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Roundup 3-27-2015

March 27, 2015

Downtown/Built Environment – Developments

This past week or so has seen much news about developments, pretty much all residential, in the Downtown area.  Because they all affect that area, we thought it might be useful to look at them together.

– Straz Tower

We begin with new information about the apartment tower near the Straz:

The new apartment tower next to the Straz Center may not have a giant Shamrock atop, but among several changes made recently to the planned 30-plus story tower will be a new, Irish-themed name.

Developers of the tower have dropped the preliminary name of “Residences at Riverwalk,” and instead picked “AER in the Arts District.” (AER stands for “Arts & Entertainment Residences). Some City of Tampa officials joke that few people may guess that “AER” is also the Gaelic word for “Air,” and the name will have the pronunciation “air.” If all goes well, the city officials expect developers to begin work this June or July.

Setting aside that the residents of this area are not all a bunch of rubes (the Irish airline is named “Aer Lingus” after all), it would be nice if the project started this summer.  But more importantly, there have been some changes:

The latest architectural design will keep the overall 350-unit count that developers originally envisioned, and the tower will still take up the same block-sized parcel of downtown real estate, but nearly everything else has evolved over time.

The preliminary plan for a boxy tower with a “doughnut” of parking levels at the base is out. Instead, developers hired architect Rachel Cardello of ADD Inc. in Miami (now part of Stantec Inc.) who drafted a more subtle, almost curved profile with a few key changes.

The large parking deck for residents is moved out from under the building and is now placed adjacent to the tower on the east side. That frees up the lower segment of the tower to have residential units that face the riverfront. “Those will be fantastic units with really cool views,” Smith said. The tower will now have an “intermediate” terrace at about the 25th level that faces south. That will likely be an entertainment terrace for residents that includes one of two swimming pools. Another pool will sit atop the very top level of the tower for 360-degree city views.

Smith said those plans are still in the works, but he likes the idea of terraces mid-way up the tower, with outdoor fireplaces and trellises to provide some shade from the sun. That middle terrace would also give both a sense of height above the ground, but also loftiness with the rest of the tower looming above.

Such elevated pools are increasingly popular among tower developers. The new Skyhouse tower in the Channel district has a pool in its rooftop entertainment terrace. Though somewhat at ground level, the newly renovated Aloft hotel has a pool deck overlooking the Hillsborough River. Several of the new apartment towers going up in downtown St. Petersburg have pools atop their towers.

This rendering was provided by with the article (and note that renderings tend to make everything look taller and slimmer):

From the Tribune – click on picture for article

The first thing one might notice is that the building, which was not really boxy in the last round of renderings (it was symmetrical), is no longer symmetrical.  We understand that the aesthetics are subjective, but we are not particularly excited by the rendering.  We think it looks a bit lopsided and the lower level looks like a smaller, boxier building was just stuck on to the taