tampa Heights – Sprouts

The long rumored/discussed Sprouts in the Heights project is now official:

Sprouts Farmers Market has confirmed it will open a store in Tampa Heights next year.

The Phoenix-based specialty grocer disclosed few details on the new store besides the 2021 opening date. Plans for a Sprouts location in The Heights first went public in July 2019 when the grocer was disclosed on a site plan filed with the city.

There is not much to say about that.  We still are a bit confused why the project decided to block most of the views from the office buildings with a parking garage, and we do not know when the hotel/apartment building attached to the garage will start.  Nevertheless, having a grocery store in the Heights is a good thing, and good for Tampa Heights in general.


USF – Fait Accompli

The Business Journal had an article regarding USF consolidation, which is now complete (sort of).

On July 1, against a tight 28-month timeline, the University of South Florida finished unraveling its academic makeup and consolidated its three campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee into one accredited university with a single set of guidelines.

And it went largely unnoticed. A simple phone call from its accreditor, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, to USF President Steve Currall made it official.

The article (here) is interesting enough, if not really breaking new ground.  However, it really wraps a lot of issues together.  We are not going to try to unwrap the whole thing but there were a couple of related items that did stick out to us:

Now that students across the system can access curriculum in any campus, it brings the ability for areas in the region to tap into potential skills.

“Workforce is one of our biggest challenges, given the nature of the economy with reliance on seasonal visitors,” said Dave Bullock, CEO of the Economic Development Corp. of Sarasota County. “Having the school here and the ability to generate more and more students to take advantage of local opportunities, that’s the formula to diversify the local economy.”

J.P. DuBuque, president and CEO of the Greater St. Petersburg Area Economic Development Corp., says he’s “hopeful” about the potential consolidation can create. He has honed in on the sectors it could help St. Pete grow: the College of Marine Science, which is an anchor on the St. Pete campus, financial services and cybersecurity and big data.

“There are three areas St. Pete has opportunities to leverage the talent coming out of USF — specifically in St. Pete but USF in total,” he said. “Finance graduates will be important and the whole idea of cybersecurity and big data, that is frankly what I feel is going to move the economy in the coming years. For the St. Petersburg campus to participate in curriculum in those areas will be really good for us.”

Both Bullock and DuBuque spoke on the importance of not only having a neighboring university to fill the talent pipeline, but it also what it means as a recruitment tool for interested businesses looking for a new home. 

First, please note that our following comment does not have anything to do with the value of branch campuses. It is about attitudes.

We think people should think more broadly than indicated in the quote above.  The fact is that even if every single student at USF went to the Tampa campus (or the St. Pete or Sarasota campus), the talent pipeline would be essentially the same (except for – maybe – hiring students part time).  Companies in St Pete can advertise for jobs and recruit in Tampa, and vice versa.  It is one talent pipeline for one market.  (A business moving to St. Pete from the northeast is not going to consider Tampa or Sarasota too far to for recruiting.) Thinking of it any other way is one of the things that has held this area back.

To wit:

It is one of three preeminent universities in the state, joining University of Florida and Florida State University. But while those two institutions received additional funding for preeminence from the Legislature the last two years, USF did not, even though all three hit the necessary metrics. Currall specifically pointed to the high four-year graduation rate for the university at 59.4 percent and the fact the four-year graduation rate disparity between White and Black students is now closed.

“I think it’s a profound injustice,” said Currall, who has traveled to the statehouse nine times in the last year. “I think we’re doing what we need to do; to reach the metrics we have, we’ve done amazing things in student success. So, I think it’s very unfair that we have not shared in that incremental preeminence funding.”

The battle for funding

While the university may have been snubbed in additional preeminence funding, philanthropic funding has not been too large of a problem for USF during this tumultuous time in the pandemic.

* * *

State funding is a different story. It has never been easy to come by, but the last two years for USF have been a struggle.

It is here that sub-regional thinking weakens our area’s influence overall.  For USF, as with so many things, we need a unified front or other areas will take all the benefits and we will get shortchanged.  USF is one institution in one market.  That needs to be the approach because 1) it works better and 2) it is the truth.


Port – Not Anytime Soon

In a week where the Florida Ports Council is asking for help for ports, there was news about cruises, which are a big source of Port revenue:

Cruise companies are canceling U.S. cruises until at least Oct. 31.

The industry lobbying group Cruise Lines International Association announced Wednesday that its member lines won’t be coming back until at least that date. In June, the group agreed to cancel U.S. cruises through mid-September, before the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention banned cruises until Oct. 1.

CLIA member companies include Florida-based Carnival Corporation, Royal Caribbean Group, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, each of which have ship that sail from Tampa, and MSC Cruises, Disney Cruise Line and Virgin Voyages.

We are not surprised.  Nor, based on both history, science, and news this week about a few ill-conceived cruises in other places, would we be surprised if they extend the cancellation for more months.  The Port needs to assume the revenue is lost until at least January and possibly longer.

In the meantime:

The Hillsborough County property appraiser has won a six-year legal tussle with a Tampa shipyard after a circuit court judge ruled it must pay taxes on land leased from Port Tampa Bay.

* * *

Gulf Marine Repair Corp. had argued since 2014 that its shipyard should be exempt from paying property taxes, in part because some U.S. Navy and Coast Guard vessels are serviced there. That year, the company was granted an exemption by the county’s Value Adjustment Board; it has since argued it should be extended.

* * *

The July 22 ruling affirms the position the property appraiser’s office has argued in court for more than two decades: Businesses that operate on public land generally are not tax-exempt.

We have no opinion about the legal issues, but it is interesting.


Economic Development – Another Example

In a week where Amazon confirmed a number of large warehouse projects locally, there was another example of why we should not be subsidizing warehouses:

A Chicago developer has sold off a Lakeland warehouse for $41.2 million and broken ground on its next big bet on Central Florida’s industrial market: a million-square-foot speculative building.

Brennan Investment Group, who partnered with Grandview Partners on the project, sold CenterState West to Nuveen Real Estate, a division of TIAA. The 440,000-square-foot warehouse is leased to PepsiCo. A team of brokers from Cushman & Wakefield Inc. represented Brennan and Grandview in the sale.

* * *

The dynamic underway in I-4 industrial real estate is “extraordinary,” said Mike Davis, vice chairman at Cushman.

“It’s been happening around the country,” Davis said of speculative, million-square-foot warehouses. “We’ve never really seen it here. But the demand for large space has really accelerated in a dramatic way.”

It is pretty straightforward.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World


— This Is a Test

For the last few weeks, we have highlighted how other countries seem to have no problem having same day covid19 testing.  Well,

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that starting Tuesday, state-run COVID-19 test sites at Marlins Stadium in Miami and Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens will offer 15-minute tests for people 65 and older as well as for people who have coronavirus symptoms.

“We want to address the remaining challenges — the turnaround time for testing,” DeSantis said at a press conference at Broward Health’s corporate office in Fort Lauderdale on Monday afternoon.

DeSantis, joined by Department of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz, said the sites will administer 1,250 of the 15-minute tests per day. The tests — which measure a protein called an antigen that signals an immune response to the virus — first hit the market in May.

And that is great for the few people in Miami who can get it.  Meanwhile,

Millions of COVID-19 tests able to detect the virus within 90 minutes will be rolled out to British hospitals, care homes and laboratories to boost capacity in the coming months, the country’s health minister said on Monday.

They will comprise 5.8 million tests using DNA and 450,000 swab tests. Neither will need to be administered by a health professional, said Matt Hancock.

“The fact these tests can detect flu as well as COVID-19 will be hugely beneficial as we head into winter, so patients can follow the right advice to protect themselves and others,” he said. 

1500 tests a day in Miami is good (assuming they are not inaccurate).  Having statewide coverage would be better.  We hope they get to that point. (We are still quite slow on regular testing.)  Every other wealthy, industrialized country seems to be able to.

And, relative to bars, in Ireland, which has fewer cases than Hillsborough County :

Pubs not serving food are to remain closed until September and restrictions on gatherings will remain, the Cabinet has decided in a toughening of Covid-19 restrictions.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said that bars, nightclubs and casinos will remain closed. Speaking after the Cabinet meeting as he announced a further pause of the already postponed phase four, he said pubs serving food and restaurants will have to close at 11pm.

The restrictions on indoor and outdoor gatherings will also remain meaning that only 50 can congregate indoors and 200 outdoors. This will come as a disappointment for many sporting bodies who had hoped the restrictions would be eased on August 10th.

Yes, no pubs in Ireland.


— The Dirt on Electric Vehicles

There was an interesting, if not original, article in Forbes regarding whether electric vehicles were really that clean for the environment.

. . . if one looks under the hood of “clean energy” battery-driven EVs, the dirt found would surprise most. The most important component in the EV is the lithium-ion rechargeable battery which relies on critical mineral commodities such as cobalt, graphite, lithium, and manganese. Tracing the source of these minerals, in what is called “full-cycle economics”, it becomes apparent that EVs create a trail of dirt from the mining and processing of minerals upstream.

And there is this about the electricity that powers the cars:

Once on the road, the carbon dioxide emissions of EVs depends on the power-generation fuel used to recharge its battery. If it comes mostly from coal-fired power plants, it will lead to about 15 ounces of carbon-dioxide for every mile it is driven—three ounces more than a similar gasoline-powered car. Even without reference to the source of electricity used for battery charging, if an EV is driven 50,000 miles over its lifetime, the huge initial emissions from its manufacture means the EV will actually have put more carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere than a similar-size gasoline-powered car driven the same number of miles

We have seen a number of articles like this.  And we are not denying their veracity.  In fact, we think it is good to know.  That does not mean we oppose electric vehicles.  We do not.  But we do support making them cleaner (and more humane, see the article).

Moreover, the fact that they may not be as clean as advertised does not make fossil fuels clean.  Whether there are EV’s or not, fossil fuel vehicles, especially of the kind in the US (as opposed to, say, Europe) still have all the problems that need to be fixed.  And, of course, you can create alternative ways of getting around that are just not cars.

You can read the article here.


Politics/Governance – Vote By Mail

There has been a lot of discussion about voting by mail this year.  We are not going to get into all that, but we did notice on the Election Supervisor website the following:

RETURNING YOUR BALLOT

Don’t forget to put your ballot in the return envelope provided and sign the envelope.Then choose one of three ways to make sure your voted ballot is in our office no later than 7 p.m. on Election Day:

In other words, you have options to get your “mail” ballot in.  And good for the election officials for providing them.

You can get more information here.


Finally

Remember, regardless of openings being allowed and the mask rules, the virus is still here and the real issue is whether people will follow the proper advice because it is really up to people to care for themselves, their families, and their neighbors, even during the opening. So be responsible, stay safe, and take care of your community.

Wash your hands, wear a mask when appropriate/necessary (and cover BOTH your nose and your mouth), and practice social distancing.

While there are many places online you can buy them, you can find a number of videos on how to make a simple mask, including this from the CDC, this from the Times and this from the County.

Here are some links to government resources:

CDC

Florida Department of Health

Florida Department of Health Updated Statistics/Map Dashboard

Hospital Availability Dashboard

Florida Health, Hillsborough

Hillsborough County

City of Tampa

This week we return to RoughRider at SkyscraperCity for a look at Water Street, the street, and how it is developing:

From RoughRider at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

 

 

 

Roundup 7-31-2020

July 30, 2020

Content

The Great Reopening, Cont.

— One More Thing

Transportation

— I-275

— Scooters

— St. Pete Shuttle

USF Area – Moving Forward

West Tampa-ish – Open

Governance/Channel District – Not Yet

Governance/Pasco/Economic Development – Warehouses

MacDill/Economic Development – Space Force

St. Pete – Trop Site

History

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

— More on Choices

— Cycling

Finally

_____________________________________


The Great Reopening, Cont.

This week, the covid19 test positivity numbers continued to slowly come down in this area, with Hillsborough toying with 10%.

The spread of coronavirus in Hillsborough County is still widespread and high, but trending downward, the county’s top health official said Monday.

“We are headed in the right direction,” said Dr Douglas Holt, director of the state Health Department in Hillsborough County.

* * *

Holt noted the county is nearing its initial goal of a positive test rate of 10 percent, with an ultimate aim to drop the rate to 5 percent or lower.

Additionally, the Emergency Policy Group continued renewing the mask order with 5-3 vote (we still do not get the “no” votes).

In fact, there was progress in most of the state, as well.  (However, progress does not mean success, it means progress. There is still much work to be done.)  With the progress, though, came this:

. . . a growing number of Tampa Bay bar and brewery owners are trying to side-step new statewide restrictions that have suspended the sale of alcohol on-site by becoming restaurants. Or, at least, by getting food licenses that would allow them to act as one.

It’s an increasingly popular response to the latest state-mandated rules around bars and breweries during the coronavirus pandemic. Following a months-long shutdown, a short reopening period and then another ban on selling alcohol, many owners are saying the restaurant route is the only way to keep their businesses afloat.

We completely understand that bar and brewery operators want to get back to business and make money (and we want to go back to bars). On the other hand, the nature of the business is problematic at the moment.

Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, on Sunday recommended that Kentucky close bars and curtail restaurant capacity in a meeting with state officials.

“We have significant concerns about the rising test positivity rate and the rising number of cases,” Birx said Sunday in a meeting with Gov. Andy Beshear (D) and state health experts, according to the Lexington-Herald. “We can see what is happening in the south moving north.”

Birx said that while Kentucky is not currently in the same alarming position as states like Florida and Texas, the state is among those in the “yellow zone” of rising cases.

Note, Florida and Texas are worse than Kentucky, and Kentucky should close bars and limit restaurants. That makes one wonder about the backdoor being used by breweries and bars and about this:

Florida’s top business regulator plans to start meeting with bar operators and craft brewers, amid concerns about establishments closing permanently if a state ban on serving drinks for on-site consumption remains in place.

In a tweet Saturday, Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Halsey Beshears said he will begin setting aside time Friday to discuss his June 26 order that banned on-site consumption at bars to try to help stem the spread of COVID-19.

“Next week starting Friday, I’m going to set meetings throughout Florida with breweries and bars to discuss ideas on how to reopen,” Beshears tweeted. “We will come up with a Safe, Smart and Step-by-step plan based on input, science and relative facts on how to reopen as soon as possible.”

Beshears has said the order, which is backed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, would remain in place until the growth in COVID-19 cases starts to decline. The state has become a hotspot for the epidemic, with DeSantis repeatedly pointing to young adults — including those who might congregate in bars — as one of the reasons for the surge in cases.

Reopening bars when cases start to go down would be repeating the mistakes made in May that brought us to the point we are now. (See here)  Any reopening needs to actually rely on science, and the science is quite unambiguous that we need to wait until cases and positivity rates are far lower than they are now.  (We favor providing more relief to those affected. It is unfortunate that they are in a business that does not work well with highly contagious pandemics, but it happened.  It has to be dealt with but not by risking another spike in infections.)

Hopefully, the proper lessons have been learned.


— One More Thing

Hillsborough County has some money to spend on helping those who need it:

Hillsborough County is expanding its rental and utility assistance help for county residents affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

The effort is part of the county’s previously announced $15 million rapid-response funding from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

The county initially expected to be able to provide about $3,000 in aid to 5,000 clients when the program began in late April. Despite an initial public response of 64,000 calls that overwhelmed county help lines, the program ended up aiding 1,629 families with two months rent and utility payments sent directly to landlords and utility companies.

It left $12.1 million still available for disbursement and the county now anticipates being able to help an additional 7,000 families with up to five months worth of rent payments.

That is a worthy endeavor. You can read more here and get information from the Hillsborough County website here.


Transportation


— I-275

There was news about FDOT’s incomplete “fix” (4 lanes to 3 is not a fix, it is a tweak) to the bottleneck FDOT created and has allowed to remain for decades at the east end of the Howard Frankland:

Transportation officials are hoping a new southbound lane that opened today on Interstate 275 near the West Shore interchange will help reduce crashes and alleviate traffic jams.

Work was finished a couple months ahead of schedule as motorists stayed home during the coronavirus outbreak, said David Gwynn, local secretary for the Florida Department of Transportation.

We are fine with finishing the work early.  That is good.  As for the work itself, we would have been more interested if FDOT planned to actually fix the bottleneck for everyone rather than maintain the it (4 lanes to 3) and build variable rate toll lanes that most people will not be able to afford to use regularly.  But they don’t, so we aren’t.


— Scooters

Scooter are back.

Scooters are back on Tampa streets after a 7-week absence prompted by coronavirus concerns.

Lime, Spin and Bird relaunched Wednesday and are deploying more scooters over the course of the next week. The companies were told to pull their vehicles on May 31 as the novel coronavirus continued to spread through Tampa Bay in the spring.

Providers are touting their electric, shared scooters as a safer alternative to buses and rideshares.

“You’re not close to others, you’re out in the open air,” Lime Florida General Manager Uhriel Bedoya said. “It’s a socially distanced, safe mode of transportation.”

That may be true:

But others are concerned about the shared nature of the vehicles, how often they’re being cleaned and how they might contribute to the spread of COVID-19.

* * *

Bedoya and Will Burns, Spin’s Director of Government Partnerships East, said their respective companies have put in place new protocol to help defray risks of COVID-19 transmission. Both companies said employees wear personal protective equipment, regularly disinfect the vehicles and send notifications to riders about how they can protect themselves, such as bringing their own wipes and gloves.

We are not sure that is good enough.  The problem, as with bars, is not the responsible people who just want to get out of their house.  It is the irresponsible people and how to account for them. (We have seen many less than fully sober people on scooters.  We doubt they will bring the wipes).  In any event,

Brandon Campbell, Tampa’s smart mobility manager, said city officials were monitoring COVID-19 trends and evaluating when to bring scooters back. While Tampa Bay and the state continue to see high case loads and deaths daily, Campbell said officials are hoping the mask order that was put in place will make a difference.

“It’s taken a while for that to have an impact on our local numbers, but it does seem to be locally that the trend is starting to go back down,” Campbell said. “We’re cautiously optimistic that things are going to continue in the right way.”

The numbers are better but not good enough to just hope everyone is responsible without a bit more oversight.


— St. Pete Shuttle

A while back, HART was going to run an autonomous shuttle on Marion Street, but it was delayed. Now, St. Pete wants to try:

A driverless shuttle could carry people up and down Bayshore Drive this fall, if county officials sign off on it.

The three-month, $140,000 pilot program was approved by Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority’s finance committee Wednesday, and the St. Petersburg City Council supported it unanimously Thursday. The county transit authority’s full board will vote next week. If approved, the program would start Nov. 15.

Beep, an autonomous mobility company based in Orlando, would provide two electric, 15-foot shuttles to cruise along the waterfront at a brisk 15 mph. The vehicles are able to carry 10 passengers but would be limited to six at a time as a coronavirus precaution.

A transit employee would be on board to supervise the technology and interact with passengers, but there would be no steering wheel. Instead, the shuttle would navigate on its own using GPS and other sensors. The on-board employee would be able to override the system with an X-Box-like controller.

* * *

The one-mile route would include three stops: the Vinoy Renaissance and nearby park, the St. Pete Pier and the Dali Museum. Passengers would ride for free, and officials hope the shuttle would come every 10 minutes, at least during popular times.

We are fine with doing this, though we do not find it particularly exciting.  It is, after all, a small, slow, shuttle in essentially a straight line on a limited track.  Nevertheless, it is an interesting experiment.


USF Area – Moving Forward

What was once University Mall, then Uptown, has begun its reconstruction, per 83 degrees media:

In recent days, a yellow crane standing more than 10 stories tall has risen above the site where department store JCPenney operated from the year the mall opened in 1974 through 2005. The crane is working in concert with yellow excavators to remove most of the exterior cladding from the former JCPenney building, which also served as a Steve & Barry’s clothing store from 2006 through 2009.

This current project on the west end of the mall kicks off just weeks after the demolition of the former Sears department store on the east side of the retail complex was completed. As !p Chief Potential Officer Mark Sharpe exclaims, “big things are happening.” Sharpe, who leads the socioeconomic innovation organization formerly known as the Tampa Innovation Alliance, continued, “this project is going to transform not just Uptown, but the world.”

And it has added a name:

The activity on the west side of the mall will culminate in the creation of a three-story building housing RITHM at Uptown.

RITHM is an acronym that stands for Research, Innovation, Technology, Habitat, and Medicine and speaks to the dynamic redevelopment and future purposes of the 100-acre University Mall property. The retail hub, now serving as Tampa’s second-oldest mall, was purchased by RD Management in 2014 for $29.5 million and is being transformed into a mixed-use development to serve as the focal point of the burgeoning Uptown District.

Plus

When RD Management purchased the former University Mall site in Tampa, Florida, they called on Gresham Smith to reimagine the space as an mixed-use office, urban neighborhood with an innovation campus called rithm at Uptown. Located in a federally designated opportunity zone, the project seeks to create much-needed, cost-effective office and research space to support expanding innovation, technology and manufacturing needs across Tampa. The first step of the massive 100-acre redevelopment project is re-envisioning a former JC Penney into 160,000 SF of Class A office space, restaurants and more.

Honestly, we cannot figure out if RITHM is just the JCPenney part or the whole rebuild, but the JC Penney will undergo this:

From Gresham Smith – click on picture for website and a larger version of the picture

That is definitely better, except for the sea of surface parking that remains.  The vast surface parking has been a huge weakness of this project.

From the beginning the rhetoric has been very good but the product presented a bit lacking.  We still hold out hope that they tweak it in the end to remove for the sprawling elements.

As for the extra name, we are not much for it, but they could name it anything, even something unpronounceable and without meaning (say “!p”), and we would not care as long as the end product is good.


West Tampa-ish – Open

As many no doubt have noticed, St. Joseph’s Hospital has been building a new building on their main campus.

As coronavirus cases rise, St. Joseph’s Tampa hospital is running out of room to care for both the general population and Covid-19 patients. So the BayCare Health System hospital has expedited a patient tower project by a month to make more beds available.

Covid patients need a range of acute and intensive care and are filling general population hospital rooms, so the hospital opened 30 beds in its $126 million, 90-bed patient tower. The rooms are connected to the hospital on several floors. The tower’s remaining 60 new rooms are expected to be available in the coming weeks.

* * *

Opening up beds in the tower will not only free up space at the existing hospital, but may also help bring elective surgeries back online; parent company BayCare has restricted performing certain surgeries due to not enough capacity. The 30 beds in the surgical tower will be for neurology and orthopedics.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

Similar to what we have said before about Moffitt, it would be nice if it were not needed, but since it is, we are glad it is there. (And we are glad they finally built a pedestrian bridge over MLK.)


Governance/Channel District – Not Yet

We had previously discussed moves to limit and/or dissolve CRAs in downtown and the Channel District.  We actually favor doing that. Neither area is lacking development money coming in.  Nevertheless,

An initiative to sunset the Channel district’s community redevelopment agency status has died.

Tampa City Council, acting as the CRA board, on Thursday voted against a motion to sunset the CRA. CRAs are state-designated areas that retain all new or incremental tax money generated within their boundaries to fund future development.

City Councilman Bill Carlson had proposed sunsetting the Channel district CRA and capping the downtown Tampa CRA in mid-June. The discussion on the downtown CRA was postponed until Aug. 13.

* * *

“I understand why Councilman Carlson is frustrated,” Ken Stoltenberg, a longtime developer in the Channel district, told the Tampa Bay Business Journal. “But I think it could have been thought out better. I understand there are needs, but we don’t want to hurt any other CRA.”

We still favor dissolving the CRA.  If the Channel District needs something specific, the City can pay for it and the rest of the increased taxes from the projects the that have benefitted from the CRA can go to help the rest of the city.

We do not oppose CRA’s to help get revitalization going, but, at some point, an area hopefully is revitalized enough to stand on its own and needs to share the wealth.  The Channel District has reached that point.  Other areas of the city need the investment.


Governance/Pasco/Economic Development – Warehouses

A few months ago, after a request for incentives came before the County Commission, we discussed (again) that we did not think that economic development incentives should be used for warehouses.  While we are all for new jobs, the jobs did not pay enough to justify using taxpayer money and the jobs would come anyway.  That discussion was followed by a number of announcements about new warehouse/distribution facilities. Well,

Plans for an Amazon.com warehouse in Pasco County are moving forward.

Developer Ryan Cos., which is based in Minneapolis but has a significant presence in Tampa, has closed on the three parcels that make up the 46-acre site at Bexley Village Drive and Mentmore Boulevard in Land O’ Lakes, according to Pasco County property records. The deal was finalized in late June.

Plans for a 110,866-square-foot warehouse on that site first went public in February. Between the warehouse size — on the smaller end of the spectrum for Amazon, which operates multiple 1 million-square-foot warehouses in the Tampa Bay region — and the majority of the site being devoted to surface parking, it’s likely that this warehouse is a last-mile fulfillment center. That type of warehouse is a product’s last stop before being delivered to a consumer.

Amazon’s footprint in the Tampa Bay region is ever growing. In June, it closed two monster deals here: the acquisition of 82 acres in Temple Terrace and a lease for a 424,550-square-foot warehouse in Seffner. That’s in addition to 1 million-square-foot warehouses in Ruskin and Lakeland and a new air cargo hub at Lakeland Linder International Airport. It also has an Amazon Fresh warehouse in Brandon and a Prime Now facility on Adamo Drive in Tampa.

Once again, the jobs are coming anyway. It does not matter to the average person (including job seekers) if the building is on one side of the county line or the other. There is no reason to give the developers or companies taxpayer money for just a warehouse.


MacDill/Economic Development – Space Force

It seems that the Tampa Bay area made the first cut for the Space Force HQ:

Tampa and Pinellas County have made the military’s first cut of municipalities vying to become home of the Space Force command headquarters.

If established in Tampa Bay, the headquarters would bring 1,400 military and civilian jobs to the area and could help attract more military and aerospace businesses.

Though, it should be noted:

Other communities in Florida that made the cut include Jacksonville, Pensacola, Miami-Dade County, Orange County, Seminole County, and Brevard County where the Space Coast is located, according to Space Florida VP Government and External Relations Dale Ketcham.

Essentially, all of Florida is still in the running, and this may help explain why:

A final decision is expected to be made in 2021.

a/k/a after the election.

That does not change the fact that, for various reasons, we would be happy to have the HQ here.  We shall have to wait and see.


St. Pete – Trop Site

Now that the Rays abbreviated season is underway, St. Pete is moving forward with an RFP for the Trop site.

Mayor Rick Kriseman on Monday unveiled the request for proposals for the 86-acre Tropicana Field site after five years of discussion, formally opening the window for developers to bid on a construction project that has the potential to change the face of St. Petersburg.

The 31-page document outlines the city’s guiding principles for the project and sets the framework within which development companies must envision the city’s next new neighborhood.

* * *

The mayor stressed soliciting visions for the project is just a first step — it would likely be years before any structures are built. For now, Pinellas County technically owns the property and has promised millions in tourist tax revenue to help with construction of a new stadium and $75 million to finance infrastructure improvements ahead of the site’s redevelopment. One complicating factor: the county and the Rays must approve any new development through 2027.

Earlier this year, according to City Council member Darden Rice, Rays team president Brian Auld made clear to council members that the team was prepared to exercise its veto authority should it be forced to play full seasons in the Trop through the end of its lease.

The document acknowledges as much, saying at the latest, “development will commence after the (Trop lease) terminates,” but that “Regardless of when development commences, planning for development can occur now.”

Kriseman said he doesn’t expect the county or the Rays to stand in the city’s way.

In all honesty, we are just kind of noting it because we have no idea what the proposals might be like and the time frame for development is so extended.  Nevertheless, we assume there will be more proposals than for downtown Clearwater.  We look forward to seeing what people come up with.


History

There were a couple of items regarding local history this week.

First, the Times had a nice article on old signs in the area. There is no really quotable section, but it is a nice article and you can see it here.

The second item is from the Tampa Bay History Center and involves the history of the old streetcar line. It is a cool video (here) and starts with the famous map of the streetcar system:

From the Tampa Bay History Center – click on picture for blog

You can also read more on the streetcar on the History Center website here.

Which brings us to one more thing:

The art on a public bus exterior honors music in Tampa. Now, Hillsborough County is acting in harmony to put the spotlight on transportation through its own public art project.

Last week, county commissioners put out a call for artists to create a mural for the lobby of the seat of its government activities — the Frederick B. Karl County Center in downtown Tampa.

The final product is envisioned as up to 400 square feet of mosaic tile depicting “the history of the county and its development by transit, via rail, river, bay, water, road, air and other ways,‘’ according to the request for artists.

The initial push came from Commissioner Kimberly Overman, who brought the idea to the rest of the commission 10 months ago. Part of the inspiration, she said, was a mural in Historic Seminole Heights that depicted the businesses there and “said, ‘We are Seminole Heights.’ That gives people a sense of place. That’s really what kind of got this going. It celebrates Hillsborough County.”

Another motivation, she said, was the mobile Art on HART effort from the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority and the Tampa Bay Foundation for Architecture and Design.

We are not opposed to the concept of the mural, in theory, but it might be pretty embarrassing to see where we were and where we are (we will be particularly interested to see how being one of the most dangerous places in the country to be a pedestrian or cyclist is portrayed.  We have some ideas if the artist needs a little inspiration).

And, in a bit of irony, the commission approved the call for artists for a transportation-themed mural, the same day the proposed county budget revealed a $463 million shortfall in a planned 10-year transportation plan.

“Well, that wasn’t the plan,‘’ Overman said.

Need we say more?


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State

There are some new State budget numbers:

After the COVID-19 pandemic neutralized revenue gains made during the first nine months of the fiscal year, Florida finished the 2019-2020 spending period nearly $1.9 billion below its general revenue estimate.

Through March, the state had raised $202.4 million more than anticipated in January. But revenue came up $2.1 billion short in the final quarter of the fiscal year.

Following business shutdowns and dampened consumer confidence, sales tax was 6.1% below its expected level, accounting for 84.7% of the shortfall. In total, the state collected $31.4 billion in general revenue.

During the 2018-2019 fiscal year, Florida counted $33.4 billion in general revenue.

Corporate income tax revenue was down $86.2 million, documentary stamp taxes were down $16.9 million and insurance taxes dropped $12.6 million.

The lower revenue is not surprising.  But MCORES (aka roads to nowhere) funding actually went up a few hundred million in price (at the same time that many people still have to wait over a week for their covid19 test results).


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World


— More on Choices

Last week, we discussed some other countries and covid19, including tests at the airport.  As follow-up, you can find a broader sampling involving Europe here. You will notice, the wait times for results are still pretty short.  To be honest, we find the situation in the US (including that testing at airports seems to be limited to Alaska) embarrassing.

And, while MLB has some trouble fielding baseball teams, you can read here about sports fans returning to games in South Korea, though admittedly only at 10% capacity.

Choices have consequences.


— Cycling

There is news about bicycle culture from the UK, from the Guardian:

If England does, as Boris Johnson has promised, enjoy a new era of mass walking and cycling, then two of the primary reasons could be lurking within the more technical and unglamorous elements of his £2bn policy announcement: updated regulations and a new watchdog.

For countless years, while central government and local authorities talked up the benefits of safer streets and more cycling, too many of the actual bike lanes built ended up being little more than precipitously slim strips of paint, often ending abruptly.

But under the new No 10 plans, bike lane design standards are not only being updated, but will be enforced by a body called Active Travel England. Billed as a travel equivalent of Ofsted, it can insist on certain designs, inspect what is built and withdraw funding from councils that are too tardy or unambitious.

We understand that the lay-out of cities and towns, including transit, in the UK is different than here.  We understand that the role of government is often different as well. (And that the British Prime Minister is well known for his cycling proclivities)  Nevertheless, that does not mean that the idea is bad or should not be examined.  You can read the article here.


Finally

Remember, regardless of openings being allowed and the mask rules, the virus is still here and the real issue is whether people will follow the proper advice because it is really up to people to care for themselves, their families, and their neighbors, even during the opening. So be responsible, stay safe, and take care of your community.

Wash your hands, wear a mask when appropriate/necessary (and cover BOTH your nose and your mouth), and practice social distancing.

While there are many places online you can buy them, you can find a number of videos on how to make a simple mask, including this from the CDC, this from the Times and this from the County.

Here are some links to government resources:

CDC

Florida Department of Health

Florida Department of Health Updated Statistics/Map Dashboard

Hospital Availability Dashboard

Florida Health, Hillsborough

Hillsborough County

City of Tampa

This week we return to RoughRider at SkyscraperCity for a look at Water Street, the street, and how it is developing:

From RoughRider at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

From RoughRider at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

 

 

Roundup 7-24-2020

July 23, 2020

Contents

The Great Reopening, Cont.

Transportation

— Roads to Nowhere

— Air Taxis

— HART

— TB(n)X

— Brightline

— Now?

Downtown/Channel District – Why Not

Economy

— Poverty

— Business Health

Airport – More

Port – The Waiting

Politics/Governance – Again?

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

— Choices

— Really?

Finally

________________________________________


The Great Reopening, Cont.

Things seem to be improving a bit (as measured by test positivity rate, which is not a perfect measure), slowly.

The rate of positive coronavirus test results in Hillsborough County continues to drop, the top state health official in the county said Monday.

The seven-day rolling average of positive test results is 14.5 percent, “again a steady decrease,” said Dr. Douglas Holt, director of the state Health Department for Hillsborough County.

Last week, the 14-day average stood at 16.16 percent after reaching a previous high of 20 percent.

In comments to the Hillsborough Emergency Policy Group, Holt repeated his prior observations that “community-based transmission is widespread and very active” and “we need our public to continue acceptable practices that we’ve asked.”

That trend continued to get a bit better during the week, slowly, though it could easily change.  Nevertheless,

. . . the [EPG] voted to extend the county’s face-mask rule for another seven days. The 5-3 vote mirrored prior results, with Sheriff Chad Chronister, Plant City Mayor Rick Lott and School Board Chairwoman Melissa Snively dissenting.

We still do not understand the dissent or the decision to require the order to be renewed every week, but so be it, especially because:

Commission Chairman Les Miller Jr. proposed last week to keep the group in place to address weather emergencies, but to strip it of its authority to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

Instead, the Hillsborough County Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to advance a planned ordinance change abolishing the group entirely. The vote came after Fire Chief Dennis Jones said the county should have a unified response to all hazards and should not have a separate body to respond to hurricanes.

From our perspective, the only possible downside to dropping the EPG is the exclusion of the Mayor of Tampa but:

After Miller’s idea became public, Castor said the city of Tampa deserved a continued seat at the emergency response table.

“I understand that,‘’ said Murman, who suggested a future memorandum of understanding between the county and the city could make Tampa officials more comfortable with a county-controlled emergency response.

Depending on the terms, we would be fine with that.

Getting back to the substance, the report shows why the weekly renewal is silly.  Anyone can see that masks will be needed for a while.  There is no reason (and, in fact, it is probably damaging) to act like that is not true.

And regarding the EPG mask order exceptions for kids under 8 and kids under 18 if they are at camp, etc, etc.  The EPG/Commission may want to consider the this:

Older children are more likely to spread Covid-19 within a household than younger children and adults, according to a new study of 5,706 coronavirus patients in South Korea.

The researchers traced and tested nearly 60,000 people who had contact with the infected people and found that, on average, 11.8% of household contacts tested positive for Covid-19, according to the early release of a study published on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

For people who lived with patients between the ages of 10 and 19, 18.6% tested positive for the virus within about 10 days after the initial case was detected — the highest rate of transmission among the groups studied. Children younger than 10 spread the virus at the lowest rate, though researchers warned that could change when schools reopen.

Or put another way:

A new study from South Korea could reshape other school systems’ reopening plans. It found that people ages 10 to 19 were more likely to spread COVID-19 within a household than younger children and adults were. Children under 10 spread the virus at the lowest rate, though researchers warned that could change when schools reopen.

Children and teens, at first thought to be spared the worst of the virus, also are accounting for a rising percentage of infections in the U.S. The trend likely reflects both an increase in the ability of young people to get tested, as well as their desire to venture out after months of staying home.

That needs to be kept in mind regarding the exceptions.  Not to mention:

Alabama will begin requiring face masks in public as health officials try to quell a surge of new coronavirus cases that are filling up hospitals, Gov. Kay Ivey’s office said Wednesday.

In an announcement made a day after the state reported a pandemic-high of 40 deaths in a single day, officials said masks would be required starting Thursday afternoon for anyone older than 6 who’s in public and within 6 feet of someone who’s not a relative.

That’s Alabama.

And then there are gyms.

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday said he is not closing gyms because he thinks people who go to them are “even less at risk for the coronavirus” because they are staying healthy and working out.

“I think taking that option away for people to be healthy just doesn’t make sense,” the Republican governor said during a news conference in Apopka. “I think most people who are going to the gyms are in the low-risk groups, and I think what they are doing is making them even less at risk of the coronavirus. So, I don’t think it would make sense to close them.”

The governor’s comment came after a reporter asked him about an unpublished document prepared for the White House Coronavirus Task Force that recommended Florida and 17 other states in “red zones” should roll back reopening measures amid a surge in Covid-19 cases. The July 14 document, obtained by the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit newsroom, said bars and gyms should be closed in “red zone” states. A “red zone” refers to a location that recorded more than 100 new cases per 100,000 population last week, or a positivity rate above 10 percent. 

We get it.  People want to exercise and exercise is generally good (and keeping gyms open keeps people employed), but it does not appear to be following the data.

Remember, the sooner we can get the numbers down to where they should be, the sooner we can get to a properly measured reopening.


Transportation


— Roads to Nowhere

As we have noted before, we do not expect the MCORES (roads to nowhere) plan to die, even though there are essentially cost overruns before the planning has even started.  This week:

After months of virtual meetings because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Florida Department of Transportation announced that three “hybrid” meetings will be held this week.

Members of task forces working on each of the projects will meet online before public comment periods in which people can comment online or at designated locations. Approved during the 2019 legislative session, the projects are intended to extend the Suncoast Parkway from Citrus County to Jefferson County; extend the Florida Turnpike west to connect with the Suncoast Parkway; and add a new multi-use corridor, including a toll road, from Polk County to Collier County.

People who attend the meetings will be required to wear masks and maintain social distancing, the department said in the announcement. The first hybrid meeting is set for Tuesday on the Suncoast Parkway extension, with the public gathering locations at Riverside Christian School in Trenton and the Jefferson County K-12 A Somerset School in Monticello.

That is fitting because what they say will probably make little difference in the end.  Nevertheless, people should still speak out against it because sometimes things just come together.

For instance,

Florida Tax Watch says extending the Suncoast Parkway from Citrus County to the Georgia border would cost anywhere between $4 billion and $10.5 billion.

The extension is part of M-CORES (Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance), a project championed by Florida Senate President Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton). In addition to three toll road projects, M-CORES would extend broadband, sewer, and other infrastructure improvements to rural parts of the state. Besides the Suncoast Parkway project, M-CORES includes connecting Florida’s Turnpike to the Suncoast Parkway, and building a new highway from Collier County to Polk County.

* * *

To come up with a cost estimate for the Suncoast Parkway extension, Florida Tax Watch looked at earlier toll road projects. Toll road construction in Florida is financed mostly through bonds, which are paid off with toll revenue. The group says the price tag will likely end up at the higher end of the estimate.

“At almost any cost in that range, it is highly doubtful that the new road would produce the necessary toll revenue to support the bonds to pay for it,” the report said, citing the fact that the Suncoast extension would pass through the most rural part of the state with little vehicle traffic.

The COVID-19 pandemic would likely create more financing problems. Florida Tax Watch cited toll collections on Florida’s Turnpike, which fell by more than 50 percent in April. The state is also facing a decline in revenue from gas taxes and car rentals, two other sources of transportation funding. 

You can see the report here.

FDOT responded with this:

“The M-CORES program is currently in the pre-planning phase and no paths/courses for the proposed corridors have been determined by the Task Forces at this time. As such, any estimation for a cost for a corridor would be very unreliable as the proposed corridors are yet to be determined. Also important to add in to any cost equation is traffic and revenue studies that have yet to be conducted. For reference, traffic and revenue studies are conducted by independent entities that have subject matter expertise in this area and are recognized by bond rating agencies. Lastly, per law, any proposed corridor must meet environmental and financial feasibility or they cannot be constructed. These feasibility studies can only be conducted once a proposed corridor is determined.”

Of course, the Legislature is allocating hundreds of millions to roads that may not happen, that have no corridors, and still have to pass feasibility studies.  The proponents do not seem worried.

Your money will be spent on this.  Not on fixing our public health system.  Not on transportation and public services where people live.  Not on resilience, flood protection, and hardening our existing infrastructure.  It is all about priorities.


— Air Taxis

Meanwhile, TBARTA was doing what TBARTA does:

Tampa to St. Petersburg in eight minutes? It can happen.

That’s what German sky taxi company Lilium Aviation has proposed to the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority as an example of service.

* * *

Tassilo Wanner, VP of global public and regulatory affairs at Lilium, and Marie Masson, on the commercial team, presented information on how the aircraft works and its potential for the Florida market during the meeting. Lilium would use its eVOTL aircraft that can travel at 185 miles per hour and accommodate one pilot and four passengers at a time.

Masson said the price range per flight is based on a taxi-model pricing. For Tampa to St. Pete, prices would range from $60 to $90 per fight. However, the cost can be altered as more landing sites become available and if it becomes autonomous.

The electric jets can essentially take off from any location that has a landing pad such as the top of a parking garage, a commercial building and airports, Masson said.

If a private company can somehow work through air traffic and other regulations and set up a very expensive air taxi service without driving everyone crazy from the noise, congestion in the air, congestion around airports, and avoid hitting drones, more power to them.  The question is what that has to do with TBARTA and taxpayer money.

During TBARTA’s virtual board meeting on Friday, board members unanimously approved having more dialogue with Lilium and to get a report outlining its needs to eventually choose Tampa Bay for a pilot project.

“I don’t want to take a long time with this if we want to be one of the leaders in the country on this exciting mode of transport; I do think we need to act quickly,” Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said, seconding Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long’s motion.

The motion isn’t a procurement for solicitation but rather an invite to sit at the table. The board doesn’t want to exclude similar companies from conversations.

By having an innovative mode of transit launched in Tampa Bay, it not only would give locals more alternatives, but it would also put the area on the map for testing transit tech.

Again, if a private company wants to set that up, maybe they should partner with USF.  But they are testing it elsewhere anyway:

German air taxi startup Lilium announced the first test of its full-scale, all-electric five-seater aircraft. It was the latest in a series of successful tests for the nascent electric flight industry, which aims to have “flying cars” whizzing above cities within the next decade.

In a video provided by the Munich-based company, Lilium’s unpiloted aircraft can be seen taking off vertically like a helicopter, hovering briefly, and then landing. It may not seem like much, but it’s a big step for the company, which hopes to launch a fully operational flying taxi service in multiple cities by 2025.

And

The first prototype of the Lilium Jet eVTOL aircraft out of two was destroyed in a fire. It will be replaced by the only one left in the flight-test program.

Update: Lilium says its last Lilium jet prototype flight testing could be delayed by several weeks. It is working on what caused the fire. The aviation startup announced: “Flight-testing of the second Lilium Jet will only begin when we have discovered the root cause of the fire and implemented any necessary updates into the aircraft. Safety is our key concern.” on FlightGlobal.

Lilium suffered a terrible set back on February 27.  As the crew worked on maintenance, the Lilium Jet electric vertical takeoff & landing (eVTOL) caught on fire. The company says it is damaged beyond repair. Lilium will have to rely on its only other prototype. Thankfully, the second aircraft was not damaged in the fire that took place at Oberpfaffenhofen Airport in Germany. Lilium says no one was injured in the fire.

Setting aside it really looks like an electric propeller vehicle, not an actual jet (though we may be wrong), there are always setbacks, we know.  But maybe TBARTA should not be in quite such a hurry.

The real point is that this service is not for mass transit or a real transportation solution for most people.  Maybe the people on TBARTA’s board are cool with spending $60-90 per person one-way between Tampa and St. Pete, but we doubt there is a huge market for that. (Yes, they say costs will come down, but there is no guarantee and no idea by how much).

If Lilium wants to set up their service, fine, but, at least to start, it will be for the wealthy or a novelty.  If Lilium can do it safely and make money for it, cool, but we do not see what that has to do with mass transit.

TBARTA seems to be determined to continue with its policy of doing anything but something really useful.


— HART

We have not discussed HART in a while, mostly because until the AFT referendum lawsuit is resolved, HART is in a holding pattern.  Covid19 does not help, either.

Hillsborough transit authority board members listened to grim presentations from staff Monday about declining ridership, proposed service cuts and budget shortfalls.

Underlying the bad news are two unknowns: the future of a 2018 sales tax that would nearly double the agency’s budget and a national search to find a new chief executive to steer the agency through uncertain times.

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority has watched expenses climb while reserves have largely declined since 2014.

“The bottom line here is, again, expenses are exceeding our revenues year after year,” transit authority chief financial officer Cyndy Stiglich told the board. “Since (2014) through this fiscal year, that equates to almost a $26 million deficit.”

The agency was projected to face a $4.5 million shortfall next year if it weren’t for coronavirus relief money provided by the federal government.

The lawsuit really needs to be resolved.  (And we are especially interested to see how the opponents of the referendum will justify keeping the tax money collected if it is declared unconstitutional – or how they will plan to give it back.  Because if collecting it is unconstitutional, they damn well better give it back, with interest.)

You can read the article here.


— TB(n)X

Since we started, we have tried very hard to maintain a policy that we do endorse candidates, we endorse ideas.   We also think people should be informed about candidates’ views.  In that vein, BayNews 9 had a nice article on the views of two Democratic candidates for District 1 of the County Commission. It is worth a read and can be found here.


— Brightline

We have our concerns about Virgin Trains/Brightline’s viability in the present environment and whether they will expand to Tampa.  Then there is this:

With construction of the high-speed Brightline/Virgin Trains USA railroad to connect Orlando and South Florida more than a year underway, two congressmen along the route are pushing for a new federal safety study focusing on pedestrians.

Republican U.S. Reps. Brian Mast and Bill Posey announced Thursday they are introducing legislation to study the safety concerns for pedestrians, motorists and residents along the higher-speed rail corridor that stretches from Brightline’s existing phase one route that terminates at West Palm Beach, up through coastal counties, and then westward to the Orlando International Airport.

Their bill would direct the Federal Railroad Administration and the Federal Highway Administration to conduct a study on motorist and pedestrian safety, and to make safety recommendations back to the U.S. House and Senate transportation committees. It also calls for the recommendations to be sent to the Florida Department of Transportation.

* * *

Posey and particularly Mast have been harsh critics of safety concerns regarding the railroad, and have sought to slow the train’s development while pushing for more commitments. Mast’s Florida’s 18th Congressional District represents areas along the train’s route from West Palm into Indian River County. Posey’s Florida’s 6th Congressional District represents areas from Indian River County into eastern Orange County.

Do with that what you will.


— Now?

There is also news regarding Forward Pinellas:

Forward Pinellas, the planning council and metropolitan planning organization for the county, has launched the Downtown St. Petersburg Mobility Study in partnership with the city and the Florida Department of Transportation to get public input about their commuting issues.

“The Downtown St. Petersburg Mobility Study will help us understand how we can improve our transportation network to meet the community’s needs for improved access, connectivity and mobility, while preserving our mix of institutions, jobs, services, arts and culture. I look forward to hearing about creative ways to improve mobility in and connect to downtown,” St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said in the Wednesday announcement.

We are all for a well-intentioned study.  However, we could not help but notice that normal life is completely disrupted and no one has any idea what commuting patterns will be like if/when there is a vaccine or better treatment for the virus.  In other words, we are pretty sure this is not the best time get to data for future planning.

However, feel free to do the survey here.


Downtown/Channel District – Why Not

There was not much development news this week, so here is a drone’s view of Water Street construction:

 

Enjoy.


Economy


— Poverty

There has been a lot of discussion about poverty recently. As has been noted by some local officials recently, poverty hurts those impoverished and also has effects to competitiveness in other parts of the economy. And, as one local official once properly observed: “As Jackson Heights goes, so goes Palma Ceia. As College Hill goes, so goes Culbreath Isles. As East Tampa and West Tampa go, so goes New Tampa.”  (Unfortunately, more often than not, policy has not necessarily reflected that truth.)

Last week, Café con Tampa had a discussion about a Tampa-Hillsborough Planning Commission study of local poverty.

You can find it here.

Thanks to Café con Tampa for that. It is worth watching.  And we need more of these discussions.


— Business Health

Meanwhile,

A recent report from LendingTree found that 26.5 percent of small business owners in the Tampa metro area do not have enough cash reserves to last a month. Almost two-thirds, 59.5 percent, said their cash reserves could last them a month. The remaining 14.1 percent were uncertain on how long their cash reserves would last them.

Compared to other large American metros, Tampa ranked well coming in at No. 45 out of 50. The rankings are based on the percentage of businesses that do not have enough cash reserves to last a month with No.1 having the highest percentage and No. 50 the lowest.

That is good for us, we guess, though it really just not very good overall.


Airport – More

In what we find to be fascinating news:

Alaska Airlines will offer daily nonstop flights between Tampa and Los Angeles and twice-weekly service to San Francisco as part of the airline’s efforts to connect California to key markets around the country, the airport announced this week.

Starting Nov. 20, Alaska will initially operate flights from Tampa to San Francisco on Saturday and Sundays and they will depart from San Francisco International Airport to TPA on Fridays and Saturdays.

* * *

The new flights will augment TPA’s service to LAX aboard Delta Air Lines and service to SFO aboard United Airlines, which are both scheduled to resume in September.

Given that Alaska has an alliance with American (and eventually One World) , it makes sense that the alliance might want to enter the Tampa to California race.  However, with all the air travel uncertainty (including the slowly improving passenger numbers taking a slight dip recently), we did not expect any new flights to California.  We will see what the world is like in November.

Meanwhile,

Tampa International Airport has once again landed among America’s best airports, according to Travel & Leisure magazine.

TPA claimed the #4 spot for 2020 in the publication’s annual World’s Best Awards survey, which asks Travel & Leisure readers to rate airports on a variety of topics including access, check-in/security, restaurants/bars, shopping and design.

The ranking is up one spot from 2019 and is tied with 2018.

We came in behind Indianapolis, Portland, and Minneapolis.  (Travel & Leisure article here) We do not really get why they are better, but that’s the list.

Finally, the airport has started an air service digest, which you can subscribe to here.


Port – The Waiting

The CDC has extended the ban on cruising:

Federal health officials are extending the U.S. ban on cruise ships through the end September as coronavirus infections rise in most U.S. states, including Florida.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday that it was extending a no-sail order that had been scheduled to expire July 24.

Major cruise lines that belong to an industry trade group had already canceled cruises until Sept. 15 because of ongoing discussions with federal officials over how to restart operations safely.

We do not know for sure, but we suspect that it might go longer than that.  And, regardless, we will not be taking a cruise for a while.


Politics/Governance – Again?

The proposal to expand the County Commission was revived back (if it ever went away).

For the third time in five years, there is a movement to expand the current seven-person commission to nine members. The Hillsborough County Charter Review Committee, 14 citizens appointed by commissioners, is kicking around the idea as part of the once-every-five-year exercise of studying the charter and potentially asking voters to amend it.

* * *

The committee is scheduled to consider two ideas during a virtual meeting Tuesday. If either plan gains a supermajority of 10 votes, then public hearings will be held Aug. 4 and Aug. 17 before a final vote on whether to send one of the plans to the November ballot.

One plan mirrors the current set-up of a mix of at-large and single-member districts, with a new make-up of five district commissioners and four countywide seats. The other, more controversial proposal calls for blowing up the status quo of three at-large seats and four single-member districts and drawing the county into nine single-member districts.

The committee’s two most vocal advocates for an all single-member commission are James Scarola, appointed by Murman, and Eric Johnson, appointee of Commissioner Stacy White. The county’s population of 1.4 million makes it difficult for the four district commissioners to stay in touch with 350,000 constituents, they said, and the county’s geography leads to far-flung gerrymandering.

* * *

The party’s steering committee voted this week to support the nine-member commission mix of single-member and at-large members.

We do not see a real need to expand the Commission, though if it maintained the balance between county-wide and single member districts, we would not be fervently opposed.  We would oppose nine single-member districts.

The commission’s current form has existed since voters adopted the charter in 1982. It is designed to give the public the ability to vote for a majority of commission members — their own district commissioner and all three at-large seats. All single-member districts would mean voters could select only their district commissioner, one of nine elected commissioners governing the county.

Having only single-member districts would reduce residents’ influence since they would only vote for one member, while increasing the influence of big donors who could donate to all of them. We don’t need less representation for the actual residents.

Thankfully,

The committee voted down both proposals by 10-3 margins, saying the debate was too rushed for adequate study and sufficient public input amid the coronavirus pandemic.

There are a lot of other things to deal with and there is no urgency to this.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

San Jose has been looking at innovative transportation from its airport to downtown.

“This isn’t just doing the same transit for a little cheaper but really fundamentally changing what transit is, how people interact with it and using technology to make a better transportation experience,” Dankberg said in a recent interview.

The five proposals Denkberg found especially noteworthy were:

Estimated costs to build the projects range from about $20 million to $60 million per mile — far lower than legacy transit projects currently in planning, such as the BART extension into San Jose that is estimated at $930 million per mile, according to the analysis from Kimley-Horn.

But, as the report notes, most of the technologies proposed are still in their infant stages, have yet to be tested and are close to eight years away from becoming a reality, which means the cost estimates and timelines should be “treated with some skepticism.”

In all honesty, the options they all seem like a variation on the basic rail concept, which should tell you something. (And we have to say that we are not sure a “less than six people” idea from the airport is really the best idea) You can read it here.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World


— Choices

In a number of conversations we have had with people regarding covid19, people have expressed resignation that this is just how things are.  However, it needs to be remembered that, while the disease is new and unknown, our situation definitely did not have to be like it is.  Here are a few examples we have seen recently.

First, we were reading an article about Lufthansa resuming service to Miami and noticed this:

The airline also recently announced its partnership with the diagnostic company Centogene to offer certified PCR COVID testing to passengers arriving into both Frankfurt Airport (FRA) and Munich Airport (MUC) to help travelers avoid quarantine in various countries.

This is a first-of-its-kind effort in the airline industry, making it a unique health opportunity exclusively for passengers on the Lufthansa Group. Those who want to take the test will get results through an app connection within four to five hours.

As someone we noted that to said, given the delays in getting results in Florida, it would be faster to fly to Frankfurt, get your test and fly back, than to get a test in Miami (unless, apparently, you are a pro athlete or high-level government official).

And then there is this:

The German state of Bavaria will soon start offering free coronavirus tests at airports for people returning from holiday, state premier Markus Soeder said Sunday.

Germany has fared better than many of its neighbours in suppressing the virus but concerns are mounting that travellers returning from abroad could bring a surge in new COVID-19 cases.

“I think we really need to focus on these returning holidaymakers,” Soeder told broadcaster ZDF.

He said local authorities were working on installing testing centres at Bavarian airports “where anyone can be tested for free any time”.

The scheme is expected to be up and running within days.

Bavaria is home to Munich airport, Germany’s second-largest after Frankfurt, as well as several smaller airports.

* * *

The southern state of Bavaria was among Germany’s hardest hit regions early on in the pandemic, partly because of residents coming back from ski holidays in coronavirus hotspots in Austria.

A beer festival in the Bavarian town of Mitterteich shortly before the March lockdown began has also been blamed for contributing to the spread.

Since then however Bavarian state premier Soeder has won widespread praise for his handling of the crisis, including resisting calls for a premature easing of coronavirus restrictions.

You can also read this article about how Munich, Bavaria, and Germany are approaching the science.

And, if Germany is not your thing,

Canada reported 336 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Sunday as well as four more deaths.

The new numbers bring the country’s total lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 to 110,307. A total of 8,852 people in Canada have died from the coronavirus.

More than 97,000 people have since recovered from their infections, however, while the amount of tests administered has surpassed the four million mark.

As you are probably aware, Hillsborough routine has more new cases per day than all of Canada. (Note: we could do this every day.  We could, if we were so inclined, even go with a Russia story.)

Choices, by the government and by the people, have consequences.


— Really?

We know the Tampa Bay area is dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists, but we assume the cars are king and taken care of, so when we saw this referring to a potential trade deal between the US and UK caught our interest:

A 2018 report by the World Health Organisation which reviewed laws and crashes in 175 nations found that the US’s traffic fatality rate was 12.4 deaths per 100,000 — around 50 per cent higher than comparable countries in western Europe, Canada, Australia and Japan.

The same report also said the US lagged behind Europe, including the UK, on implementing UN vehicle safety standards.

The head of the UK Transport Research Laboratory, Richard Cuerden, told the BBC: “We know the prime minister and others have said the automotive sector is on the cards for a new trade deal after Brexit. Well, it’s fine to trade – but they have to meet our rules in this regard.”

We know American cars are not that popular in Europe for other reasons, but it is interesting that our safety standards are considered clearly weaker than other developed countries.  Just another problem with our car reliance.


Finally

Remember, regardless of openings being allowed and the mask rules, the virus is still here and the real issue is whether people will follow the proper advice because it is really up to people to care for themselves, their families, and their neighbors, even during the opening. So be responsible, stay safe, and take care of your community.

Wash your hands, wear a mask when appropriate/necessary (and cover BOTH your nose and your mouth), and practice social distancing.

While there are many places online you can buy them, you can find a number of videos on how to make a simple mask, including this from the CDC, this from the Times and this from the County.

Here are some links to government resources:

CDC

Florida Department of Health

Florida Department of Health Updated Statistics/Map Dashboard

Hospital Availability Dashboard

Florida Health, Hillsborough

Hillsborough County

City of Tampa

This week we return to RoughRider at SkyscraperCity for a little north end of downtown:

From Rough Rider at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

 

Roundup 7-17-2020

July 16, 2020

Contents

The Great Reopening, Cont.

Transportation/Governance – Money Talk

— One More Thing

Downtown – Riverwalk Place/One Ashley

Bayshore – Altura

Governance/Economic Development/Downtown

— Economic Advisory Committee

— Development Director

— Affordable Housing

Space Force – Bring It

USF – Well?

Port – One Less

Governance/Schools – Money Talk

— One More Thing

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Finally

_______________________________________


The Great Reopening, Cont.

As the coronavirus/covid19 saga continues, so does the saga of Hillsborough County’s dealing with it.  This week, the Emergency Policy Group (EPG) renewed the mask ordinance:

The 5-3 vote, the same as the previous two weeks, came after the state reported Monday morning that Hillsborough County’s caseload grew to 19,828, an increase of 678. The dissenters were Sheriff Chad Chronister, School Board chairwoman Melissa Snively and the representative from Plant City, Vice Mayor Nathan Kilton.

Data through Saturday that was shared with the Emergency Policy Group showed the seven-day death rate averaged five per day, more than double the fatality rate from the previous week. Average daily hospital admissions for the week were 69, a 10 percent increase over the prior seven days.

But a recent decline in the rate of positive tests was welcomed, said Dr. Douglas Holt, the county director for the Florida Department of Health.

Positivity rates for tests have fallen from nearly 20 percent to 12.5 percent in recent days, which Holt called “a significant flattening‘’ and “encouraging trends.‘’

Those numbers are encouraging, if, and it is a big if, the downward trend continues and we do not let up.  However, the need for masks (and much more) remains, which makes it hard to understand why there are persistent “no” votes regarding the mask requirement, especially from a school board member (like the schools are not going to require them).  And, while 10% positivity may be a goal, real reopening requires getting rates way below 10%.

Thankfully, the County Commission has started acting, both related to protecting people wearing masks and related to taking authority on covid19 away from the EPG.   Both are good steps, at least as long as the EPG exists in its present form. (Though we hope the Mayor, who has been out front on this issue, still provides a lot of input.)

And the Mayor rightly stated:

Speaking to ABC News, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said this may be the week the city of Tampa has to decide whether to reinstate some reopening restrictions.

“I don’t think we should go to the stay-at-home order again right now,” Castor said in response to a question about reinstating a statewide order. “We have put our mask ordinance in the city of Tampa. We put that in place about three weeks ago. Our county just went to a mask ordinance two weeks ago, so I really think this week will be the tell-all, and if we have to take steps backward, this will be the week we make that difficult decision.”

And, she is acting, for instance regarding restaurants that act like bars.

Businesses with alcohol licenses were put on notice Wednesday by Mayor Jane Castor’s administration: enforce orders for masks and social distancing or face fines and possible suspension of their licenses.

* * *

Castor said the recent rise in coronavirus cases can be linked to violations in settings where alcohol is being served without adherence to public health guidelines in place to contain the pandemic.

“We will not tolerate the businesses who are so carelessly rolling the dice on the health of their patrons,” Castor said. “It’s a shame that the recklessness of a few have put a strain on so many businesses who are going about reopening responsibly.”

That is definitely a problem.  And it is a good step that should also be taken by the County.

Hopefully the numbers will improve (though deaths and hospitalizations will lag, as usual).  But we will need masks and distancing for a long time. Nature, whether hurricanes, pandemics, or otherwise, does not care about your opinion or ours.  It will do what it does.  Without proper, protective behavior, we will likely end up back in a shutdown, whether de jure or de facto, with the associated effects.  (And it will end up being more damaging to the economy than if the original lockdown had been a bit longer and the reopening had actually followed the data.)


Transportation/Governance – Money Talk

Back in 2016, there were all manners of machinations regarding a transportation referendum that never actually happened.  Following the failure to come up with a referendum plan, the then County Commission came up with a plan to spend $812 million mostly from general revenue on transportation.  It was basically a road plan. See “Transportation – More Tales from the Couch”  (At the same time, the need for public safety facilities was clear. See “Planning – Where’s the Money”)  Many of those Commissioners are now gone (though some major proponents of the plan are still around), but the plan remains . . . maybe.

Hillsborough County’s 10-year, $812 million transportation plan just hit a $423 million pothole.

Even a potential $185 million patch, courtesy of a bond issue, leaves the plan with a $238 million deficit.

Setting aside that a bond issue is not really a patch, what is the cause of the shortfall?

The shortfall for the plan, adopted in September 2016, comes mostly from a steep decline in projected sales tax collections due to the coronavirus pandemic. The news came Wednesday during County Administrator Bonnie Wise’s initial budget presentation to county commissioners.

* * *

In 2016, commissioners voted to earmark an extra $35 million of the budget to transportation and increase that amount by $5 million every year for the next decade. That meant about $600 million was supposed to be committed over 10 years to repair roads, sidewalks, bridges and intersections.

The transportation plan was dubbed the 812 plan because it called for $812 million, including impact fees, worth of transportation spending.

But halfway through the 10 years, the numbers aren’t adding up. Instead of $299 million in the first five years, projections call for just $189 million to be available. And for the fiscal years stretching from 2022-26, the county estimated an additional $313 million shortfall, leaving the $812 million plan with a $423 million deficit.

Much of the transportation spending comes from the general fund covering unincorporated Hillsborough County, which is absorbing the declining sales tax collections.

We admit that we started watching the Zoom County Commission meeting (which in some ways we like more than the old-style meetings) on the budget, but it was around lunchtime and we got distracted, so we did not see the details.  Nevertheless, we are having a hard time figuring out just exactly how an $812 million figure gets cut by $423 million mostly by reduced tax receipts from 4 months of the coronavirus.  Our confusion is even greater because the article tells us:

County revenues were bolstered by an 8 percent increase in expected property tax collections because of growing tax rolls.

But sales, gasoline and tourist taxes are all down. The state-shared sales tax produced $114 million in fiscal year 2019. That is projected to drop to $103 million in the current budget year ending Sept. 30, and to decline to $92.2 million next year. It means a $34 million two-year drop in anticipated revenue in the two general funds.

With fewer people traveling or commuting to work each day, fuel taxes, which brought in $52.5 million in 2019, are projected to decline to $45.5 million in the current year, and to $46.9 million in 2021, or a combined two-year decline of $12.6 million.

We do not doubt collections are down, but the article indicates something like $50 million less in two years for Hillsborough County revenue, not the 812 plan funds alone. And what about the other losses that have already happened or the almost $400 million in the future?  Maybe the article was not clear, but the numbers in the article seems off somewhere.

Regardless, the bottom line is that idea that the Commission could do all the transportation fixes it needed to do using general revenue, as embodied in the plan, is wrong. It is another indication of the failures of the old Commission. (Of course, the County could ask FDOT for the $200 million from the cost increase for the roads to nowhere planning stage.)

As URBN Tampa Bay notes:

Note that this is independent of the more comprehensive All for Transportation plan funded by the 1% sales tax. That issue is still being decided upon by the state supreme court.

This $812 million being taken out of general fund revenues, was basically to try and fix up roads clogged by developers who didn’t pay their fair share up front in development fees.

That is certainly a decent part of the poor planning and management that created the problems.

And we are still waiting for the referendum to be decided by the courts.  Should the referendum be approved, this is another reason the be wary of a money grab disguised as changing of the categories.

And if the referendum is struck down, do not expect to see much in the way of improvement.  Unsurprisingly, bad policy created bad outcomes.  Reverting to those bad policies will not create better outcomes.


— One More Thing

Given that we have limited money to maintain the roads we have, consider this:

It could cost more than $4.7 billion to fortify Tampa Bay’s most important roads from the flooding that might come during a major storm in 2045, according to a draft study from local planning agencies.

Investing now, planners say, is prudent and potentially cheaper than waiting for a hurricane to do damage. It would harden key roadways like the approaches to the Gandy Bridge and part of U.S. 19 in Pasco County.

“Our big goal with this report was to draw attention to the risk of not making some basic investments to reduce our road network’s vulnerability,” said Beth Alden, executive director of the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization. “What are the chances that we are not going to be hit by a Category 3 storm between now and 2045? … I’m not willing to roll the dice.”

First, the low-lying approaches to bridges in the area (not just the Gandy) never made sense.  Second, this area has been rolling the dice for years.  We lack hardened infrastructure.  We have zero flood protection for surge or sea level rise (which even minor tropical storms can make obvious).  The only money we are getting is for express lanes.   We could on and on about this, but the point is made.  In any event, you can read the article here.

One thing we will note is that the article is mostly about roads but includes this picture of a simulate surge caused by a severe category 3 in with high sea level rise in 2045:

From the Times – click on picture for article

We are not sure raising some roads is going to suffice.


Downtown – Riverwalk Place/One Ashley

Last week, we discussed the hulking new proposal for the Riverwalk Place property.  New filings on the Accela database from July 7 are listed under another name: One Ashley.  If it were the tallest, rather than the widest, tower downtown, we think the “One” something would be fitting.  As it is, not so much.

In any event, the filings revealed a few things not evident in the first batch of renderings.  For instance, as noted by URBN Tampa Bay:

As you can see in the rendering (1st pic), the hotel and the restaurant have a private drive which goes almost all the way down to the Riverwalk and then loops back around.

The reason why the city originally was going to vacate this portion of Whiting was because the old Riverwalk Place design was going to extend the park all the way through where Whiting had been. Only a small drop off lane would barely extend into the lot (2nd pic). As you can see in the old Riverwalk Plans, the park and trees shield the riverwalk from cars and provides more green space for people instead of more space cars.

We question whether the city should allow Whiting, formerly a public road, to now become a private drive which goes into the park and almost all the way to the riverfront.

This is the area in question in the more recent rendering:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for

The original rendering from last week looked a bit different:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

in that picture it looks far more pedestrian oriented.  It is not.  Moreover, this is the ground floor plan:

 

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

You do not need to zoom to see the large drop-off feature in the middle of the building.  For whatever reason, the designers have decided that the central large drop-off area is just for the condos, rather than having both the hotel and condos centered there so that the open space at the end of Whiting can be a park/greenspace.

We agree with the URBN Tampa Bay that the City really should not endorse that part of the plan.

Additionally, this is a rendering of Ashley:

From Accela filing

While we like the garage screening in the rendering, as you can see from the first-floor plan and the rendering, Ashley is basically a dead streetscape.  As we said regarding the original Riverwalk Place plan, we get the limitations of the site and we understand that they are trying to activate the Riverwalk, but they could do something other than have a blank wall along the majority of Ashley.  It is very unattractive.

As for activating the Riverwalk, if you look at this rendering,

From Accela filings

You will notice that the shading/awning is not extensive.  Moreover, if you look at the first-floor plan, you basically have a restaurant/lounge for the hotel at one end and a café at the other end.  That is all that is along the river.  There seem to be a few tables outside for the restaurant.  Nothing for the café.  Little cover or shading.

It would be hard to get past the hulking design, but even putting that to one side, the more we see about this project, the less we like.  There are many good concepts, but the execution is lacking. (And, of course, there is the hulking design.) We really hope they go back to the drawing board.  The lot has much potential, but it needs a much better design.


Bayshore – Altura

There is news of sorts from Altura on Bayshore-ish:

But the tide may be turning for Altura. Even as new coronavirus cases surge in Florida, Solomon says interest in the tower is increasing. In the first week of July, Smith & Associates Real Estate took four reservations for Altura condos, the majority of which start at $1.2 million. In condo sales, buyers put down refundable deposits — typically around $25,000 for a $1 million condo — before putting down more, nonrefundable money and entering a binding contract on the unit. In a new building like Altura, condos don’t close until the building wraps up construction.

* * *

Of Altura’s 73 units, 12 are reserved. Solomon said he’d feel comfortable converting to contracts when 25 units are reserved, and the tower will begin construction when presales cross a certain threshold — anywhere from 40 percent to 60 percent of the unit count. The presale threshold for breaking ground depends more on the dollar value of presold units, Solomon said, than the actual number of condos.

And a new rendering from a press release email:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

Setting aside some design issues, as we see it, the real issue is this:

Beyond the coronavirus pandemic, Solomon and his team face unprecedented competition in Tampa’s luxury condo market from South Florida developers with very deep pockets. Miami’s Related Group, which is planning to redevelop the Bay Oaks apartment property just south of Altura into an ultra-luxe condo community, recently revealed that its condos will be branded Ritz-Carlton residences. Kolter Group, based in Palm Beach County, is moving forward with Hyde Park House, a 70-unit condo tower several blocks north of Altura.

Competition may not cause any problems or it may.  That remains to be seen.


Governance/Economic Development/Downtown


— Economic Advisory Committee

A few weeks ago, we discussed a proposal for a new Economic Advisory Committee to guide economic development to be more and more inclusive than it has been in the past.  We favored the idea.  This week:

A citizen panel will be formed to advise the city on how to reduce economic disparities after council member Bill Carlson and Mayor Jane Castor’s administration reached a political compromise.

Carlson had originally called for a City Council advisory committee made up of 23 residents, who would recommend solutions to council members for the city’s income inequality, poverty and other economic development hurdles.

* * *

Carole Post, the city’s administrator for economic development and opportunity, outlined the process moving forward in a recent memo after talks with Carlson.

The Economic Advisory Committee will be modeled after Castor’s mayoral task forces that she formed last year that evaluated Transportation, Development Services, Workforce Development, and Housing Affordability.

Committee members would be appointed by the mayor and council members and will meet up to a half-dozen times over a 90-day period to come up with recommendations.

The committee would meet four to six times for up to two hours and would be presented data by the University of South Florida and the Tampa Bay Partnership, according to a June 19 memo from Post.

Public input would be encouraged and the final recommendations would be presented to the mayor and City Council.

The recommendations “may be published as part of the T3 framework,” referring to Castor’s Transforming Tampa’s Tomorrow initiative, which incorporates the task forces’ recommendations to develop a “visionary plan for our city’s future,” according to the city’s website.

USF professors would guide the effort and write the recommendations, the memo states.

We think that is a start, but the plan from the administration is not really ambitious enough.  First, we are not sure why USF professors would guide the effort and write the recommendations.  There very well may be people equally or more qualified to lead the effort on the committee. And the whole purpose should be for the group to write the recommendations as a group. Second, and an even bigger problem, there does not seem to be any follow-up.  We understand if the initial effort is more intensive than later on, but there should be follow-up to any report and/or recommendation to review the ideas and the implementation. The initial proposal from the Councilman had quarterly updates.  That seemed reasonable to us.  The present idea, as presented in the article, does not appear to have even that.

We like the original concept and think the committee, as described in the article, risks ineffectiveness due to institutional inertia. The problems being addressed are long-term and the committee addressing them should be, too.


— Development Director

In other news:

A key Community Redevelopment Area official has been tapped to spearhead the city’s efforts on economic and business development.

Rob Rosner, who most recently was the manager of several redevelopment areas, including downtown and the Channel District, was tapped for the post Tuesday by Mayor Jane Castor.

* * *

In his new role, Rosner, 49, will report to Carole Post, the city’s administrator of development and economic opportunity. His salary will be $125,000.

Post said in a statement that Rosner will focus on business recruitment and strategic initiatives.

The mayor said he would play an important role in executing her vision.

We wish him luck, though it would be helpful if he had an advisory committee to help him long term.


— Affordable Housing

Speaking of the downtown CRA, as you may remember:

In June, the City Council announced plans to move toward dissolving the downtown and Channel District redevelopment areas, which have been in place for decades and played crucial roles in their renaissance.

Council members have said the relative prosperity of downtown and the adjacent Channel District made continued direct city investment unnecessary. Castor has said she supports that effort.

Interestingly, this week there was this news:

While much of downtown Tampa has seen a lot of success, city leaders say the Northside still has plenty of areas that need redevelopment.

“There are a lot of streets on the north side of downtown where you still see either boarded up buildings, buildings that are underutilized, they’re older. There’s vacant lots, so that north part of Downtown has not yet seen the full renaissance that the rest of downtown has,” said Tampa CRA Director Michelle VanLoan.

Officials say there’s still a lot left they can do with this part of the district.

The city, along with the Community Redevelopment Agency, has been looking at some of these spaces to potentially build affordable housing.

* * *

Officials say sometime within the next 12 months they’ll start having discussions with the private sector about exactly where this project makes the most sense.  

There are a couple of things here.  First, what exactly is the CRA going to do to bring affordable housing?  What exactly is the CRA, as a CRA, going to discuss with the private sector?  Anything a CRA does, the City could do without the downtown CRA and still free up other revenue to be used in other parts of town that need it. (And not having CRA involvement frees up the City to look at housing locations outside the CRA area.)

Second, as we noted last week, there are private developers proclaiming how much they want to build affordable housing in Tampa. So, let them.

Third, there are already affordable housing projects at Encore and “West River.” Maybe Tampa needs some affordable housing in other areas, too.

And then there is this, from URBN Tampa Bay:

We would just like to point out that housing affordability isn’t about throwing large amounts of public money at one project that will serve a small number of families and garner a huge waiting list. Housing affordability is about designing a land use code that allows an affordable product to be routinely delivered by the private sector. Types of land use code that are currently on the books in Tampa that hinder housing affordability include parking minimums, density caps/FAR, minimum lot sizes, height caps, single-family zoning and more.

Housing affordability has another part to it too: transportation. If you have to use a car to live somewhere, that place is already automatically not affordable. Providing alternative modes of transportation and converting large swaths of our city from car dependent to not, must also be a part of any housing affordability initiative.

The points are valid. While it is true that affordable housing developments often have a government involvement, there is more to addressing affordable housing than just throwing up a building or subsidizing projects. The City should address some of the systemic issues that inhibit housing affordability.


Space Force – Bring It

It may have been somewhat obscured by other headlines, but the competition for the new Space Force HQ is on.

In May, the Air Force requested that communities interested in hosting the headquarters of the newly created U.S. Space Force, a branch of the Air Force, to nominate themselves to their state’s governor. Gov. Ron DeSantis had to endorse the bid by June 30, which he did for the local counties.

The city and county jointly worked together on the letter to include the benefit of working with MacDill. It also said a site may be selected outside of the city limits but within the county, said Steve Morey, senior vice president of the Tampa Bay Economic Development Council.

We are sure that the area meets the criteria:

The Space Force’s purpose is to organize, train and equip space forces in order to protect U.S. and allied interests in space. Its responsibilities include developing military space professionals, acquiring military space systems and maturing the military doctrine for space power. The new military branch will consolidate space-related operations missions from across the U.S. armed forces.

The minimum criteria required to be considered is that the region must have a population base that is within the top 150 largest Metropolitan Statistical Areas in the United States, a location that’s within 25 miles of a military base, and a livability index score of 50 points out of 100 or higher as determined by the American Association of Retired Persons Public Policy Institute.

We understand that there is more than simple demographics that goes into a decision like this. But it is well-known that this area has a very good, symbiotic relationship with the military. (for instance, see here)  We think it would be great for this area in terms of the investment, plus the supporting companies, including many technology jobs and spin-offs.  It could really help for our tech scene. (And people at the HQ could watch launches in Cape Canaveral from the MacDill waterfront.)

We shall see.


USF – Well?

There was interesting news from some state schools:

Sarasota-based New College of Florida has partnered with the University of Florida for a first-of-its-kind, double-degree program.

Students will be able to receive both a degree in liberal arts and science from New College and a bachelor of science degree in engineering from the University of Florida in the five-year program.

“We like the possibility because a lot of people don’t apply to New College because we don’t have an engineering option,” said Donald Colladay, a professor of physics at New College. “And there are a lot of people interested in math and science.”

While the tuition cost is currently being worked out, some details have been set. Students would spend the first two years at New College then the remaining three at UF’s Gainesville campus.

Participants would be dubbed “new engineers”; officials are hopeful the program can begin in the spring 2021 semester.

It sounds very interesting (we are not sure why Florida Poly did not partner with New College, but their loss).  USF should check into creating such a program at USF.


Port – One Less

It is not surprising that covid19 would have an effect on service at the Port.  This week we learned of some:

A container company that provided a direct connection from Vietnam to Port Tampa Bay has said it will cease that connection.

Port Tampa Bay confirmed it will lose its direct Asian service with CMA CGM, a connection that the port has made a top priority. The CMA CGM connection was established last year, allowing the Tampa call to be the first-ever direct connection between the booming Vietnam market and Central Florida.

However, the port has another Asian market service with Shanghai-based Cosco Shipping Line, and a port spokeswoman said CMA CGM will continue its service to Port Tampa Bay via Cosco, which includes a connection from Vietnam.

“We have been advised by CMA CGM that they anticipate this will have no impact on the volume of business they are doing in Tampa, it will just be riding on a different ship,” she said.

We would be leased if the change does not change the volume of container business, but we are a dubious.  In any event, we are not surprised.


Governance/Schools – Money Talk

Aside from the whole reopening requirement, there is a bit of chaos at the Hillsborough County Schools:

The Hillsborough County school district has again eroded its financial reserves, an ill-timed revelation that angered School Board members when they were told about it late Tuesday amid planning for the expensive task of reopening campuses during a pandemic.

Superintendent Addison Davis told the board that preliminary, year-end numbers show the district’s main reserve account will have shrunk from about $150 million to $100 million when the books close for the fiscal year that ended June 30.

“That is a $50 million deficit,” Davis said. And while that is above legal thresholds, it is a far cry from what the investment community recommends for reserves, which is closer to $200 million.

Whoops.

OK, we admit, that was just an easy shot.  The reality seems a little more complicated.

The reasons for the loss are numerous, but a big one appears to be confusion or a miscalculation over the cost of employee raises. The School Board said that, in a closed session in 2019, they authorized the district to spend $39 million more after negotiating with its employee groups. But expenses grew, and the difference discussed on Tuesday was $25 million, a number district leaders were still trying to clarify on Wednesday.

Then there was more spending, chief financial officer Gretchen Saunders said. The district hired extra staff and paid bonuses to attract seasoned teachers for Hillsborough’s 50 struggling “Achievement” schools. There were rising pension costs and, later, more millions related to COVID-19 and distance learning when the schools closed in March.

But is that what happened?  You can read the article here for the apparent extra expenses, though you can guess about some covid19 stuff.  In any event:

Reached while he was traveling on Wednesday, Eakins denied hiding anything from the School Board. “I have worked very diligently with the board to get this budget exactly where it should be,” he said. Nor, he said, did he ever count on revenues to bail him out of escalating payroll costs. “Oh my goodness, absolutely not.”

Eakins said he is now working with Saunders and Davis as they try to straighten out the areas of confusion.

Eakins did say he always expected the district to protect its general fund reserve balance by using accounting transfers: For example, charging an employee’s salary to the capital budget if he worked in construction, or to the food service budget if he worked in a cafeteria. That’s something that happens after June 30, as the district is putting its books through the auditing process.

“July 7 is awfully early to start talking about the fund balance,” Eakins said. “There is still a lot of work to do.”

(Here are some assorted comments from the School Board, if you are interested.)  Is that true?  We do not know.  That is part of the problem.

At least the present staff is doing this:

Davis said he has brought in Jim Hamilton, a consultant who works for the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, to begin a fiscal study of the district’s $2 billion operating budget.

As Hillsborough is a member of the organization, he wrote, “the Association will cover all fees and expenses related to our financial review.”

On Wednesday, district leaders said there was a great deal of confusion following Tuesday’s board discussion.

In that discussion, the board was led to believe that even though it authorized $39 million in 2019 for employee raises, the negotiated agreements wound up costing an additional $25 million. Combined with other expenses, some related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the district seemed headed for a $50 million shortfall in operations.

Board members asked for a clear and thorough accounting, to be presented at a workshop that the public could view.

We are not going to pretend that we get where the money went, though, given the crazy year, we would not be surprise if there was a short-fall.  Nevertheless, the process seems far too confused.  It needs to be clarified.

And the confusion is made worse by this:

Under Eakins, the district spent years digging out of spending imbalances related to teaching reforms the district had implemented in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

In 2013, Elia launched a new teacher pay scale that was designed to reward performance, based on raises of $4,000 every three years for teachers who qualified. District leaders did not know how many teachers would migrate into the new plan.

Two years into the new system, they revealed the reserve had shrunk by $200 million. As is the case now, that fund was still above legal thresholds. In fact, the teachers union said the loss was to be expected, as there were up-front costs built into the new pay plan. But bond rating firms were alarmed, and the district’s credit was in danger.

It fell on Eakins to rein in spending. Even though school air conditioners were falling apart, board members postponed going after the sales tax referendum until they could prove they had a balanced the operating budget.

This is not the first time something like this has happened (though, as we said, we could understand a shortfall a little more this year).  Even if the numbers end up working out better than initially announced this year, it seems there is a lack of proper oversight and communication somewhere.  That really needs to be addressed.

It is excusable to have some difficulty in difficult times.  It is less so to not know you will have or are having said difficulties over and over.


— One More Thing

There was also some news about reopening plans:

Reversing a position that stirred anxiety among public school staff and families, Hillsborough County superintendent Addison Davis announced Tuesday that teachers and students must wear masks when campuses reopen in August.

Previously, Davis had said masks would be encouraged, but optional. He changed his mind after consulting with medical, education and community leaders, and hearing from many teachers and parents.

“This is a movement that must be taken in order to protect our children,” Davis said. “My responsibility is to take every proactive step I can to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

The plan, he explained, is to have students, staff, visitors and vendors wear facial coverings in any shared space where social distancing cannot occur. That includes classrooms, hallways and buses.

We think that is the prudent choice.  And we also wonder why it is ok for the schools to have a mask rule for kids under 8 (and under 18 in some circumstances) but the EPG thinks it is not.  It is not like gems are only spread at school and on the bus.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

The New York Times had an interesting piece on infrastructure:

Joe Biden and Donald Trump may not agree on much, but one thing unites them, and it’s no small matter: Both support investing trillions of dollars in a nationwide infrastructure campaign. Both recognize, in their own way, the power of such spending to create jobs and revitalize communities, and invest in the future.

For anyone looking to boost the coronavirus-addled economy, or to create sustainable, multigenerational improvements in America’s roads, bridges, transit, water supply, flood management and power grid, pandemic induced stimulus funding is a rare opportunity. But there’s a catch. Like all good ideas, the value of infrastructure spending lies in its execution. Spending alone is not enough. America made that mistake during the last economic crisis; it can’t afford to repeat it.

In 2009, the United States spent about $140 billion on infrastructure as part of its fiscal rescue efforts. Politicians and pundits talked of a new New Deal, invoking the sprawling building programs under Franklin D. Roosevelt. The largest infrastructure line item was $28 billion for highways and bridges. At first glance, that makes sense: For many the first thing that comes to mind when you think “infrastructure” is roads.

And it’s true that good roads were historically critical fuel for the nation’s economic engine. Even today, Senate Republicans are promoting their own version of an infrastructure plan, focused on reauthorizing the Highway Trust Fund. But the emphasis on road development is outdated.

Most developed countries already have effective road systems; they can be maintained, but the economic benefits of expansion are marginal and the downsides significant. Road construction is environmentally destructive, and it promotes urban sprawl, congestion, air pollution and inequality.

The same 2009 stimulus bill included $8 billion for rail, with an emphasis on high-speed trains. But 11 years later there is still no high-speed rail in the United States, in part because $8 billion is a drop in the bucket — enough to cover a few miles of subway in New York or Los Angeles.

You can read it here.

While not designed to be in concert with the first article, the New York Times had another interesting piece regarding rethinking streets that covers some old ground with some twists.  It is more graphics than text so we will not quote anything, but it is very well done and can be found here.


Finally

Remember, regardless of openings being allowed and the mask rules, the virus is still here and the real issue is whether people will follow the proper advice because it is really up to people to care for themselves, their families, and their neighbors, even during the opening. So be responsible, stay safe, and take care of your community.

Wash your hands, wear a mask when appropriate/necessary (and cover BOTH your nose and your mouth), and practice social distancing.

While there are many places online you can buy them, you can find a number of videos on how to make a simple mask, including this from the CDC, this from the Times and this from the County.

Here are some links to government resources:

CDC

Florida Department of Health

Florida Department of Health Updated Statistics/Map Dashboard

Hospital Availability Dashboard

Florida Health, Hillsborough

Hillsborough County

City of Tampa

This week we return to Eagle 8 WFLA’s Twitter account:

From Eagle 8 WFLA – click on picture for tweet

Roundup 7-10-2020

July 9, 2020

Contents

The Great Reopening, Cont.

— And One More Thing

Transportation

— Roads to Nowhere

— SunRunner

Downtown – Riverwalk Place, Take 2v

Bayshore – Ritz-ish

Downtown/Channel District – More Water Street

Economic Development/Pasco – Affordable Housing

Economy – Tourism

Economic Development/Environment – Let the Sun Shine

Finally

________________________________________


The Great Reopening, Cont.

Because the Hillsborough County Emergency Policy Group (EPG)’s mask order only last seven days, they have to review and renew it each week.  Setting aside that it is obvious that the order was going to be needed for a while and having to renew it each week is silly, that requirement encourages the EPG to keep changing with the order.

Hillsborough County emergency leaders agreed Monday to rewrite its two-week-old face mask requirement to ease concerns from business owners.

The change removes criminal sanctions, which drew objections from the business community, and instead says civil citations could be issued to business owners who don’t make a reasonable effort to enforce the rules.

The order defines reasonable effort as businesses that place signs at entrances, make public address announcements and ask customers to comply. The rule asks people to cover their faces inside buildings if they are unable to maintain social distancing. Individuals who fail to comply with the businesses’ request could be subject to a civil citation with a fine of up to $150.

Supporting the order were Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Les Miller Jr. and commissioners Kimberly Overman and Sandy Murman, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and Temple Terrace Acting Mayor Andy Ross.

Voting “no” were Sheriff Chad Chronister, Plant City Commissioner Nate Kilton and School Board member Melissa Snively. 

We actually favor enforcement against individuals rather than businesses unless it is clear that a business is ignoring the rules. (And note that Pinellas’ ordinance starts with civil citations and makes repeat offenses a misdemeanor.)   If the business is trying, they should not be held responsible for individuals’ irresponsible behavior.  We are not sure why some voted against the order, especially because Hillsborough still has one of the highest test positivity rates of any large county (and Hillsborough County is still outpacing most large European Countries, and Canada in new cases per day).  Now that we know we have to have open public schools in about a month, that is even more so.

We were happy for this clarification:

Chronister asked [Drs.] Chang and Wilson why the county isn’t seeing a decline in positive in the two weeks since the mask order was announced.

Slowing the spread can take up to three weeks and anecdotal evidence shows that many people still aren’t practicing safe social distancing and continue to participate in high-risk activities, the doctors said.

“It’s a little too early to see this,” Chang said, of a significant decline in new cases.

First, it had been less than two weeks since the mask order actually went into effect (a Wednesday evening).  As we said when originally discussing the reopening, with proper levels of testing (which we are not sure is happening now, though maybe we will get enough contact tracing, a prerequisite to reopening, by August) you need at least two weeks, and probably three or more, to really see any effects. (That seemed to be missing during the reopening process.)

Second, if there is no enforcement, people will not be as inclined to comply, especially the people who were engaging in the risky behavior in the first place.

Meanwhile, in the rest of the state:

Miami-Dade County restaurants must close dining rooms and gyms must shut down again this week under a planned emergency order by Mayor Carlos Gimenez as he continues to retreat from a May reopening plan that has proven unable to prevent a surge in new coronavirus cases.

“We want to ensure that our hospitals continue to have the staffing necessary to save lives,” Gimenez said in a statement.

The restaurant closure order will allow takeout and delivery to continue, Gimenez said. Last week, Gimenez ordered the closures of casinos, movie theaters and strip clubs while mandating masks in most public spaces.

(And, yes, they have been tweaking that.) As the Miami Mayor said:

Suarez said that though Miami was the last city in Florida to reopen, “there’s no doubt” the pace of reopening played a role in how quickly coronavirus case counts began rising.

“I was criticized for waiting so long,” he said. “But there’s no doubt that the fact that when we reopened, people started socializing as if the virus didn’t exist.”

* * *

[Regarding masks] Suarez added, “The reason why we do it is, it’s no different than telling people they need to wear a seatbelt. You know, if you get in a car accident, you know, there’s a good chance that you’ll walk away if you’re wearing a seatbelt. The same thing with a mask. If people are wearing the masks in public, there’s a very good chance that we’re going to be able to slow down or stop the spread. So that’s the reason why we do it.”

It really is not that complicated, especially given all the contact tracing issues (see here and here)

Before the reopening, we said that it would be quite the shame if we went through the lockdown only to have to do it all again (whether by order by choice).  We need to make sure people behave responsibly now or that is exactly where we will be (and may be there already).


— And One More Thing

As we have said before, the EPG needs reform or elimination.  We are not alone in that opinion.

Hillsborough Commission Chairman Les Miller Jr. thinks the emergency group guiding public response to the coronavirus pandemic might need to retire.

Next week, he will ask his fellow commissioners to consider repealing or modifying the county authority that set up the Emergency Policy Group, often referred to by the EPG acronym.

The group includes eight voting members, but just three Hillsborough County Commissioners. The mayors of Tampa, Plant City, Temple Terrace, the sheriff and the Hillsborough County School Board chairwoman also have voting authority on the emergency responses affecting 1.4 million people.

We are not going to get into the whole article (you can read the whole thing here), but as we have noted before, the EPG needs to be changed significantly or be dissolved.

The EPG has been slow to act and confusing. The meetings are a mess and the balance in representation is questionable at best.  We see no reason why the County Commission could not handle the job, like is done in Pinellas (though we would also understand having the mayor of Tampa and, maybe, alternating the mayors of Temple Terrace and Plant City).


Transportation


— Roads to Nowhere

A week or so after the Governor cut huge chunks out of a budget overstretched by covid19,

Florida will spend at least $738 million over the next five years on three controversial new toll roads projects under a plan approved by Gov. Ron DeSantis last week.

While slashing more than $1 billion from the state budget last week because of the state’s sudden economic downturn, he left untouched state plans to move ahead on more than 300 miles of new toll roads.

Those plans include spending $382 million for engineering and planning consultants and $40 million acquiring land along the roads’ paths in the next three years. It does not include the cost of building the roads, which is supposed to start in 2022 with a price tag in the tens of billions of dollars.

As we have noted before, the roads are not needed, they are just an “inside baseball” project to promote sprawling development and the targeted interests.  There was no groundswell of support that pushed the road.  But even better:

The figures are more than $200 million more than the state was projecting last year, when the Legislature, over the objection of environmentalists, passed a bill paving the way for the roads.

* * *

How much the roads will cost has been one of the biggest question marks about the projects. When lawmakers voted on the project last year, the state was projecting spending less than $393 million planning the projects through 2024, not including the cost of construction. This year’s plan shows the state spending $595 million more than that through 2024, plus another $142 million in 2025. (A department spokeswoman said the people who could explain the difference were gone for the holiday weekend.) 

With nothing happening and the final concept not even decide (supposedly), the cost is already increasing by hundreds of millions of dollars the State does not really have (or it could fill the gaps in covid19 testing causing all the delays).  And people complain about transit project cost overruns. . .

Beyond the cost and the sprawl (and the failure to plan and develop proper infrastructure in the already built up areas of the state), there this:

The study area for the M-CORES Southwest-Central Florida Connector toll road will go through the heart of panther country. It is stretching an estimated 140 miles from Collier County north into Polk County towards Interstate 4. The exact route is unknown, and public hearings are still taking place.

* * *

We asked Florida Senator Bill Galvano, who spearheaded the legislation the risk to panthers could be?

“Environmentalists are worried,” ABC Action News reporter Michael Paluska said to Galvano via a Skype interview. “They’ve said they think that toll road is more important than the life of a panther. That 140-mile stretch might wipe out the Florida population of our state animal.”

“I think that’s overstated rhetoric. I will again tell you that at the heart of this legislation is that we design and build with the understanding that our environment and natural resources are paramount,” Galvano said.

Galvano said the best way to protect Florida wildlife and handle the millions of people moving to our state and tourists, is to plan and prepare for that influx.

We agree that planning is essential.  A proper plan would maximize built up areas (and urban service areas) and not expanding sprawl into all corners of the state. In any event,

The projects are not a done deal. They could be derailed if the Department of Transportation can’t afford to finance them through toll revenue or bonds, or if the roads are held up by environmental concerns. A federal biologist warned the projects could render extinct the state animal, the Florida panther, for example.

But the highways have powerful backers that include the Chamber of Commerce, road builders and Senate President Bill Galvano, who championed the roads through the Legislature last year. The roads were not a new idea — three previous governors had considered, then discarded, similar plans.

Technically, they are not a done deal.  Technically.  We’ll say it again: some day, some of the proposed roads might make sense, maybe, but today is not that day.  And, in fact, since the MCORES idea was proposed, if anything, it has fallen further down the priority list. But do not expect those facts to control.


— SunRunner

The St. Pete to St Pete Beach BRT (which is actual BRT, at least for the most part) now has a name:

A planned transit line connecting downtown St. Petersburg and the beach now has a name: the SunRunner.

Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority officials unveiled the name, logo and bus design Wednesday morning. Yellows, blues and orange will be splashed across the buses, bus stops and branding for the new route, which is expected to begin late next year or early 2022.

People in St. Petersburg might recognize “MR SUN” — a character dating to a 1940s promotional campaign now featured in a mural downtown — beaming down from the side of the bus.

 

From the Times – click on picture for article

Aesthetics are subjective, and that color is not really our style, but it is fine (we like the logo a bit more than the whole bus-wrap).  More importantly, the project is a good project.  That is what counts.


Downtown – Riverwalk Place, Take 2

As people who follow such things are aware, the original developer of Riverwalk Place, originally proposed as a 50+ story (the exact number changed) mixed use tower on the old Trump Tower Tampa lot on the river, left the project and it was sent back for a redesign by the new developer.  The new project was revealed this week:

Two Roads Development on Tuesday filed new plans with the city for a 37-story hotel-condo tower on the vacant site at the intersection of Ashley Drive and Brorein Street. The hotel is on floors one through 13, with ballrooms on the 12th and 13th floors. The condos begin on the 14th floor.

The tower will be home to 222 hotel rooms and 230 hotel-branded condominiums. Arquitectonica Studios, a Miami-based architecture firm with a global portfolio, is the new architect on the tower. Gensler was the architect on previous iterations of the tower.

* * *

Two Roads did not identify a hotel flag in Tuesday’s updated plans but said it “looks forward to announcing the brand in the coming months.”

Or, as they say on Accela (where the project can be found a bit confusingly under “102 W Whiting St”):

The project includes the construction of a 37-floor mixed use tower along the Tampa Riverwalk. The proposed tower will include multi-family residential, hotel, and restaurant uses. The podium levels of the building will house the hotel and restaurant uses along with parking for the entire structure. The 740-space parking garage is designed to provide 2 spaces per residential unit and 0.25 spaces per hotel key. Excess parking (approximately 209 spaces) will be available for public parking. The tower will be dedicated to multi-family living. Two separate roof-top pools are proposed as part of the construction, one for the hotel and one for the multi-family. Given the lack of roadway frontages the proposed development will seek to engage pedestrians from the Riverwalk, using this face of the building as storefront. Offsite improvements for the project include modifications to the alignment of Ashley Drive S. The proposed modifications will not alter the number of lanes in either direction and will add a turn lane for a left out of the proposed development. The Site Plan includes a two-way valet lane that will allow for cars to travel internal to the site, from the valet drop-off to the garage, without having to enter onto Ashley Drive S. Additionally, the project includes sidewalk improvements to Ashley Drive S. and W. Brorein Street to provide the code-required public realm zone corresponding to the street type as outlined in the City Form Based Code.

Here are the released renderings:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

Remember that renderings are rarely accurate.  They tend to make buildings look sleeker and taller than they really are.

Arquitectonica Studios, a Miami-based architecture firm with a global portfolio, is the new architect on the tower. Gensler was the architect on previous iterations of the tower.

That shows.

Based on the limited preliminary information we have, we can say a few things.  First, the renderings have to be taken with even more grains of salt than usual given the manipulation of/lack of downtown in them.  With that caveat, the treatment of the pedestrian riverfront looks nice, though we cannot tell about protection from the elements aside from some relatively small awnings.  They might want to address that. Additionally, while the renderings of the part facing the river look generally promising, the initial blurb in the article was less so:

With a “café and open-air gourmet restaurant” on the ground floor of the project, the new plan holds true to Feldman’s initial vision of a building that interacts with and activates the Tampa Riverwalk.

The riverfront portion of the building quite long.  We hope they are going to include more than that at the ground level.

Second, we like the mix of uses.  We are all for real mixed use.  As pointed out in the Business Journal,

The hospitality sector has taken a massive hit during the novel coronavirus pandemic, and some financiers say hotel construction loans will be among the hardest to secure, at least in the short term.

But that is for the developers to work out. We like the idea and, as noted about the riverfront, the mixed uses are extensive.

That brings us to the monumental aspect of the building.  Assuming the riverfront is treated properly and the other street/park treatments are good, we do not have a problem with the base (at least what we have seen of it). In fact, the garage looks decently screened (though more detail would be nice).

That leaves the “tower” part.  We are not huge fans of the normal Miami condo style, especially when there is a large cluster of similar looking buildings (like in Miami).  However, we like stylistic diversity and are open to having a few scattered around town.  Unfortunately, we think this design is more akin to a hulking wall of condos than elegant Miami-style condo towers.  Sure, it has some design elements, but it is basically a two block wide, 400-foot tall (roughly) slab of building.  In fact, the first rendering, which tries to eliminate all the height around the project, shows the building casting a big shadow on east past Franklin. All buildings cast shadows, but that is a two-block wide shadow.  You can see more mock ups of the hulking design from Bueller/Tampa 2020 at SkyscraperCity here.  Here is one of Bueller’s mock-ups, which, unlike the rendering, tries to have a proper scale:

From Bueller/Tampa 2020 at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

This building is right on the river.  There is no set back or buffer. Nothing on the river is as hulking. Do we really want a two-block long, 400-ft wall right on the river?  And what of view corridors?

In short, we appreciate many of the ideas they are working on, but, in addition to the questions about the Riverwalk portion, we really think breaking up the hulking wall and having at least one view corridor is a much better way to approach the design.  They have work to do.


Bayshore – Ritz-ish

The Related Group has named the hotel brand that will manage its condo project on Bayshore:

Related Group has struck a deal with The Ritz-Carlton for the branding and management of its ultra-luxe condo towers on Bayshore Boulevard.

Related, based in Miami, plans to replace the aging Bay Oaks apartments with The Ritz-Carlton Residences, Tampa. The Ritz-Carlton Residences will include 170 condos in two towers and 12 townhouses. The project is strictly residential; the property will be managed by the hospitality giant and bear its name. 

From the Times – click on picture for article

And

The project — the Ritz-Carlton Residences, Tampa — will include condominiums and townhouses, with two high-rise buildings with about about 100 units each. Related Group said that the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, L.L.C. and its affiliates do not own the project, nor are they involved in its development or sale.

However, the hospitality group will oversee the maintenance, operations and upkeep of the residential development. This partnership will allow residents access to leading services from a luxury brand, Related senior vice president Mike Hammon said.

“Basically, you’re buying into the Ritz lifestyle,” he said in a phone interview with the Tampa Bay Times. 

We are sure the Ritz branding will help some sales.  However, as it stands right now, there will not be a hotel with this project.  Maybe that will change (though, on its face, it is a bit of an odd place for a luxury hotel).

This does not really change our view of the project (See here and here).  We assumed Related would have quality partners.  They do many quality projects, which is one reason we have been disappointed with some of the other projects they have done in Tampa.  Hopefully, this will be better, especially if they add retail on Bay to Bay.


Downtown/Channel District – More Water Street

We have a few Water Street items.  As we have noted before, we really like 400 Channelside.

From Water Street – click on picture for website

Now you can get a look at the floor plans here.  One thing worth pointing out is the amount of retail in both the building and the parking garage:

 

From Water Street – click on picture for pdf

There are a few more at that post here. We do not know when this might get built, but we hope it is sooner rather than later.

And a nice Water Street drone video here:

 


Economic Development/Pasco – Affordable Housing

There were two interesting affordable housing stories recently.  First, the Times had an article about a luxury developer that wants to build affordable housing in the area:

Real estate developer Property Markets Group, which has made its mark mostly by building luxury properties, has started an affordable housing division — with its sights set on the Tampa Bay area.

Property Markets Group is headquartered in New York and Miami, and has developed thousands of units in Florida, often with a specialty toward high-end. Highlighted projects on its website include phrases like “exclusive architectural icon,” “boutique residential high-rise” and “ultra-luxury,” describing properties in some of Miami’s most expensive neighborhoods. It’s also a developer of an upcoming Manhattan residential tower in an area dubbed “Billionaires’ Row,” which will reportedly be the world’s thinnest skyscraper.

But this new, more affordable tack could allow the company to help fill a much-needed gap in Florida.

The new division was first announced last year and now it’s researching areas where it would like to start building new housing or buy existing properties. Tampa Bay in particular is the place the company is targeting to get started in Florida, Coakley said, because of a shortage of lower-cost apartments here.

“We see a tremendous imbalance with regards of supply and demand with affordable housing in that market,” he said.

What are they looking at specifically?

The company is interested in the entire Tampa Bay metro area but Coakley gave West River, Ybor City and Robles Park in Tampa as examples of places where it’s looking. Some potential projects have been held up by the pandemic, but it’s possible Property Markets Group could start working to restore an existing apartment building by the fourth quarter. New construction might still be a year away, but the goal would be to develop “a pipeline of projects that we can be delivering quality affordable housing units to the market each year over the long run,” Coakley said.

Rent of these apartments would start around $400 and range up to $900 range for some larger units with two bedrooms and two bathrooms, the company said, and at least some of the apartments will be limited to tenants in certain income brackets.

Because affordable housing projects rely in part on government funding, the pandemic’s shrinking of state and local budgets could have a significant effect. In the state budget signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday, he vetoed $225 million in affordable housing funds that would have been distributed to local governments to help offset plummeting sales tax revenue.

That seems a very specific plan, and one similar to Related’s ideas.  It is interesting that not one, but two, large, luxury developers see potential in affordable housing in this area. (Not that we mind the interest.) We do not know if local governments are over-subsidizing affordable housing cost per unit or the market is just very strong. Or maybe the subsidized projects allow them to pay the bills while building luxury units.  Or something else. Or a combination. Regardless, it is a market dynamic that bears watching.

Which brings us to Pasco County:

When Pasco commissioners met in a February workshop to discuss land development issues, a prime focus was the proliferation of apartments gaining approvals along the State Road 54/56 corridor.

They concluded they wanted to find some way to curb that trend. Doing so would provide more incentives to developers of much-needed affordable housing in the community. And it would help the area between Gunn Highway and U.S. 301 on that corridor develop other land uses, including retail and office space.

So, they did two things:

[C]ommissioners gave final approval to adjusting the mobility fee schedule, a list of fees paid by developers to ensure that new development pays for its impact on the community’s transportation system.

Those changes were primarily designed to encourage more development of needed affordable housing.

The new schedule takes away financial incentives for development of market–priced apartments, which proliferate in Pasco’s central and southern areas. In previous hearings, developers of such apartments have argued that there is plenty of demand for such amenity-rich apartment communities. Others argued that during this economic downturn, the incentives helped get projects off the ground.

* * *

The plan unanimously approved by the commission will reduce mobility fees paid for affordable housing for low–income residents to zero — a savings of between $1,071 to $3,315 per unit in the urban zones and comparable savings in other zones.

To offset the reduction in fees paid for affordable housing, the amounts to be paid for market–level apartments will increase: by 7 percent to $4,280 in urban service areas; 17 percent to $7,064 in the suburbs and 28 percent to $9,276 in rural areas.

We appreciate the idea behind this.  If there is a strong market, they do not need subsidies. (And, generally, market rate should reflect the market rate, not be a windfall after a subsidy). Time will tell about the execution of the idea.

But the they did this:

[C]ommissioners returned to that focus, approving language which would set multifamily apartment buildings back 2,000 feet from the road, allowing businesses and office space to be built fronting the road. But they balked at more sweeping, countywide land use and design standards for multifamily projects.

They could have gone mixed use.  Instead, they went with an almost 7 football field-wide setback from the street for apartments.  It is a sprawl plan.  South County in Hillsborough can tell you how that will work out.

Good for Pasco tweaking the apartment subsidy, but not so good on learning lessons from their neighbors.


Economy – Tourism

The Hospitality industry, including tourism, is obviously hurting at the moment. Visit Tampa Bay is trying something new:

As Florida’s tourism industry reopens, Visit Tampa Bay, a destination marketing agency for Tampa and Hillsborough County, has launched “Florida’s Most,” a campaign designed to inspire travelers to partake of the region’s many open-air attractions and activities.

According to a press release, the campaign is targeted at consumers within driving distance of Tampa and runs through Sept. 30. It is based on data that shows road travel continues to increase as people seek a change of scenery and renewed connections with family and friends after having to quarantine because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Campaign verbiage, the release states, includes slogans such as “Florida’s Most Fresh-Air Fun” and “Florida’s Most Room to Explore.”

“Tourism is at the forefront of Hillsborough County’s economic recovery and this campaign will help lift up our community and the local businesses — the bread and butter of our hospitality industry,” states Santiago Corrada, president and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay, in the release. “We are encouraged to see research that shows an increase in travel intent and we are committed to taking the right precautions to keep people safe while allowing them to get some much-needed fresh air and adventure.”

Hospitality employs a large number of people, and, because of that, it is important.  However, we do not think it is or will be at the forefront of our recovery.  The conditions are not right and, frankly, while we are all for making money from tourism, our economy should not be so reliant on it.

Moreover, , the best way to get the hospitality market truly working again is to get the virus under as much control as possible.


Economic Development/Environment – Let the Sun Shine

We are big fans of solar energy (and other kinds of renewable energy), so we are interested in where this area is relative to other cities:

In a 2020 report from the Environment Florida Research and Policy Center, a citizen-based environmental advocacy group, Tampa ranked among the top 30 cities for solar energy. Tampa ranked at No. 29 and earned the distinction of a “solar leader,” meaning it has between 25 to 50 watts of solar photovoltaics, the conversion of light into electricity, installed per person. This is the second time the city has earned that recognition.

* * *

Along with Tampa, Florida’s three other major cities ranked on the report. Jacksonville ranked at No. 19, while Orlando placed No. 32 and Miami landed at No. 53.

(You can get the report here.)  Yes they are advocates, but it still an interesting measure.  Tampa’s ranking is ok, but not really where we should be. Therefore, we were happy to hear this:

Tampa may be getting new solar arrays downtown in the near future.

Whit Remer, the city’s new sustainability and resilience officer, said he is looking into buildings downtown that may be suitable for a rooftop array, including the Tampa Convention Center.

“We’ve never done a rooftop array or any type of community solar,” he said. “That’s something that we’re really looking forward to.”

* * *

While Remer doesn’t have a timeline on a new solar project, some of the areas the city is considering are affordable housing, to help lower electricity payments, and city parks in east Tampa, to help light up walkways for evening walks.

We are all for this idea.  It should be a matter of when not if.  There are a lot of big, flat roofs in Tampa, both public and private. (And there are a lot of smaller flat roofs. They arrays do not have to be big.  It adds up.) And there is a lot of sunshine.  It is an asset that is wasted every day that it is not captured.

And as solar costs continue to come down, there should be more and more.  It is clean, renewable and can save the City money. (Frankly, we do not understand why Big Box retailers that own their buildings do not all have solar arrays.)  Hillsborough County should also be involved.


Finally

Remember, regardless of openings being allowed and the mask rules, the virus is still here and the real issue is whether people will follow the proper advice because it is really up to people to care for themselves, their families, and their neighbors, even during the opening. So be responsible, stay safe, and take care of your community.

Wash your hands, wear a mask when appropriate/necessary (and cover BOTH your nose and your mouth), and practice social distancing.

While there are many places online you can buy them, you can find a number of videos on how to make a simple mask, including this from the CDC, this from the Times and this from the County.

Here are some links to government resources:

CDC

Florida Department of Health

Florida Department of Health Updated Statistics/Map Dashboard

Hospital Availability Dashboard

Florida Health, Hillsborough

Hillsborough County

City of Tampa

This week we have a picture from Madnessmarshall at SkyscraperCity in a crane cab above all the construction:

From Madnessmarshall at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

Roundup 7-3-2020

July 2, 2020

Contents

The Great Reopening, Cont.

Transportation – Same Old

Economic Development – Where It is Needed

Economic Development/Temple Terrace/East County – Amazon

— And One Other Project

Courthouse Proceedings

Governance/Politics/Economic Development – Affordable Housing

TBARTA – Not Enough

Downtown/History – Jackson House

Airport – Stirrings

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Finally

______________________________________


The Great Reopening, Cont.

We really did not want to write anything about Covid19 this week, but we feel compelled. First, let’s review where we are, from the Dean of the USF Med School:

Over the past four weeks, the COVID-19 pandemic has grown increasingly severe. Florida and Tampa Bay have seen an astonishing nine-fold increase in daily COVID-19 cases, and while there has been a doubling of testing, it has become overwhelmingly clear that the virus is spreading rapidly throughout our community. Negative test rates have fallen from 95 percent to 85 percent and we have seen a nearly four-fold increase in emergency department visits for influenza-like-illnesses. Hospitalizations have increased statewide from 130 to 170 per day, though fortunately, ICU utilization remains acceptable and daily deaths from the virus have not dramatically increased.

While a bit of an increase was likely to happen with reopening, what is happening was not inevitable.  It is the result of various public and private choices.

Last week, the County Emergency Policy Group (EPG) made mask mandatory with some exceptions.  It was not perfect, but it made sense.  Especially given that the latest numbers on the state dashboard indicate that Hillsborough’s weekly test positivity rate is the second highest of all large counties in the state – higher than Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach (and at present rates we will soon pass Palm Beach, and possibly Broward, in number of cases).

This week, the EPG expanded the mask wearing exceptions:

One amendment, which Commissioner Sandra Murman proposed, adds an exemption to the order for anyone under the age of 18 who participates in youth sports, summer camps or child care. That amendment passed with a unanimous vote. The second, proposed by Tampa Terrace Vice Mayor Andrew Ross, raised the age of an exception requiring face masks from 2-year-olds to anyone under the age of 8. The EPG also passed that amendment unanimously.

First, we can understand raising the child exception to kids under 6 (like Jacksonville did) rather than 2.  Under six is before first grade, which is a logical cutoff.  However, we do not understand what the logic for exempting people under 18 at camps or sports or day care. (The new Texas rules are kids under 10, which we think is too high, and some other oddities, but it does not appear to have the other exceptions. And, honestly, even though we understand the 6 year old rules, there are questions about day cares generally, with 300 kids – and 600+ adult – cases found Texas day care centers.)

As the USF Dean writes:

The good news is that younger people are far less likely to require ICU admission, mechanical ventilation or to die from this very dangerous virus. However, while 60 percent of affected young people are asymptomatic, they remain infectious, meaning they can unwittingly infect their parents and grandparents, older neighbors, employers and teachers, all of whom are far more likely to die of infection. If such lethal cross-generational transmission occurs, hospitalizations, ICU admissions and ventilator use will accelerate, making it more likely that hospital capacity will be overwhelmed and mortality rates will soar.

While they may not get as sick as older people (though some get very sick – and some die – and the long term damage to them is unknown because, well, we have not had the virus around long term yet), people under 18 (and their friends and siblings over 18) can and do get infected and can and do spread the disease – and 15-24 (like camp attendees and counselors) is one of the fastest growing groups. Why exempt gatherings of teenagers and older kids where people from various houses come together over and over in close proximity for a long period of time?  How is that consistent with the science?

And we reiterate: Hillsborough County is now one of the largest, fastest growing hotspots in the state. (And now has quite troubling delays in testing which does not align well with the USF Dean’s four requirements for reopening.)  We do not see the wisdom of waiting to see if the virus goes from kids to adults to older adults?  (And note the growing trend of formerly seeming skeptical officials pushing masks.)

It also is worth noting that:

There’s overwhelming bipartisan support for face masks and most people have worn them without incident. In a recent statewide survey, 85 percent of respondents, including 78 percent of Republicans, told the pollster St. Pete Polls that they would wear masks when they go out in public.

But an active and vocal minority of residents who oppose face masks have garnered considerable attention. Angry citizens flooded a recent Palm Beach County Commission meeting to protest a new mask ordinance, sharing unfounded claims about adverse effects that went viral. A 11,000-member Facebook group once dedicated to reopening the state for business has turned into a forum for strategies to eschew face mask rules at businesses.

And, while we think he is being overly diplomatic, it is worth noting more of what the USF Dean says:

The overriding cause behind this latest COVID-19 crisis is a lack of personal responsibility exhibited by a few, which is now endangering the many. Among mostly the young, there are some who are unwilling to adhere to social distancing and face-covering guidelines, reflecting a sense of invulnerability and an ignorance of the lethal threat they pose to the people they love. Among certain older adults, there has been deliberately irresponsible behavior reflecting not only an anti-intellectual and anti-science bias, but also an abject lack of concern for their fellow Americans.

So why exempt the people in the category that is spreading the disease?  (Not to mention that constant tinkering causes confusion and lack of trust.)

We are not sure who the EPG is responding to in making the changes, but if they want to actually address the problem, they need to focus on what is actually happening.  Hillsborough County is now routinely reporting more cases per day than all of Germany, Italy or Spain, and most days France, too.  (See here for German cases by the day with links to the other countries on the page.)

The fastest way to get back to relatively normal business and to get people back to work is to get the virus under control and create conditions of relative stability.  That may require a few people to do something they do not want to do, but that is life. (And, really, no one wants to wear a mask, but people do it.)

We were told what was needed for reopening: widespread testing, contact tracing, isolating the sick, and people being careful in distancing/hygiene. We haven’t had enough of any of those.  And to remember that it is biological, not political.


Transportation – Same Old

This week, the transportation priorities list was before the MPO.  There is much we could say about that, but we pretty much have said it all before.  And the MPO did what it has done before:

Despite widespread criticism, expanded interstate highways remain part of Hillsborough County’s long-range transportation plan.

The decision, from a divided Hillsborough transportation board, came Tuesday night after a public hearing on a $3.6 billion, five-year state-coordinated program of rebuilt bridges, improvements to the Port of Tampa, wider roads, new highway interchanges, transit, bike trails and freight rail lines.

But it was the idea of what to add to that list in future years, so-called priority projects, that brought the most disagreement at a meeting of the Metropolitan Planning Organization. The 16-person board — elected county, municipal and school board officials plus appointed members — sets transportation priorities in the county. The debate they heard has been going on since 2016.

That was not unexpected, though the some of the votes were closer than we thought they would be:

Commissioner Pat Kemp tried to remove the plan to widen the interstate to Bearss Avenue, but her amendment failed on an 8-7 vote with Commissioner Ken Hagan not voting. Her amendment to remove reconfigured interstate ramps into Ybor City, part of the downtown interchange renovation, failed 10-6. The board eventually adopted the transportation plan on a 13-3 vote with Kemp, Commission Chairman Les Miller Jr., and Tampa City Councilman Guido Maniscalco dissenting.

You can go to these posts from URBN Tampa Bay for more detail (here, here, and here) As they properly note, those opposed to TB(n)X are mostly MPO members who actually represent where 275 runs, while most of those who voted for it are mostly either not elected or represent some other area).

One high point of the meeting was a long comment by one County Commissioner about the inequity and lack of need for variable rate toll lanes, to which the local FDOT secretary indicated that FDOT is now more flexible and could consider HOV lanes instead.  To which we say, so why do you keep talking about variable rate toll lanes? Do HOV or HOT lanes (where you can still run express buses to St. Pete).

But the transportation plan had plenty of supporters, too. Speakers from the Tampa Bay Partnership, Tampa Bay Chamber, Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority, Tampa Downtown Partnership and Westshore Alliance all asked the planning group to adopt the plan as proposed. Improving the highway infrastructure is key to the proposed bus rapid transit system and other multi-modal improvements, they said, to ease congestion and improve safety.

Regular readers will know that we do not oppose all highway projects. However, the TB(n)X plans are not well-considered and the points used to sell them, like “multi-modal transportation” (unless you count cars and trucks as different modes) and “congestion relief” (if you ignore both induced demand and the fact that many taxpayers will get not relief by design) are questionable at best. Which brings us to one interesting comment at the end of the Times article:

One speaker said the board should rethink the notion of adding more highway lanes.

“You do not have a traffic problem. You have a design problem. The system actually is designed to fail,‘’ said Catherine Hartley, a former county planner. 

It is worth considering (especially because excluding most vehicles at any one time is built into the idea for variable rate toll lanes).

We can and should do better.


Economic Development – Where It is Needed

There was news about an interesting idea:

This week, the Tampa City Council is set to discuss forming an economic advisory committee. It’s the brainstorm of Councilman Bill Carlson and he’s working with Administrator for Development and Economic Opportunity Carole Post and the mayor’s office.

The committee will look at economic development through a different lens. The group would provide reports to the city council on how the city can reduce poverty, improve the median household income, end racial and gender disparities and grow economically.

“The idea is to look beyond real estate and how to grow companies and how to get rid of the high poverty numbers,” Bill Carlson told the Tampa Bay Business Journal. “We need to look at economic development the way other cities do.”

Focusing on those issues seems so obvious, but it needs to be done. Real estate development is fine.  We have nothing against it (in fact, we really like development), but, as we have said for a while, if you develop the business and the tenants, real estate will follow.

Carlson is questioning how certain areas of Tampa remain undeveloped as well as issues with financial incentives and inequality.

His proposal of forming a committee that would provide quarterly updates to Tampa City Council is gaining traction, as this week he is asking Post and Castor’s office to meet to discuss forming the committee.

Post said she is fully supporting the formation of the committee and has already been in communication with Carlson and Castor about it.

“The wide range of community support for new paths of progress and also untapped opportunity zones across the city to enable growth tailored to a neighborhood’s needs. We will have a challenging time to bolster our economy in the coming months and more, but I believe we have the tools and the growing resources to do it,” she said.

The Economic Advisory Committee would have 23 members who would serve one-year terms; each city council member would appoint two members; the mayor would appoint three members; and Hillsborough County, the Tampa Bay EDC, the Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce, University of South Florida Muma College of Business, Tampa International Airport and Port Tampa Bay would each appoint one member. A chair would be elected once a year, Carlson’s plan proposes.

Setting aside that the Committee structure might become a bit unwieldy, we are happy that someone is moving in this direction. It does not preclude real estate or business recruitment (and we do not oppose properly structured incentives for very high quality, competitive jobs).  But there is more to the economy than that (and much “recruitment” has simply been paying taxpayer money paying for jobs we would have gotten anyway), and it should be addressed.  We need our whole are to thrive.  (And good for the Mayor and the Council working together.)

We look forward to seeing how this effort develops.


Economic Development/Temple Terrace/East County – Amazon

While Temple Terrace has failed to develop a decent downtown area, it is getting Amazon.

A new Amazon warehouse is slated for Tampa Bay.

The online retailer signed a $26.4 million deal to purchase just over 82 acres of land near the intersection of Harney Road and Temple Terrace Highway, according to property records filed in Hillsborough County. The sale closed on June 19. At the start of the month, Temple Terrace City Council approved the construction of a 633,000- warehouse on the same plot of land.

And it will be an interesting building:

The majority of the building will be 90 feet tall, Seefried told the city during a June 2 meeting. That is about two times the height of the million-square-foot Amazon center in Ruskin. The size and construction shown in the site plan match closely to a three-story Amazon warehouse in Seattle that focuses on same-day and next-day delivery.

 

From the Times – click on picture for article

Not the most attractive building, but it is a warehouse, after all.

Not to mention:

Amazon announced in November it was building a warehouse in Polk County. In December, Amazon started operating an Amazon Fresh fulfillment center on Oak Fair Boulevard, south of Interstate 4 between Tampa and Brandon, to handle grocery orders.

And

The Business Journal has learned that Amazon has also signed a deal to lease the entirety of a 424,550-square-foot warehouse known as the I-4 Logistics Center. Dalfen Industrial paid $29.1 million for that warehouse in August — a brand-new building that was sitting empty as it had broken ground speculatively, without a tenant in place.

We said last week that we do not need incentives for warehouses.  Just more examples of how true that is.


— And One Other Project

There was also news of another project:

Coca-Cola Florida is moving forward with its massive new facility in Brandon.

The beverages giant, which received approval for its plans from Hillsborough County Commissioners in March, has filed civil engineering plans for the development with the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

Coke has not commented on the plans outside of the March rezoning hearing. Jacksonville-based Haskell, a design-build firm that counts food and beverage facilities among its specialties, is listed as the project architect on public documents.

Documents filed with the water management district spell out the breakdown of uses on the 158-acre site, which spans from the expressway to Causeway Boulevard along U.S. Highway 301 South. The property is approved for a total of 1.8 million square feet of new commercial development, including retail, hotel and office space.

* * *

Of the total new development allowed on the property, 1.4 million square feet is approved for Coke’s manufacturing, production, distribution and fleet uses.

The company’s plans come in just shy of that, with site plans detailing 1.3 million square feet of new development. That would include the following uses within the manufacturing facility:

The proposed accessory buildings include a 50,000-square-foot headquarters; a 23,442-square-foot fleet building; a 30,000-square-foot recycling facility; and a fire pump house, wastewater building and guard house.

 

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

We did not see anything about incentives or subsidies.


Courthouse Proceedings

A few years ago, we discussed a Times article on the Second District Court of Appeals search for a new courthouse. That article discussed a study about where the courthouse should be:

Two years ago, the Legislature commissioned a $100,000 study of the court’s location and space needs. The study, completed by the National Center for State Courts and a commercial real estate firm, examined population growth trends, case load statistics and staffing numbers.

Among its conclusions: The court should consolidate into a single courthouse in either Tampa or St. Petersburg.

It went on to discuss some politics that we do not need to get into now. This was our take at the time:

The bottom line is that the article makes a pretty good case that a secure building is needed and that it should be in Tampa or St. Pete.  The court (and largest legal community) is already in Tampa, so Tampa makes sense.  Public institutions should have proper buildings. (And we don’t mean crazy buildings like the “Taj Mahal” in Tallahassee ) That is not a waste of money (just like the not full-time Florida Legislature meeting in the Capitol rather than a high school auditorium is not a waste).  It is an issue that could be worked out if our elected officials wanted to. 

Fast forward to this year.

Florida’s 2nd District Court of Appeals will not get $21 million to begin plans for a new home base.

Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed the allocation Monday as part of his sweeping budget cuts prompted by massive revenue pit falls due to the coronavirus-fueled economic collapse.

Lawmakers approved $21 million to begin plans for a new office, likely in downtown St. Petersburg at the state-owned Sebring Building one Mirror Lake.

The appeals court is currently operating in leased space at a Stetson Law building near downtown Tampa after moving from its previous home in Lakeland due to unsafe air quality conditions at the aging building.

The current lease with Stetson expires in 2023, which would have given the state adequate time to secure a new permanent home.

* * *

The project had been lauded not only as a way to find a permanent and more suitable home for the 2nd DCA, but as a potential boon for downtown St. Pete and Mirror Lake.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, whose district is nestled within St. Pete, called the project a “truly once in a multi-generational opportunity,” one that could fundamentally reshape the Mirror Lake area, according to St. Pete Catalyst.

The building was also ideal because it was already state-owned property.

Aside from the state already owning it, there is nothing ideal about the building.  It is not where the biggest legal community in the appellate district is (that would be Tampa, by a good deal), and it is not a purpose-built courthouse.  All the other appellate courts in the state merit proper courthouses.  As with so much else, it is just this area that gets shortchanged.

Moreover, while an appellate courthouse is a good thing to have, it is not really the kind of facility to revitalize an area (especially a lakefront that already had a state office building with a surface parking lot).  It is a good project, but it is not going to “reshape” Mirror Lake, which already has a courthouse and city hall right there.  Much better urban planning would be to incorporate the land where the building is into the park to preserve waterfront and then allow denser development across the street all the way around the lake.

The courthouse should be in Tampa, where the legal community is centered and the court has been hearing arguments for decades.  And it should be a real, proper courthouse.


Governance/Politics/Economic Development – Affordable Housing

We had previously covered the Legislature’s raiding the affordable housing trust fund.  This year,

Florida’s affordable housing trust fund emerged unscathed Monday from  Gov. Ron DeSantis‘s $1 billion budget slash.

The Sawdoski Trust Fund, a pool of tax dollars intended to support state and local housing programs, was poised to go untouched for the first time in 13 years for a full appropriation of $137 million. But as the COVID-19 pandemic weathered the state’s budget, the legislative milestone faced a 14th consecutive sweep.

That is money that is needed.  We are glad it survived.  Now, let us see how it is spent.


TBARTA – Not Enough

Staying with budget cuts:

Among the roughly $1 billion that Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed this week during the state budget process was $1.5 million intended for the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority.

* * *

The hit to TBARTA’s funding comes at a time when the organization is moving forward with one of the region’s largest transit projects, a 41-mile bus rapid transit project that would connect Wesley Chapel to St. Petersburg via Interstate 275. TBARTA is also studying other transit tech for the region; TBARTA relies on federal and state government funding for those studies.

Never fear, TBARTA will still be able to spend money:

“Although the state was not able to fund us next year, previous grants remain unaffected. Those funds enable us to continue our work on current projects such as Regional Rapid Transit and the Innovative Transit Technologies Feasibility Study,” TBARTA Executive Director David Green said in a prepared statement. He added, “In the near-term, we’re fortunate to have federal support, including money from the CARES Act, that will allow us to continue performing our mission.”

TBARTA is poised to receive over $2.2 million through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act.

TBARTA certainly could be useful.  Unfortunately, it is not there.


Downtown/History – Jackson House

Another cut was $500,000 for Jackson House. (In fact, a lot of historic preservation was cut. We understand it, generally, but it is unfortunate and some case are special.) Fortunately,

Last November, Tampa Bay Lightning Owner Jeff Vinik and his wife, Penny, donated $1 million to its restoration.

So there still is some movement, but the loss needs to be made up somehow. That history was neglected in the past, but it should not be neglected any more.  Maybe some of TBARTA’s money should go to Jackson House.


Airport – Stirrings

Airport traffic is slowly coming back:

Airlines are adding back more than 1,700 flights out of Tampa International Airport in July, significantly increasing service to existing destinations and reestablishing service to a handful of cities that had been served prior to the pandemic.

With more than half the daily flights of last year, which is still low, but better.

The airport plans to have 8,700 arriving and departing flights combined this month, or an average of 280 daily flights. In June, TPA averaged 175 flights a day, compared to an average of 506 flights a day during the same month last year.

We do not know how full they will be, but:

To help passengers stay informed, Tampa Airport is rolling out two new digital resources designed to track the rapidly changing aviation landscape and how to fly responsibly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first site features a comprehensive list of all of TPA’s nonstop destinations, including which airlines fly the routes or when service is expected to return.

The destinations are broken down by geographic region and will be updated weekly, to provide the latest and best information.

You can find it here.

The second site, TPA Ready, is a one-stop-shop for all the news and information about how to fly more safely during COVID-19 and all the steps Tampa International Airport is taking to promote the health and safety of employees and travelers.

You can find it here.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

There is a lot of discussion about distressed neighborhoods and revitalizing them, including an item above.  In that vein, there is a very interesting ProPublica report on dollar stores:

The number of incidents can be explained in part by the stores’ ubiquity: There are now more than 16,000 Dollar Generals and nearly 8,000 Family Dollars in the United States, a 50% increase in the past decade. (By comparison, Walmart has about 4,700 stores in the U.S.) The stores are often in high-crime neighborhoods, where there simply aren’t many other businesses for criminals to target. Routine gun violence has fallen sharply in prosperous cities around the country, but it has remained stubbornly high in many of the cities and towns where these stores predominate. The glowing signs of the discount chains have become indicators of neglect, markers of a geography of the places that the country has written off.

We encourage all local officials, and others, to read it here.


Finally

Remember, regardless of openings being allowed and the mask rules, the virus is still here and the real issue is whether people will follow the proper advice because it is really up to people to care for themselves, their families, and their neighbors, even during the opening. So be responsible, stay safe, and take care of your community.

Wash your hands, wear a mask when appropriate/necessary, and practice social distancing.

While there are many places online you can buy them, you can find a number of videos on how to make a simple mask, including this from the CDC, this from the Times and this from the County.

Here are some links to government resources:

CDC

Florida Department of Health

Florida Department of Health Updated Statistics/Map Dashboard

Hospital Availability Dashboard

Florida Health, Hillsborough

Hillsborough County

City of Tampa

This week we have a different angle from Rough Rider at SkyscraperCity

From Rough Rider at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

 

Roundup 6-26-2020

June 25, 2020

Contents

The Great Reopening, Cont.

Transportation

— TBARTA

— Huh

Governance/Planning/Economic Development

— On Settling

— On Incentives

Governance – A Trend

USF Area – MOSI

Economy – Housing

Ybor City – Casa Pedroso

Westshore

— Not at One Mall

— And Not (Yet?) at the Other Mall

Airport – Goings On

Port – Not So Fast

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State

Finally

_________________________________


The Great Reopening, Cont.

Wear your mask, and cover both your mouth AND your nose.

(We were going to say a lot more, but we will just say this: we watched the Hillsborough Emergency committee meeting on Monday and that is an entity sorely needing a rethink.)


Transportation


— TBARTA

In what should be a surprise to no one:

For the first time, Tampa Bay has a Regional Transit Development Plan (RTDP). On Monday, the TBARTA Board of Directors voted to approve Envision 2030, the state mandated RTDP that’s an important first step to addressing regional transit problems and competing for millions of dollars in new Federal transit funding to support one of the country’s fastest growing regions.

We discussed Envision 2030 (plan website here) a few weeks ago here. There was really zero chance it would not be adopted. Thankfully,

“This plan doesn’t commit anyone at any level of government to funding new service or using any particular source. It is, however, a conversation starter,” said David Green, TBARTA’s Executive Director. “It identifies gaps in our transit network and outlines regional needs and priorities. It contains ideas for addressing the regional mobility problems that have plagued Tampa Bay for decades and continue today.”

The only TBARTA project in the “plan” is the flawed “BRT” plan.  And, as we discussed previously, by TBARTA’s own 2030 plan, even that will not be built out by 2030.

We will say it again: we wish TBARTA was a real transit agency with good transit planning.  But it isn’t.  Whatever the board decides, we see no reason for Hillsborough (or anyone else) to give it any money until it becomes that.


— Huh

The Times had a rather odd article about FDOT.

The Florida Department of Transportation’s top lawyer resigned Thursday, amid an inspector general’s report this week that found he forged the signatures of underlings on official documents, a finding that prompted the Florida Bar to open a misconduct probe.

“Today, Erik Fenniman resigned from the position of General Counsel at the Florida Department of Transportation, effective immediately,” the agency said in a statement Thursday afternoon.

The Florida Bar said this week it has opened an investigation into the conduct of Fenniman, who days earlier was cited by an inspector general as having admitted to forging government documents.

“I can confirm we have a file open,” said Francine Walker, spokeswoman for the Tallahassee-based bar. “We are investigating.”

A probe of a separate allegation — that the lawyer ordered others to make postdated alterations to a document that was supposed to be modified in the wake of the Florida International University bridge collapse but wasn’t — was deemed to be “inconclusive.”

This is kind of head-scratcher. In any event, we have no knowledge of the facts of this case and we did not see much follow-up coverage of it or elaboration of the circumstances other than what is in the article, which you can read here.

Nevertheless, FDOT is too important and has too large a budget to just pass over something like what is alleged.  We await the results of the investigation.


Governance/Planning/Economic Development


— On Settling

We often say that we should not settle because we will get stuck with projects for a long time and we get stuck with precedents.  This week, we saw that in action:

A tomato grower has sued Hillsborough County, claiming commissioners’ denial of its request to rezone a massive swath of land has caused its property lose more than $32 million in fair market value.

Ag-Mart Inc. sought to rezone just under 800 agricultural acres in southeast Hillsborough County’s Balm area to make way for residential development — a request commissioners denied in November 2019, according to a lawsuit filed June 12 in Hillsborough County Circuit Court. That denial has caused the fair market value of the land to fall by $32.775 million, Ag-Mart alleges.

Balm is an unincorporated census designation between Riverview and Wimauma.

The denial came, Ag-Mart alleges, after county planning and development staff “represented to … and even encouraged” the company and its consultants that its plans for the land were doable under the property’s future land-use designation. Ag-Mart says it then spent $500,000 to rezone the land, between hiring consultants, preparing site plans, conducting due diligence and preparing for public meetings.

As that blurb explains it, the owner was seeking a rezoning but did not get it.  Without saying anything about the suit (which we know nothing except what is in the article), generally, if there is a vote, there is a chance one can lose the vote.  Regardless, for purposes of this discussion this is the relevant part:

Ag-Mart contends in its lawsuit that multiple nearby parcels have been granted the rezoning it was seeking. Since 1989, the lawsuit alleges, the county has approved 23 such rezonings — six within the last three years and several surrounding the property.

Once again, we are not speaking about this case specifically, but each property has its own situation.  Nevertheless, when the local government tries to change direction after years of poor decisions, the old decisions very well may reappear as precedents used to argue the cases (we have no idea who will win).  And the old County Commission has a lot of those poor decisions.

Just another example of why settling is so problematic.  It is like the toxic waste of planning.  It lingers for years and leaks into other property.  And it takes a lot of time and money to clean up.


— On Incentives

Last week, we discussed incentives.  We specifically noted that we did not think warehouses were a good candidate for incentives/subsidies.  (Not the first time we have questioned warehouse subsidies. see here, “Amazon – Incentives and Hype Machine”, and “Game Changer of the Month – Amazon”.  Also, when you are reading those note the traffic got even worse in South County) We noted:

Going back to incentive, as we have said before, incentives should not be for any business.  Incentives should be for targeted business and to redevelop targeted areas.  They should be used to bring higher income jobs and targeted industries.  The warehouses will get built, if not in Hillsborough then in Pasco, Polk or Manatee (though, maybe aside for Polk, Hillsborough is the most central to the markets).  That does not really matter to the average Hillsborough resident.

This week, we learned:

Ace Hardware will move from a warehouse it built in East Tampa nearly 50 years ago to a brand new facility in Plant City that’s nearly double the size of its current home.

The company, based in Oak Brook, Illinois, has struck a deal with a joint venture of Blue Steel Development and Aspyre Properties to build a 710,000-square-foot warehouse on County Line Road in Plant City. Its current facility, built in 1972, is 390,212 square feet, according to Hillsborough County property records.

The lease was signed in mid-June, and construction is slated to begin in October and wrap up in November 2021. . .

The article did not indicate any incentives were involved in doubling the size of the warehouse.

That is East Tampa’s loss.  However, it is not the County’s loss.  It is near County Line Road, where there are a large number of distribution centers due to market dynamics.  The same holds true for the market dynamics in South County.  We do not need to subsidize warehouses.


Governance – A Trend

Months ago, the City created a program to help local businesses deal with the lockdown and pandemic. Last week, the County did something. Better late than never, we suppose.  You can get more information here.  Hopefully, there is still money left.

That is the third time the County has been behind the City reacting to the virus issue. (The other two are in stay home restrictions, masks).  The County needs to step up its game.


USF Area – MOSI

MOSI has had an interesting last few years ago. It was thought that MOSI would moving to Water Street with the present location to be redeveloped.  Then that idea faded. In the meantime, MOSI was stripped down to deal with budget issues.  Then, a few months ago, there was a presentation to the County Commission regarding redevelopment of the MOSI property. About that concept, we noted:

The conceptual drawing is basically a 1990’s suburban office park with MOSI on one side.  It has no imagination and none of the elements in the vision board images.  And it fails to achieve the stated objectives.  If this is a serious idea, they need to go back to the drawing board and try again.

We also noted the lack of attention to the nearby CSX tracks.

After that, there was suggestion (without much explanation) that the property would be good for a movie studio. (And don’t forget the USF football stadium idea.)

This week, the saga continues.

Hillsborough County has signed off on plans to issue a request for proposals for the redevelopment of the Museum of Science and Industry, which sits on 74 coveted acres near the University of South Florida.

The county is seeking a master developer for the property, which has long been hailed as a linchpin to the redevelopment of the entire Uptown corridor. The area includes several major institutions such as USF, H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center, the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital and AdventHealth. 

Setting aside that we are unclear about what counts as “long” in terms of discussion, Commissioners then made some important tweaks to the RFP:

Smith amended the request to strike “attainable housing” and replace it with mixed-income to ensure more than market-rate housing was part of the project.

“We want to make sure we don’t make it worse for them,‘’ Commissioner Kimberly Overman said about potential gentrification displacing affordable housing options for residents.

But the fate of MOSI, which downsized three years ago, brought the most scrutiny. The proposal request said multiple buildings on the MOSI property are vacant and could be demolished.

“There seems to be aspiration talk of MOSI, but no guarantees that MOSI would in any way stay there,‘’ said Kemp, a MOSI board member. “…..We do need a museum of science it needs to be more robust than what have there.‘’

Likewise, commissioners said the CSX right of way needed to be preserved within the development.

“We would not want to wake up 10 years from now and found we had blown the chance to protect the CSX right of way.‘’ said Smith.

Commissioners approved the proposal after changing it to seek protections for both the museum and the rail line.

We appreciate those changes, though we are not clear what form MOSI would take in the future, which is important.

More broadly, yes, the MOSI property is potentially an important property.  If there is a good development on the property, it could serve as a catalyst for positive changes in the area.  On the other hand, if the development is like the presentation made to the Commission with no imagination or real thought, then the property will just be more sprawl in the sprawling area.  It is up to the county Commission to not settle and to push for a good proposal.  And we see no reason to rush and compete with other projects like the proposals for Uptown/University Mall.

Commissioner Sandy Murman noted the request is only an interim step in redeveloping the museum property.

“There’s no obligation in this,‘’ she said. “We have the ability to control the flow and what is going to be included and we will have the final decision.‘’

That is true, if the Commission has the will to walk away from proposals (something which past Commissions have seemed to lack).

We do not mind them taking a proper look at proposals, but the County does not need to agree to any development right now.  If a good proposal is not made, it can wait, and it should wait.  As a Times editorial noted (strangely putting the best conclusion at the beginning of the piece):

Hillsborough County teed up a new era for the Museum of Science and Industry and a struggling neighborhood by announcing its interest in vastly remaking the museum’s north Tampa property. The county has the land, time and leverage to create a true catalyst in north Tampa, and it needs to be expansive in its vision for the museum site and focused on the long-term.

Right.  The County has the time, money, and leverage. There is no rush. The last thing that area and the County as a whole need is more traditional Hillsborough County Commission settling.  Do it right or don’t do it at all.


Economy – Housing

It is time to peak into the housing market, though it is done with the caveat that everything is in flux and numbers do not necessarily have their normal meanings (just like unemployment).

Single-family home sales in Tampa Bay plummeted in May at rates much higher than even April’s year-over-year declines as the pandemic continued to stunt the market, according to new figures released Monday by Florida Realtors.

Pinellas’ sales were down 46 percent compared to May 2019, while Hillsborough saw a 28 percent drop and Pasco slipped by 32 percent. Those drops were also steeper than the entire U.S. market, which saw an annual 26.6 percent drop in May, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Also unlike April, these drops affected nearly every price range. Previously, Hillsborough and Pasco both saw some pricier homes continue to be sold at rates higher than last year. But in May, the economic slowdown caused by the pandemic left virtually no price point unscathed, though the most dramatic drops were still in sales below $250,000.

Local Realtors attributed the drops both to sellers’ hesitancy to allow strangers to tour their houses as well as buyers’ fears about financial stability.

Lance Williams, a Tampa Realtor, said he was working with a potential buyer who was ready to move forward with a purchase — until he found out he was being furloughed minutes before he signed the contract.

“There’s still uncertainty,” he said.

But there are also trends that have given Realtors reason for optimism. First, the median sales price in all three counties is continuing to go up year-over-year, indicating that the economic turmoil has still not affected home values.

Additionally, because so few sellers have been listing their homes, the ones that do get listed are selling quickly. The length of time homes are on the market in Tampa Bay before they’re sold has been down compared to last year for several months.

Really there is nothing unexpected in that. And it also raises the question of why there are so few houses on the market.  Is it uncertainty?  Lack of money?  Happiness with location?  To be honest, who knows?


Ybor City – Casa Pedroso

Another project in Ybor City has broken ground.  Per URBN Tampa Bay:

A major project has broken ground in Ybor City. Casa Pedrosa, at 1307 East 8th Avenue, is a 4-story mixed-use project which incorporates both new construction and historic renovation. Here’s the project description from the construction firm’s website:

“Casa Pedroso located in the heart of Ybor City, Tampa, FL is a 4- story masonry and hollow core plank apartment building that will have 33-units and a 6,959 sf ground floor commercial space. The apartment building will tie into a Historic early 1900s Firehouse House which will be restored for retail use. The exterior will have a brick veneer next to a stucco finish with metal balconies and rails at each unit. The balconies will create a covered walk way in front of the building and along side the park next to the building. There is a courtyard in the back of the apartment leading to an alley.

The building has a metal truss roof system with TPO, and the HVAC equipment on the roof will be shield from view by a metal screen. There is a machine room less elevator and two stairways, one interior and one exterior.”

From CasaYbor.com – click on picture for websiteWe are all for this type of project.  As URBN Tampa Bay said:

This is a great example of the type of mixed-use infill we would like to see in more of Tampa’s core legacy neighborhoods.

(Compare and contrast with the ideas for Seminole Heights Baptist Church.) We understand Ybor has specific guidelines that do not apply to other parts of the City (and area), but we have never quite understood why this successful and attractive model of development has not occurred/been promoted in more places in Tampa (though not necessarily with all the specific Ybor requirements), legacy or otherwise.


Westshore


— Not at One Mall

Recently, Simon Property ended a deal to buy Taubman Centers, the owner of International Plaza. Given the times, that was not that surprising.  And neither is this:

The deal International Plaza was working on with a luxury movie theater is dead — and plans for an upscale bowling alley with a bistro and bocce court have been paused.

Miami-based CMX Cinemas had listed a location at International Plaza as “coming soon” in late 2019, months after the mall’s ownership filed plans with the city for a new movie theater and bowling alley at the property. The CEO of Pinstripes, an eater-tainment concept that combines bowling, bocce and an Italian-American bistro, confirmed to the Tampa Bay Business Journal in November that Pinstripes would accompany CMX in a new building at the mall.

CMX filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in late April, citing financial fallout from the novel coronavirus pandemic. A spokeswoman for Taubman Centers confirmed to the TBBJ on Monday that CMX was no longer planning a location at International Plaza — and said the movie theater had never finalized a lease with the mall in the first place.

In the plans, Pinstripes was to be 27,000 square feet with 10,000 square feet of outdoor patio space; the cinema was to be 38,500 square feet.

 

From the Times – click on picture for article

Given the situation, we would be surprised if anything got built at the mall for a while. (Tangential comment: we have always thought the mall should have been built with Bay Street coming towards Boy Scout rather than hidden in the back, but so be it.)


— And Not (Yet?) at the Other Mall

A few weeks ago, we noted that JC Penney’s announced it was going to close its Westshore Plaza store. Well,

After announcing it was one of the stores slated to close, JC Penney has decided its WestShore Plaza location will remain open.

“It is not scheduled to close at this time,” JC Penney said in an email, “though we can’t speak to future decisions.”

The WestShore Plaza location was listed earlier this month among 153 others that the struggling retailer planned to close as it restructures and moves through bankruptcy court. JC Penney said it determined which stores would shutter in its first round of closings based off of sales performance and “future strategic fit.”

A statement on JC Penney’s website says “a handful of previously announced store closing locations remain on hold pending further review.”

We shall see if it is just a temporary reprieve or something more permanent.


Airport – Goings On

At some point in the last week, there was optimism about airline traffic:

The airline industry has had financial turbulence as the coronavirus pandemic halted travel, but it is making a slow comeback. 

Spirit Airlines (NASDAQ: SAVE) is resuming 14 routes at Tampa International Airport this month and in July.

* * *

JetBlue Airways (NASDAQ: JBLU) on Friday announced plans to add and restart 30 routes this summer. The new routes include Philadelphia to Tampa starting Aug. 6; and Tampa to Providence and Tampa to Washington starting Oct. 1.

* * *

Denver-based, low-fare carrier Frontier Airlines also recently announced 18 new routes for summer 2020. The new flights beginning in June and July include linking Tampa to major cities such as Boston and Chicago.

We are not sure if that will hold in the future because that news came out before people really decided that massively spiking case numbers and a double digit positive Covid-19 test rate was probably not a good thing.  But, as with most things, the situation is in flux.

Meanwhile, if you are curious, here is an article on ongoing airport’s construction projects.


Port – Not So Fast

There was more news about the Port and cruising:

Tampa is one of many ports hit hard by Covid-19’s impact on the cruise industry.

During the board’s June 16 meeting, Port Tampa Bay reported 41 cruise losses through the month of May. The port has been prepared for this impact as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s no-sail order runs through July 24.

* * *

Operating revenue year-to-date is down by roughly $3.45 million from the budgeted $44.3 million and operating income is roughly $2.3 million down from $21.59 million. The port said $2.5 million is due to the loss of cruises. Cruises, leases and bulk cargo make up 73 percent of the port’s operating revenue.

None of that is surprising.  The question is when will things get better.  It might be a while:

Carnival Cruise Line won’t sail until Oct. 1 at the earliest, the company announced Monday.

The Miami-based company serves destinations including Port Tampa Bay but suspended new cruises in March, then extended the suspension three times — most recently until August. The latest delay is in line with a decision announced Friday by North American cruise lines to suspend new cruises at least 30 days.

The moves are meant to slow the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Moreover,

The group plans to sell six cruise ships, which typically cost between $500m and $1bn new, as it seeks to adjust to an uncertain future.

Carnival said it could not predict when normal business would resume. However, it “expects to resume guest operations, after collaboration with both government and health authorities, in a phased manner, with specific ships and brands returning to service over time”.

We suspect the other lines will follow a similar schedule.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State

One of the big VC stories of the last few years involved Magic Leap, a virtual reality company based in Plantation.  Without getting into too much detail, the company attracted a lot (like billions. See here, here, and here) of investment. But as a The Verge article says:

Now, Magic Leap seems barely afloat. On May 21st, the company laid off around 1,000 employees before getting a last-minute $350 million investment that many saw as a lifeline. The following week, founder Rony Abovitz stepped down as CEO. As the company shifts into survival mode, the dream of a market-shifting creative platform (best represented by the Magic Leap One) seems to be dead — or, at the very least, indefinitely delayed. Instead, the company is focused on products that can keep the company alive — business-focused applications built in the model of Microsoft’s HoloLens.

You can read the whole article here. We are not going to tell you what to conclude from the article, but, to us, it seems like a cautionary tale about the difficulty in building a tech economy.


Finally

Remember, regardless of openings being allowed, the virus is still here and the real issue is whether people will follow the proper advice because it is really up to people to care for themselves, their families, and their neighbors, even during the opening. So be responsible, stay safe, and take care of your community.

Wash your hands, wear a mask when appropriate/necessary, and practice social distancing.

While there are many places online you can buy them, you can find a number of videos on how to make a simple mask, including this from the CDC, this from the Times and this from the County.

Here are some links to government resources:

CDC

Florida Department of Health

Florida Department of Health Updated Statistics/Map Dashboard

Hospital Bed Availability Dashboard

Florida Health, Hillsborough

Hillsborough County

City of Tampa

This week we have another Water Street update video from Brent Quashie (youtube channel here):

Roundup 6-19-2020

June 18, 2020

Contents

Governance/Politics/South County/Transportation/Economic Development

— Fees

— Incentives

Governance/Economic Development/Downtown/Channel District – CRA’s

Downtown – More Water Street

Channel District – Oh Well

USF – Consolidation is a Go

HCC – Futureworld

Economic Development

— Medical Center

— Moffitt

— Tourism

Port – A Little (More) of This, A Little (Less) of That

Transportation – “BRT” Plan Survey

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

Finally

_______________________________________________________________


Governance/Politics/South County/Transportation/Economic Development


— Fees

We have made no secret that we think the planning/impact fee/incentive/subsidy systems in Hillsborough County needed fixing.  Recently, steps have been taken in that direction.  This week there was more.

Hillsborough commissioners want to keep pumping the brake pedal on new growth plans for the south county, while accelerating what development pays for utilities.

In a series of votes Wednesday, commissioners agreed to increase water and sewer impact fees on new construction and to extend moratoriums on new rezoning filings in the areas around Wimauma, Balm and Sun City Center.

The commission adopted the moratoriums in December to provide time to update community plans and proposed future land use changes for the largely undeveloped areas. The pause had been scheduled to expire Sept. 1, but Wednesday commissioners extended the clock for another 270 days after the coronavirus interrupted the community planning sessions.

Commissioners previously said the county shouldn’t try to conduct the community meetings exclusively online because of the limited internet access among some Wimauma residents.

“We need to do this right and not hastily,” Commissioner Kimberly Overman said about the community planning.

The moratorium means the county will not accept nor process new applications for rezonings and zoning modifications of planned developments that would create more housing and commercial density. It applies to parcels considered part of the Wimauma village, Balm and Sun City Center community planning districts.

The moratorium extensions passed 6-1 with Commissioner Ken Hagan dissenting.

Please note that the moratorium is not for all of Hillsborough County and not until all the roads are fixed (For why we pointed that out, see here).

It is entirely rational to take some time to fix what has been broken (and abused) for decades.  We are not sure we would have gone for another 270 days, but, especially with all the complaints about development and congestion in South County, a proper review needs to be done.

Additionally, there was action on impact fees:

Meanwhile, the increased impact fees for water and sewer service was almost a forgone conclusion after commissioners previously committed to hundred of millions of dollars worth of expanded utilities to serve the fast-growing south county area. The increase, approved unanimously, also follows the commission’s recent decision to increase impact fees for schools, parks and transportation.

Impact fees, which vary according to the size and type of a new building and the location it is built, are one-time assessments on new construction to help pay for the roads, utilities and other services needed to accommodate new residents and businesses.

* * *

Commissioners agreed to raising water and wastewater impact fees on a typical single-family home from $3,550 to nearly $5,600 in the south county and to re-institute a separate development fee that was reduced to zero in 2014. It would be set at $1,822 per home. That charge, called an accrued guaranteed revenue fee, is billed at the front-end of planned projects to reserve utility capacity for the eventual home buyers.

Commissioner Pat Kemp said waiving the accrued fee has cost the county $100 million over the past six years.

The unanimous vote is very interesting, and public reaction was subdued.

The Tampa Bay Builders Association did not speak during the public hearings. But, Jennifer Motsinger, executive vice president of the association, said in an earlier interview that home builders make considerable financial contributions toward infrastructure, but can’t control spending decisions made by commissioners.

“Yes, we want the county to keep up with growth and we do pay a considerable amount of money to make sure that happens,’’ she said. “We don’t have the ability to mandate how the money gets spent. All we can do is contribute to the county and hope they use it the way it is intended.’’

Technically, no, they cannot vote for the Commissioners, but it is well known that the development industry gives quite a bit of money in local politics, probably with some expectations (especially for past County Commissions, which explains this).  So, we find that answer, shall we say, less than comprehensive.


— Incentives

And that brings us to the other major issue the Commission discussed this week: incentives

Two weeks ago, Hillsborough Commissioner Stacy White supported a plan to offer transportation incentives to a pair of warehouse developments projected to create 117 jobs at two locations.

But, one project never came to a commission vote and White sought to resurrect the second one after it failed on a 3-3 tie.

Wednesday, however, he announced he had changed his mind and no longer would vote to pay $650,000 worth of transportation incentives for the two companies.

White said he wanted the ordinance tweaked “to make sure there aren’t any unintended loopholes that would any way allow this to become a corporate welfare program.”

So do we, and we definitely want to make sure it is not (or, arguably, does not continue to be) crony capitalism. This is the what brought this discussion to a head:

The larger of the projects is for an Atlanta developer planning to build a nearly 500,000-square-foot warehouse center for a national home improvement distributor. The developer, Seefried, previously developed three warehouses for Home Dept.

County documents show Seefried has a $9.6 million purchase agreement for 62 acres and plans to invest $46.4 million to build the distribution warehouse, plus $7 million worth of equipment like racks and conveyors. The county said the project is expected to result in $577,000 in new property tax payments annually to the county and other taxing authorities.

But the location, at the southeast intersection of Big Bend Road and South Tamiani [sic] Trail, and the $438,000 buy down of the county transportation fees owed by the developer, didn’t sit well with some commissioners nor some members of the public. They wondered why the county would help finance growth in an already traffic-choked area.

“The area is a dumpster fire and if you vote for this you will be adding fuel to that fire, ‘’ Noelle Licor, a south Hillsborough community activist, told commissioners Wednesday morning.

But, Steve Morey, senior vice president of the Tampa Bay Economic Development Council, said the buy-down program is imperative to aid industrial recruiting and business expansion in Hillsborough County.

In other words, the developer wants the taxpayer to pay transportation infrastructure costs for building a warehouse in one of the more congested areas of the County (where previous County Commissions both ignored good planning principles and subsidized other developments) and in which, most likely, most of the jobs will not be higher wage jobs.

We have nothing against having a solid logistical/warehouse business in the County, but the real question is what is worth taxpayer spending the money on?

Prior to Wednesday’s meeting, Hagan told the Tampa Bay Times he would support both incentive packages.

“Our investment is repaid within three to five 5 years which is virtually unheard of in the incentive world,’’ he said.

But, Wednesday he agreed with the rest of the commission to again defer the incentive proposals and to schedule a workshop on rewriting the incentive ordinance.

We are glad he changed his position, but we also find the repayment argument is interesting.  Logically, eventually (most) new development raises the tax base.  But somehow, Hillsborough County never seems to have cash from all that development to take care of all the transportation and other services (including fire department) needs. So where is the weak spot in the plan? If it is not the fees/incentives program, then it must be in those who have been spending the excess revenue on the wrong things – or maybe it is both.  But it has to be something, because the model used did not work.  That is why it needs to be reevaluated.

Going back to incentive, as we have said before, incentives should not be for any business.  Incentives should be for targeted business and to redevelop targeted areas.  They should be used to bring higher income jobs and targeted industries.  The warehouses will get built, if not in Hillsborough then in Pasco, Polk or Manatee (though, maybe aside for Polk, Hillsborough is the most central to the markets).  That does not really matter to the average Hillsborough resident.

The system has been broken, and the taxpayer has been paying for things they have not received, for far too long.  It is well past time for some reform.  We are happy it is finally really on the agenda. But, as the history of impact fees in Hillsborough County shows, it needs to be remembered that just making changes is just the first challenge.  Maintaining the system is just even harder.


Governance/Economic Development/Downtown/Channel District – CRA’s

There was some interesting news regarding CRA’s this week.  As we have previously covered, there was a discussion about who would manage the districts, which was resolved amicably.  Now there is a question about whether they are all needed.

The Tampa City Council, sitting as board members of the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency, voted Thursday to make the first move to gradually shut down or cap redevelopment areas in two formerly blighted areas that are now thriving: the Channel District and Downtown.

The board voted 6-0 to make a plan to sunset the Channel District in fiscal year 2022, which would free up nearly $3.6 million in estimated city funds that council member Bill Carlson, who made the motion, said would be better spent in poorer areas like East Tampa, Sulphur Springs and North Tampa.

“Now with the community demanding changes, this is money better spent to help. We have rats in community centers in East Tampa,” Carlson said after the meeting, referring to reports of rodent infestations at the Fair Oaks Community Center.

It is an interesting point.

Both the Channel District and Downtown have been designated as blighted for many years, despite an economic boom that transformed both areas since the end of the last recession. City officials have credited their renaissance, in part, to both area having been designated as blighted. The downtown area was created in 1983. The Channel District designation dates from 2003.

It would be hard to argue that either one is blighted now.  Areas near them may need help, but they are doing quite well.  Part of that is due to the CRA’s.  However, as the name says, they are Community Redevelopment Areas.  They are to promote redevelopment in areas that are troubled – or blighted.

Under the state law authorizing community redevelopment areas, property taxes are frozen at the level of the year they’re created. As the area develops and generates more tax revenue, the excess is ploughed back into the redevelopment area for infrastructure improvements instead of going into the city’s general fund.

To unwind the redevelopment areas, the city will have to negotiate new interlocal agreements with Hillsborough County and the Port of Tampa. Neither are expected to be troublesome as shutting them down will allow more tax dollars to flow back into county and port coffers.

* * *

That money, unless needed to complete existing projects, would go back into the city’s general fund. The county would get back a nearly equal amount. The city’s port would also receive about $70,000 currently spent within the boundaries of the Channel District’s redevelopment area.

The idea of a CRA makes sense for an area that is not receiving a proper share of general revenue and/or needs a boost.  However, downtown/Channel District does not fall into that category either.  Vast sums have been plowed into those areas.  It is also worth noting that a CRA takes the excess tax revenue from a base point, so if an area in a CRA booms, it has limited benefit for the general revenue funds.  By design, a rising tide does not float all boats. By capping or rolling back a CRA, the booming area now provides revenue to help other areas of the city.  And other areas need help:

Census data shows Tampa has among the highest income and homeownership disparities for African Americans.

The planning commission for Tampa and Hillsborough County conducted its own research, which showed residents in areas where poverty is most prevalent are African American.

You can see the report here.

Not to mention:

Carlson, who represents South Tampa, said his own district also suffers under the current arrangement as the wealthier redevelopment areas like Channel District and Downtown don’t pay their fair share in property taxes. South Tampa doesn’t have a redevelopment area so it bears a greater burden of paying for city services like police and fire protection, he said.

For all those reasons, we support this effort.  We do not oppose CRA’s generally, and we do not think no money should be spent in the downtown/Channel District area. But those area are definitely not blighted and other areas have been neglected and need much more investment. So, while details need to be ironed out, we are glad this is being addressed.


Downtown – More Water Street

This week, thanks to Urbanite at SkyscraperCity (post here) we have some initial renderings of the portion of the project north of the Selmon.

From Urbanite at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

From Urbanite at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

You can see bigger versions here and here.

The two taller buildings are to be office buildings while the shorter one is residential.  In the second picture, the massing model, you can see uses on the street level.  There seems to be substantial retail, though we cannot see the front of the office buildings. It is also likely that the vast space between the two halves is simply so you can see the ground floor represented.

The previous renderings of the entire Water Street project also show the taller building to be substantially taller than most of the other buildings in Water Street, which makes sense because height restrictions are less strict in that location.

We still have some questions and would like to get more detail, but we like what we have seen.


Channel District – Oh Well

We have discussed ad nauseam that large self-storage facilities really should be in industrial areas, not in downtown or other urban areas, like, say, the Channel District.  That goes even for self-storage projects that hold themselves out as “mixed use,” such as the apartment/self-storage project proposed for 111 North Meridian a/k/a Aspire Channelside.  In any event:

The city of Tampa has signed off on Dallas-based Lincoln Property Co.’s plans for the property. Aspire Channelside will span the entirety of the block of North Meridian Avenue between East Washington and East Whiting streets, according to plans filed with the city.

The 15-story residential tower, with a maximum of 330 units, will be at the corner of Meridian Avenue and East Whiting Street; the seven-story self-storage and parking portion, with ground floor retail, stretches north to the intersection with East Washington Street.

* * *

The city on Monday notified the development team that its proposal for the property is not a substantial change to previously approved zoning — which means it can proceed with its plans without a public hearing before city council. 

Could this project be worse?  Yes.  Do we think self-storage belongs on Meridian right in the heart of the Channel District near where the grid is to be reconnected and the Channel District will eventually connect to Water Street and its pedestrian orientation? No. (But, then again, neither does projects like PierHouse,  or Aurora where it is.)

We hope for the best but know that we can do better.


USF – Consolidation is a Go

USF received permission for its consolidation plan.

A two-year process to consolidate the University of South Florida “system” into a single university has cleared its last major hurdle.

The school announced Friday that its consolidation plan has been approved by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, an accrediting organization whose input was required under state law in order for the change to go through.

USF President Steve Currall called it a “historic milestone,” and the last big step before USF sites in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota start operating as a single university on July 1.

For years, USF St. Petersburg and USF Sarasota-Manatee have operated as separately accredited universities. Supporters of consolidation argued that placing them under a single accreditation with USF in Tampa will allow students on all of the campuses to share in the prestige, extra funding and other benefits that come with USF’s status as a “preeminent” university in Florida.

Though there are a few things still to work out:

Under consolidation, some colleges will have programs and faculty on more than one campus but each “overarching disciplinary area” would fall under one college, led by one college dean.

Each dean will be a member of a council of deans that reports to the USF Provost. The Provost’s Academic Leadership team will be expanded to include regional chancellors of the branch campuses.

The plan states consolidation is not expected to reduce the number or the percentage of full-time faculty, though organizational and department structures may change. “Currently employed faculty are expected to remain with the consolidated institution,” the plan states.

* * *

According to the plan, a new set of unified guidelines for tenure will be adopted for the university that “set higher expectations for scholarly productivity for faculty” formerly at the smaller campuses. Those faculty members had higher teaching and service workloads than faculty at USF Tampa, but lower research workloads, the plan said.

As departments on branch campuses are disbanded and faculty are spread out, Arsenault said he hopes to see the promised benefits of consolidation come to fruition.

Still, he said, there is work to be done in salary equity. He said he is aware of faculty at branch campuses making $20,000 to $30,000 less than than comparable colleagues at the Tampa campus.

The salary disparity is a bit odd, but the entire structure of the school(s) was a bit odd.

And there is one more step:

As a final step in the process, the Southern Association will visit all three USF campuses and the Morsani College of Medicine in the next few months to assure the school lives up to what it promised in its plan. After that, by the end of next year, the agency is expected to again review how consolidation is going.

And that is fine, as long as it really helps the students.  We have no problem with consolidation as long as it is in the students’ interests. We also think there should have been more consultation before the legislation was introduced.  But what is done is done.  Hopefully, it goes smoothly.


HCC – Futureworld

As some may remember, HCC is selling a waterfront office building near TGH to TGH. (We are not going to get into why TGH is expanding its administrative footprint on Davis Islands.  Waterfront land has a lot of other uses.) The Business Journal had an article that riffed off that sale:

HCC currently has 156 employees in the administrative building. Its board and consultants are currently weighing the options of either building a new center at its Dale Mabry campus or purchasing an existing building elsewhere.

“Consulting is gathering what’s available and we will be working on programming to determine how much space we need, what offices we need, if some functions should be absorbed at a campus [versus consolidated],” Carl said.

The sale of the Davis Islands building comes at a time when HCC and almost every other college and university have pivoted to an in-person/remote class hybrid model. As many evaluate just how much real estate is needed in the future, there is the opportunity to not only pivot online but to strengthen existing infrastructure to its full potential.

Evaluation of facilities is always a good idea and should be a constant.  However, in the middle of a pandemic may not be best time to draw any conclusions.  For instance, the article continues:

While Carl could not comment on whether the college will sell off other buildings as more students become remote, she did say HCC would not be adding campuses in the near future. The college currently has five campuses throughout the Tampa Bay area.

For community colleges in general, the pivot to a hybrid learning model could open new opportunities for campuses.

“The challenge is what do we do with all this space,” St. Petersburg College President Tonjua Williams said during a Synapse Florida panel on higher education. “With SPC that has 11 campuses, you may find you may not need all those campuses because you will find your them significantly underutilized. So, I think some institutions will be shaving off some properties they have, strengthening the ones they have as they downgrade in their footprint. But they will be increasing the impact they have with students all over the world online.”

Though there is a link at the end of the article to an article that starts with this:

The coronavirus pandemic has sent waves through educational institutions in more ways than one.

There was a complete shift to remote classes, which for many was the first time teaching online at all. And as fall plans remain in flux for Tampa Bay area universities, prospective students are faced with a few choices: wanting to stay closer to home, not wanting to pay full tuition for a university that will still be remote, and some weighing college for the first time as unemployment rates climb to new heights.

Tampa Bay community colleges are already seeing the impact.

“I do think we will see enrollment pick up,” said Patrick Rinard, associate vice president of enrollment services at St. Petersburg College. “We’ve been trending down for quite a while. I expect a turnaround in enrollment — we’ve already seen an uptick.”

And what will happen when the pandemic ends?  Will enrollment go down?  Will there be more demand for face to face learning? We do not know.  So maybe it is best to wait and see before doing anything precipitous like selling more physical assets that might be needed later.  That does not mean never sell anything, but do it when the situation is more settled.


Economic Development


— Medical Center

Speaking of TGH, the CEO has been speaking about the idea of medical center in central Tampa again.

In August, TGH will close on a piece of property that is critical to Couris’ plans: The 3.3-acre Hillsborough Community College site, which is adjacent to the hospital’s property on Davis Islands.

Couris plans to consolidate the hospital’s administrative functions in HCC’s Davis Islands building, moving them from West Kennedy Boulevard and a few other locations around the city. The 9.6-acre Kennedy property, in turn, will be home to a rehabilitation center and eventually, research facilities and a hotel.

The Kennedy and Davis Islands properties serve as bookends to Tampa’s forthcoming medical district, with the hospital, heart health institute, medical school and the University of South Florida’s Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation (CAMLS) in between. Couris said he doesn’t have any additional real estate under contract or consideration, but that he and his team are always “eager to hear from” property owners looking to sell.

The idea of a medical district is bigger than either the real estate it occupies or the facilities therein: Clustering research, clinical care and educational buildings together, Couris hopes, will finally give both the city and TGH the same kind of reputation that other academic medical centers enjoy. He mentions Houston Medical Hospital in Texas Medical Center — also home to the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and a host of other health care titans — and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center as inspiration.

“We are at the infancy of this,” Couris told the Tampa Bay Business Journal. “We have to be careful, methodical and thoughtful.”

Before we go any further, we want to make clear that we are all for having a medical cluster and center in the Tampa Bay area.  We think it should have been done long ago.  (We are also for getting as much of TGH as possible off a low-lying island.)

And we are all for being careful methodical, and thoughtful.  So here are a few thoughts.

First, let us look at the examples of medical centers cited above: Houston and Pittsburgh.  We have discussed Houston before.  Like here (original has number of links to more detail):

That would all make a lot more sense if the USF med school were actually being built adjacent to some TGH facility and Moffitt and the VA were anywhere near them. (There is more of a medical district around USF, the campus, with the VA, AdventHealth Tampa, Moffitt, research, doctor’s offices, the present med school, and other on campus medical facilities.)

As it stands, the lay out in Tampa is just not like Houston, Dallas or Boston.  We are sure that there will be more medical offices around the TGH medical facilities.  We just think bringing up those medical districts is a bit silly. (Just google “Texas Medical Center” and you’ll quickly see.  There is a good argument that the Texas Medical Center cluster would not fit into downtown Tampa.  Not the empty lots downtown – all of downtown. Texas Medical Center: 1,345 acres, 50 million+ sq. ft. of developed space.  Downtown Tampa special service district: 1,085 acres, not that much space.  That is how big the TMC is. Just google “Texas Medical Center” and you’ll quickly see.) We’ve already discussed why our situation is different a number of times.  We are not going to spend more time on it now.

On the other hand, we are not going to say there is no merit in the TGH-USF tie up proposal.  There may be.  There may also be downsides (Like, how exclusive is it? Does that serve USF’s interests?).  That is a discussion that should be had, but it really has little to do with creating a real “medical district” like around say the University of Miami’s med school (we are not even going to consider the Texas Medical Center).

So, Houston is just not relevant.  What about Pittsburgh? While the Pittsburgh medical complex is smaller, like most others (including Miami ),  it is essentially contiguous (see map here and if you scroll up a little, you will find a VA hospital nearby).  That is the biggest issue with the Tampa medical center idea. The facilities and area are spread out.  And major medical facilities which should be included, like Moffitt, are nowhere near the proposed medical center and spreading a farther with Pasco facilities.

Once again, we are not against the aspiration, but, especially when even TGH’s development plans on Kennedy are not very inspiring or urban , we would like to see a real plan.


— Moffitt

Speaking of Moffitt, there was building news from there:

Moffitt leaders geared up in masks to toss the ceremonial dirt on campus and mark the start of construction on a new hospital.

The new $400 million hospital will be a 10-story, 498,000-square-foot facility located on 20 acres across from the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation Outpatient Center.

* * *

Although the groundbreaking ceremony took place this week, construction will not begin until July and the new hospital is planned to open in July 2023.

* * *

The first phase of the hospital will include 128 inpatient beds, 19 operating rooms, 72 perioperative rooms, three MRI scanners, three CT scanners and two nuclear cameras, radiology, endoscopy, imaging, conference space, and education and research space.

The hospital will have the capacity to expand to 400 beds.

Areas dedicated to hematology, bone marrow transplants and CAR-T treatments will remain at the existing main campus on McKinley.

The new site will also include a 26,000-square-foot central utility plant, a three-story parking garage and a connecting bridge over McKinley Drive that will link the new structure with the outpatient center.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

From the Times – click on picture for article

As we have said, it is unfortunate that we have to have a cancer center like Moffitt. But, we do, and it should be as good as it can be.  It would be interesting if that investment were put inside a medical district, but it is where it is.


— Tourism

The Business Journal had an article about the airport that was really an article about tourism, which contained this interesting prediction:

Tampa Bay was riding a low occupancy wave in the 10 to 20 percent range, and many hotels had to temporary close due to the loss of business.

However, the Tampa and St. Pete area are now seeing a 44 percent occupancy rate. During Memorial Day weekend, hotels fronting breaches saw full occupancy. 

“We will be in the 80s by fall,” Visit Tampa Bay CEO and President Santiago Corrada said, stating he expects the uptick to continue.

Meanwhile, there are currently 1,600 rooms under construction in Tampa Bay that are propelled by the region being the host city for the Super Bowl next year. 

“If you have more rooms available for people to stay in, then that’s going to be a driver of demand and people will want to buy airline seats to get to you market,” Minner said.

We are all for tourism and all for traffic at the airport (which is obvious to anyone who reads us regularly), but the prediction seems bit optimistic to us (and, if this is anything to go by, he probably thinks so too. )   We get that there is unrestrained reopening of the economy, but there are also record cases of the virus and test positivity rate that is rapidly increasing.  We do not know how things will play out, especially in 4 or 5 months, but given that even state universities are going to let students avoid live classes after Thanksgiving (if they actually have live classes at all), we will just take the statement as optimistic salesmanship (especially given the seemingly continuing reticence on the part of the public to fly), which is the job of a tourism developer.  And, while we have our doubts, we hope he is right.


Port – A Little (More) of This, A Little (Less) of That

The Port has received money for its container facilities:

The U.S. Department of Transportation this week awarded Port Tampa Bay a $19.8 million grant to help expand its shipping container operations by 60 percent.

The grant allows the port to move up a $55 million project to build a new 1,300-foot-long berth and a 30-acre container yard at Berth 214. When complete, the berth will be able to handle more deep-draft vessels with direct rail and trucking connections.

* * *

In addition to the federal grant, the port plans to use $19.8 million of its own funds and nearly $15.3 million in Florida Department of Transportation funds to complete the project.

Construction is scheduled to begin within 18 months. Port officials say the expanded terminal will be safer and more efficient, creating an environment that will save shippers on each container shipped and produce less vehicle emissions.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

Currently, the property consists of Berths 212 and 213, which are used by COSCO, one of the largest container shipping companies in the world, Mediterranean Shipping Co., CMA CGM, Zim American Integrated Shipping and Maersk. Berth 214 would be to the south of those berths. 

We are all for expanding the container business, which the Port has done:

Through the end of May, the port had seen 86,173 containers come across its docks so far this fiscal year. That’s up from 66,275 at the same point last year and 31,321 in May 2016.

We started from a very low level and we still have some distance to go, but it is progress.

There was also other news from the Port regarding the much touted refrigerated fruit facility:

Port Tampa Bay’s governing board agreed Tuesday to give a break to a marquee tenant whose fruit import business has been slowed by the coronavirus pandemic.

The reductions will go to Port Logistics Tampa Bay, which has a 140,000-square-foot refrigerated warehouse that was built on Hookers Point to attract shippers of fruit and other cargo requiring cold storage.

* * *

Under the original lease, Port Logistics agreed to pay the port $16.6 million for the construction over 25 years at about $97,000 per month.

Port Logistics also agreed to pay the port $31,000 a month in rent starting this December. And it guaranteed it would move at least 125,000 tons of cargo through the warehouse starting next year.

The port and the company renegotiated the lease partly because of the suspension of some shipments during the pandemic, port counsel Charles Klug said. Also playing a role: the pandemic’s impact on supply chains and inventories as well as uncertainty around when the markets will rebound.

With the change, $25,000 of the monthly loan payment will be deferred for seven years, and the rent will be changed to 5 percent of its revenues once the warehouse does $5 million in business a year. Also, the annual minimum guarantee would go away, because port officials expect the facility will handle more than that.

* * *

The vote was 6-1, with board member Chad Harrod voting no.

If the pandemic is the cause, why such a long break?

One of the goals, Klug said, is to give the facility time to get shippers to re-route their goods and establish a new line of business in the market.

“We think we have the right facility in the right market, and we’ve got to take advantage of it,” he said, “but it’s going to take a little bit of time.”

We lean more in this direction:

“It seems (like) a seven-year restructuring is an awful long time to deal with something (when) none of us know what’s going to happen in the next month,” Harrod said. “It seems to me we’re changing … a substantial portion of the terms.”

We can understand suspending or changing terms for a period, but that change should be flexible to take a rapidly changing and unpredictable situation into account.  With the comments and the length of the time, there seems to be more to the deal that just the pandemic.


Transportation – “BRT” Plan Survey

TBARTA is doing a survey about the “BRT” plan.  No, it does not ask whether you think the plan is good or not.  It is a virtual charrette, which would be great if the plan made sense.  In any event, if you want to do it, you can find it here.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

The Economist had an article on automated vehicles and the problems with their development, that concludes with this:

Away from the research labs, expectations around driverless cars are cooling. Some Chinese firms are experimenting with building digital guide rails into urban infrastructure, in an attempt to lighten the cognitive burden on the cars themselves. Incumbent carmakers, meanwhile, now prefer to talk about “driver-assistance” tools such as automatic lane-keeping or parking systems, rather than full-blown autonomous cars. A new wave of startups has deliberately smaller ambitions, hoping to build cars that drive around small, limited areas such as airports or retirement villages, or vehicles which trundle slowly along pavements, delivering packages under remote human supervision. “There’s a scientific reason we’re not going to get to full self-driving with our current technology,” says Dr Cummings. “This less ambitious stuff—I think that’s much more realistic.”

You can read the whole thing here.


Finally

Remember, especially considering this, this, and this (and our covid19 test positivity rate rivaling South Florida, which is why we are going to be wearing masks), regardless of openings being allowed, the virus is still here and the real issue is whether people will follow the proper advice because it is really up to people to care for themselves, their families, and their neighbors, even during the opening. So be responsible, stay safe, and take care of your community.

Wash your hands, wear a mask when appropriate/necessary, and practice social distancing.

While there are many places online you can buy them, you can find a number of videos on how to make a simple mask, including this from the CDC, this from the Times and this from the County.

Here are some links to government resources:

CDC

Florida Department of Health

Florida Department of Health Updated Statistics/Map Dashboard

Florida Health, Hillsborough

Hillsborough County

City of Tampa

This week we return to the fine work at Eagle 8 WFLA’s Twitter feed:

From Eagle 8 WFLA – click on picture for Tweet

You can see a bigger version here.

Roundup 6-12-2020

June 11, 2020

Contents

The Great Reopening, Cont.

Transportation

— HART

— MCORES

Westshore – Less is More

Downtown – Encore

Seminole Heights – Tradition

Airport – Not Yet

Affordable Housing – Something Tangible

Economic Development/Politics/Governance – Incentive Accountability

Governance/Politics – Open Primaries

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State

— Water, Water

— Are You Sure?

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

Finally

________________________________________


The Great Reopening, Cont.

As we have been saying from the beginning of the reopening, we support a step-by-step, (medical/public-health) data-driven reopening, with adequate testing and contact tracing.  So now that we are in phase 2, who are things going?

Nearly every day for the past week, the number of new coronavirus cases has topped 1,000. Florida health officials attributed the increase to more people getting tested. More than 1.2 million Floridians have been tested for coronavirus, with 5.3 percent of the tests coming back positive.

But the state health director in Hillsborough County said Tuesday that across Florida, the number of positive tests per 100,000 people is increasing.

Dr. Marissa Levine, a professor of public health and family medicine at the University of South Florida, said she would be cautious about attributing the high number of new cases to testing alone.

Levine said she’s closely watching the number of hospitalizations and deaths.

(Just for reference, on Tuesday, all of Germany had 318 new cases.) The data is pretty easy to find because there is a State website, to which we have provide a link for a while.   What does it tell us?  Let’s look at two large, central counties.

In Hillsborough, the number of cases is trending up and the rate of positive tests is trending up. If the positive test rate is up then the increase in case numbers is not just from increased testing.  In fact, this is the graph from Wednesday of this week:

From the State dashboard – click on picture for website

For comparison, this is Orange County, which for quite a while had more cases than Hillsborough but now has fewer:

From the State dashboard – click on picture for website

The trend is generally the same, but in both categories the actual numbers for Orange County are still a good bit lower than Hillsborough. Pinellas seems to have been been doing much better than Hillsborough (testing positivity of 2.22%). (You can also check local counties at the Tampa Bay partnership website here.) In fact, in the last weekly testing positivity rate listed, that hotspot Broward (2.87%) is almost full percentage point lower than Hillsborough (3.7%).  Duval is at 1.37%.

“So while I suspect the majority of the increase in cases is due to increased testing, a lack of compliance with physical distancing and facial coverings following the re-opening of the county likely accounts for a portion of cases,” Lockwood said. “It is critical that folks socially distance and wear masks in public.”

Given the trend of positivity rate, probably a decent portion.

For each of the past seven days, every day but Monday, the number of new coronavirus cases reported across Florida has topped 1,000 — a pattern not seen since coronavirus in Florida hit its first peak in early April. Tuesday, the state reported 1,096 new patients and 53 deaths over a 24-hour period. The total number of cases in the state hit 66,000.

Hillsborough County saw its highest single-day return of positive coronavirus test results on Monday with 113. It was the third time in the past week that the county hit a new record.

It was enough to make county officials renew a familiar message in a news release Tuesday evening, urging residents to “diligently practice social distancing and to wear face coverings when out in public.”

And remember, there is a two week delay (at least) on the effect of any opening or event.

It is clear that there is little appetite among officials collectively (and a decent portion of the population) to reimpose any restrictions.  And other areas a worse off than we are (we think).  But, if promoting distancing and masks is the message, local officials need to find a much better way to deliver it (though we doubt it will do any good in bars, concerts, theme parks, etc.).

We hope it is not the case, but we would not be surprised if there is some increasingly bad data.


Transportation


— HART

HART is going to do another search for a CEO:

After much debate, the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority board voted 10-to-one to support a national search for its next leader.

Chairman Les Miller wanted the current interim CEO, Carolyn House Stewart, to fill the permanent position and he was the sole ‘no’ vote.

Stewart has been acting as interim CEO since the departure of HART’s previous CEO, Ben Limmer.

* * *

Miller made a motion to have Stewart become the permanent CEO and that there’s no need for a national search.

“We have the person that we need right here sitting with us,” Miller said. “We brought someone from the outside and looked what happened,” he said referring to the situation with Limmer.

* * *

However, Miller’s motion failed in a tied vote.

“She has done an incredible job leading through some uncharted waters and we should be very, very thankful—she keeps everyone informed, she calls me on a regular basis,” Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said during the meeting.

Despite applauding Stewart’s work, Castor and other commissioners also voiced support for a national search.

Castor said Stewart could apply for the position during the national search, which if selected, would eliminate any doubts the board or community may have.

We definitely think that doing a national search is generally a good idea. (And it might validate the choice of the interim CEO). Of course, right now there are some complications, namely HART still has no idea what its budget is going to be like.  Until that is resolved, candidates will not know what they are applying to do, and HART will not know what the job will be.  In those circumstances it is rather difficult to make an informed decision.


— MCORES

As we noted a few weeks ago, the highways to nowhere (MCORES) process continues unabated (Did you think something railroad as obviously as that legislation would stop for a pandemic or anything else?).  Some people think that may not be the best thing.

The Florida Department of Transportation’s virtual meetings over building more than 300 miles of new toll roads violate the state’s Sunshine Law and must stop, the First Amendment Foundation told the agency on Thursday.

The meetings have had technical glitches that have prevented the public from attending, wrote Pamela Marsh, the president of the foundation. Both the Tampa Bay Times and the Miami Herald are members of the organization.

“All of these six meeting have been conducted in violation of the law,” Marsh wrote. “Until (the department) can provide access to ‘all interested persons’ it cannot proceed without further violating Florida law.”

A transportation department spokeswoman disagreed and said the meetings have had higher engagement than in-person meetings, which stopped because of the coronavirus pandemic.

You can read more here and here.

In all honesty, public opinion has been not be relevant in this process.  Public opinion was not important, including in the counties where the roads would be, before passing the legislation.   There was basically no debate about the idea, either. Given that, it seems unlikely that public opinion will at meetings will matter now.

The biggest sop to public opinion may be that the road idea is sold as bringing broadband to underserved areas.  Of course, as we have noted before, you do not need to spend a billion dollars on highways to connect an area to the internet. Fiber optic cables are much narrower than roads, and the state already has right of way into most of these areas.


Westshore – Less is More

As more readers will know, the owners of Westshore Plaza have plans to redevelop the parking lot and former Sears land into a large urban development. (see here)  We do not know how all the events of 2020 will affect that, but there was news last week that might have some bearing on it:

JCPenney will vacate its best real estate in the Tampa Bay region.

The JCPenney store at WestShore Plaza is among 154 locations across the U.S. that will close, the Plano, Texas-based retailer said Thursday. JCPenney, based in Plano, Texas, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in mid-May.

* * *

Washington Prime Group, the owner of WestShore Plaza, owns JCPenney’s real estate. The mall owner is already planning a major redevelopment on the former Sears property at the mall, and JCPenney was also sitting on valuable urban land. The JCPenney property opens up additional redevelopment opportunity at the mall, though retail redevelopment — which has long depended on restaurants and entertainment concepts — is more difficult in a post-Covid world, real estate experts say.

Having the land open up is certainly intriguing from a redevelopment perspective.  It seems to use having a multi-use development in a central location that does not rely on any specific category for its economic well-being is a better bet for property owners.  But we will have to see.

There was another vacancy at the mall property (we doubt it will be the last) announced last week.

Mitchell’s Fish Market has closed its restaurant at WestShore Plaza in Tampa.

The restaurant, which is owned by Houston-based Landry’s Inc., has removed all of its signage from its street-level space in the south parking garage. It was one of the largest restaurants at WestShore Plaza, where JCPenney also plans to close its store in the coming months.

However,

“WestShore Plaza is in active discussions with an exciting new concept to replace the former Mitchell’s Fish Market location, and we will be announcing details soon,” a spokeswoman for Washington Prime Group, the Ohio-based owner of WestShore Plaza, said in a statement.

We will see about that, as well.  The space is at the base of a garage so it will likely remain as is but any redevelopment can be designed to integrate it.  Given what a good location Westshore Plaza has, the vacancies actually produce opportunities to improve.


Downtown – Encore

There was an article in the Times regarding the Independent at Encore, which we noted had broken ground here.

In the eight years since its first apartment complex was dedicated, about 660 apartments have been built in Encore, a 28-acre urban renewal project on the edge of downtown Tampa.

But the development, which replaced the Central Park Village public housing complex, still lacks the restaurants, hotels, businesses and a grocery store that were promised to residents.

Tampa Housing Authority officials are optimistic that is set to change with construction of the community’s first privately built apartment complex now underway and construction on another vacant lot about to be sold.

We are not so confident, even though the Times story tells us:

Transwestern’s apartment building will include street-level retail units. 

True, though it is negligible (around 2200 sq. feet) and not nearly enough.  We discussed the design here, here,  and here.

But for us the most interesting thing in the article was this:

Instead of looking for a developer to build a grocery store, the Housing Authority plans to build its own store with about 100 apartments on top. The agency will look for a retailer to lease the store during construction, Moore said. Sixty of the apartments will be designated as affordable housing.

While we think it would greatly benefit the project and its surrounding area to have a grocery store, we have some concerns about that plan.  There will be a grocery store in Water Street, a grocery in the Channel District, and a grocery store in the Heights.  If the Housing Authority cannot identify a grocery store to go in the space before building, we are not sure they will be able to after construction.  If the space is built and empty, the Housing Authority’s negotiating power will likely be decreased.  Having an empty space or some other store will not necessarily benefit the project.


Seminole Heights – Tradition

In the last few weeks, news that the Seminole Heights Baptist Church is considering selling their landmark church building and old firehouse for demolition.   In an effort to make a demolition much harder, there was an effort to get the building designated as historic.

The Seminole Heights Baptist Church is now eligible for demolition after the City of Tampa’s Historic Preservation Commission opted not to grant the more than 70-year-old building a new status as a historic landmark.

Dozens of neighbors fought to save the iconic local church from possible demolition by trying to convince the City of Tampa to deem it a historic landmark.

However, the church’s pastor came before the historic preservation commission to say that designation could hurt the congregation’s ability to sell the building. The commission was tasked with looking at the property as a whole, which includes not only the sanctuary but two educational buildings.

* * *

Pastor Brant Adams, with the Seminole Heights Baptist Church, said this decision to sell the church has been anything but easy.

He said after several years of working on the upkeep of the building, the congregation is now looking to sell it, primarily because the maintenance of such an old structure is expensive.

Adams said the church is hoping to direct the money from a possible sale and what they’ve been spending to maintain the building to other projects, including continuing their community service efforts.

“They (the congregation) have spent months on what to do,” Adams said. “…They’ve reached a point where they have an opportunity that maybe we can move forward into the future for another 50, another hundred years.”

If the city had designated the building as a historic landmark, that would have vastly devalued the property because the building would need to be preserved, Adams said. The building will likely soon be available for sale and able to be demolished if needed.

We understand the dilemma of deciding if the building is historic or not.  On the other hand, the arguments for not making it historic presented here are arguments that are always given in these cases whether they have any merit or not.  Moreover, while there is some ambiguity, from the reporting and discussion (here, here, and here) it certainly seems very possible that there is some deal in the works that requires a demolition rather than just some factfinding effort.  Something like this:

But a look at aforementioned test fit site plan, which shows a 10,860 square-foot “free standing emergency room” within the footprint of the church, which was founded in 1921. The plan also shows a future expansion zone (blue dotted line, ironically next to the shadow of the church’s famous steeple) in addition to a list of all the requirements for permitting on the right side of the sheet. There are square footage numbers for the parking, plus floor-to-area ratio numbers that all signify that the project is pretty close to applying for permits.

 

From Creative Loafing – click on picture for article

Ironically, demolishing a historic landmark to make way for a sprawling development and lots of surface parking could not be more traditional Tampa.

One other note: one assumes it is likely that the TBARTA “BRT” plan would have a stop somewhere along Hillsborough at 275.  And that sprawling site plan is the TOD the market anticipates.  Another reason to oppose the “BRT” plan.


Airport – Not Yet

There was disappointing but not unexpected news from the airport:

With air travel down more than 95 percent, Tampa International Airport officials said Thursday that they will delay or cancel nearly $906 million in construction projects over the next five years.

“We’re going to put our plans and dreams on hold,” airport chief executive officer Joe Lopano told the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority. “These are tough decisions, but we continue to operate. We haven’t skipped a beat at this airport.”

The biggest project to be affected will be Airside D, a $690 million plan to add 16 new gates for domestic or international flights. Construction on that new airside originally was expected to be done in late 2024. Now it will be delayed four years.

“We will re-evaluate our deferrals as we see the market come back,” Lopano said. In the meantime, projects already underway as part of the airport’s master-planned $2 billion expansion will continue to move forward.

Given what has happened to the travel business, we cannot fault that decision.  We also are that the deferrals should be routinely reevaluated.

Despite the dropoff in demand now, airport officials said they think Tampa International and the bay area more generally are well-positioned to re-attract visitors and travelers after the pandemic. The reasons for their conclusion include:

That is interesting.  However, while we are not sure how they counted the numbers, as noted above, Hillsborough County has more covid-19 cases and a higher positivity rate, by a good amount, than Orange County.

And then, somewhat counterintuitively, there was this:

Denver-based, low-fare carrier Frontier Airlines on Thursday announced 18 new routes for summer 2020. The new flights beginning in June and July include linking Tampa to major cities such as Boston and Chicago.

And interesting move.


Affordable Housing – Something Tangible

There was news about affordable housing in Hillsborough:

Last year, Hillsborough County commissioners said they would budget $10 million to expand affordable housing. Last week, they voted to start spending it.

The commission selected seven private groups to develop both owner-occupied homes and rental units targeting low and very low income tenants as part of a nearly $20 million investment in affordable housing around the county.

Commissioner Kimberly Overman called affordable housing “the greatest need we have, in addition to transportation.’’

* * *

Much of the funding, $12.6 million, came from the county’s HOPE trust fund financed by local property taxes. It is named for Hillsborough Organization for Progress and Equality, the faith-based agency that spent six years pressing the county to expand its affordable housing options. The commission agreed to put $10 million in that account for the current fiscal year. The rest of the allocation is a mix of federal and state dollars.

* * *

The awards and approximate dollar amounts went to: University Area Community Development Corporation, $5.82 million; New Vision Communities and Wendover Housing Partners, $5 million; East Tampa Business and Civic Association, $3.577 million; Catholic Charities Diocese of St. Petersburg, Inc., $2.443 million; New Life Village Inc., $1.737 million; Volunteers of America of Florida Inc., $668,000 and Habitat for Humanity of Hillsborough County, $515,827. The county still must negotiate final contracts with the agencies before construction begins, so move-in dates for future tenants are still a ways away.

In the greater scheme of things, $10 million is not a huge amount, but it is also not insubstantial.  It is a good start.

Meanwhile, in Pasco:

Proposed fee changes designed to encourage development of affordable housing for Pasco County got a first look and positive feedback from county commissioners on Tuesday.

But the plan also would take away incentives for development of market-priced apartments, a housing choice which has seen a surge in development in fast-growing areas like south central Pasco County. Developers told commissioners that there is demand for those apartments, and previous zoning approvals required such development in their projects.

The commission heard a plan that would reduce the mobility fees paid for affordable housing for low-income residents to zero, a savings of between $1,071 to $3,315 per unit in the urban zones and comparable savings in other zones. Mobility fees are charged to new construction to be sure that development mitigates for the impacts that it has on the community’s transportation system

To offset the reduction in fees paid for affordable housing, the amounts to be paid for market-level apartments would be set to rise. Under the proposed schedule, the multi-family unit costs would increase: 7 percent to $4,280 in urban service areas; 17 percent to $7,064 in the suburbs and 28 percent to $9,276 in rural areas.

Barbara Wilhite, representing Crown Community Development, said two projects she represents which were approved previously would be impacted by the increased fees, just as they were poised to move forward. She said she was hoping that they would not be hurt by the action.

We think they should probably grandfather projects that are already underway or have approval and get underway quickly.  We do not think they should let projects get approval and then just sit on that for the lower fee.

We also are not clear about the  point on incentives for market rate apartments.  If there is demand for market rate projects, why would they get a subsidy?  The whole idea of market rate means the costs of building them should be factored in – that is the market.  And if the market it strong, why should taxpayers provide extra money?  Potential profit from building something in demand should be enough incentive.


Economic Development/Politics/Governance – Incentive Accountability

As people who follow such things will know, incentives are dished out for economic development at a relatively regular pace in this area.  Those incentives usually have conditions attached.  What happens after the deals are made? A few weeks ago, that was discussed in Tampa:

There’s a cost to lure companies to relocate headquarters or expand operations in Tampa Bay, and Tampa City Councilman Bill Carlson wants to make sure those companies’ promises of creating high-paying jobs and local investment are holding true.

* * *

Carlson said there currently isn’t a way to validate if companies created the jobs and investments as promised unless they are awarded a qualified tax incentive, which is a state incentive that requires a local match; those companies have to report to the state.

However, Carlson stated only about 30 percent companies receiving incentives go through the trackable QTI award. The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity has an economic incentive portal that tracks certain incentives throughout Florida counties.

Meanwhile, the remaining 70 percent seek other incentives, which Carlson said are not locally verified if the company indeed has met its promise.

It stands to reason that if a company either gets public money or gets a break on paying its taxes then there should be some way to make sure they do what they are getting the incentive for.

During Thursday’s council meeting, Carlson’s motion passed unanimously to direct the city’s legal staff to research and possibly create a draft ordinance for review. The draft ordinance would require companies receiving economic incentives or tax reductions from the city to submit sworn affidavits at least annually to confirm number of employees, average pay of those employees and capital investments made that year.

“If we are going to give tens of thousands or maybe millions of dollars to a company that’s going to move here, we need to know whether they did what they said they were going to,” Carlson said. “One of the excuses from [economic development groups] is some companies won’t come if we make them disclose the numbers. … If a company doesn’t want to disclose their numbers, we shouldn’t give them money.”

We are glad it is unanimous. Once again, if a company gets public money or a break on its taxes, there should be some way to verify it does what it is supposed to do.

Andrea Zelman, deputy city attorney, said it first needs to be determined by the city if it is appropriate to draft an ordinance.

It seems that if the City is giving money or tax breaks it can condition such things on some kind of verification.  That seems to be entirely appropriate, even if another entity also chooses to do it. In fact, it is odd that there is not already process to have full accountability.


Governance/Politics – Open Primaries

There was news that a Hillsborough State Senator is retiring from the Senate.  You can read about it here.  One thing we found interesting was this:

He left politics after that, but got the itch again and successfully ran again in 2012. He immediately saw the difference between life in Tallahassee then and now.

“It is hyperpartisan now,” he told me earlier this year as the Session was about to begin. “People don’t vote against their party for fear of retribution. You can’t govern like that in a purple state.”

His solution for that: Open primaries. Neither major party likes this.

So? Maybe that’s why this is needed.

He said the current primary system “can come down to electing the lesser of two evils.”

We agree and have done so for a while (see here from 2011 and here from 2015).  We should be aspiring to get the best candidates, not the lesser of two evils or simply have a battle of bases.  And note:

Florida is currently only one of nine states with a closed partisan primary, meaning only registered party members can vote in their own party’s primary.

See here.

While open primaries are not perfect, we think they are better than being forced to vote for one of two candidates who most appeal to the base rather than the majority of the electorate.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State


— Water, Water

We have discussed flood protections before (as well as moves to allow more density in flood prone areas).  This week we learned, from the Miami Herald:

Actually, it proposes walls in several places, six miles of them in total ranging from merely one foot to 13 feet high — storm surge protection that would change the landscape of some expensive but also very vulnerable neighborhoods. The walls are the centerpiece of a $4.6 billion draft plan by the Army Corps of Engineers released Friday that is designed to protect tens of thousands of homes and businesses from flooding.

The plan also calls for movable barriers at the mouths of three waterways, elevating and floodproofing thousands of buildings throughout the county and restoring mangroves near Cutler Bay.

You can see the plan here.

We are neither endorsing nor attacking the Miami-Dade plan (admittedly we have not read all 443 pages).  What we are wondering is what the plan for the Tampa Bay area, which is known to be quite vulnerable to storm surge.


— Are You Sure?

There was news-ish about the GOP convention.

Seeking a city willing to allow a large-scale event amid the coronavirus pandemic, Republicans have tentatively settled on Jacksonville, Fla., as the new destination for the premier festivities of the Republican National Convention in August, according to three Republican officials briefed on the plans.

The details of the arrangement are still in flux and RNC aides are scrambling to determine whether the northern Florida city has enough hotel rooms to accommodate the quadrennial event, which typically kicks off the final stretch of the presidential campaign.

Republican officials were in Jacksonville on Monday looking at the city and the surrounding areas.

The convention’s more routine and lower-profile meetings still would take place in Charlotte, the original host site for the convention, according to two officials. Those smaller meetings are intended to honor the RNC’s contractual obligation to hold its convention in North Carolina and shield the party from lawsuits for moving the large events elsewhere.

We would normally be all for having big events in Florida.  However, especially with the numbers trending up, if you cannot go to a sporting event for a few hours because of the risk, we are not sure how you can have a normal political convention.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

We often say that things (usually problematic things) are the result of choices.  There was an interesting Wired article on street planning that is in line with that:

In the developed world, cities are slowly beginning to try to reconsider sprawl and embrace more walkable, transit friendly development. But, according to a new study, the opposite is true in many parts of the global south, where cities not only are experiencing the most headlong growth but are also taking a development path that could lock them into dependence on cars—and all their associated problems—for decades.

The problem, the study suggests, are “disconnected” street networks—think neighborhoods filled with cul-de-sacs, dead-ends and large block sizes. Highly disconnected street patterns increase travel distances and car dependency. Street designs with low levels of connectivity have been shown to increase traffic on major roads, increasing congestion and carbon emissions.

The alternative: connected street networks, like Manhattan’s regular grid of streets and avenues, that encourage walking, increase access to mass transit, and reduce traffic and car-related pollution.

Such a design also increases the amount of road miles that need to be maintained, and thus the cost. It is not necessarily applicable in every circumstance, but it is applicable to many, including the traffic/transit/road problems in so much of the County.

You can read the article here.


Finally

Remember, regardless of openings being allowed, the virus is still here and the real issue is whether people will follow the proper advice because it is really up to people to care for themselves, their families, and their neighbors, even during the opening. So be responsible, stay safe, and take care of your community.

Wash your hands, wear a mask when appropriate/necessary, and practice social distancing.

While there are many places online you can buy them, you can find a number of videos on how to make a simple mask, including this from the CDC, this from the Times and this from the County.

Here are some links to government resources:

CDC

Florida Department of Health

Florida Department of Health Updated Statistics/Map Dashboard

Florida Health, Hillsborough

Hillsborough County

City of Tampa

This week we return to Rough Rider from SkycraperCity:

From Rough Rider at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

Just compare that to the exceedingly poor Hyatt Place project on a prime lot that was formerly City property which you can find here.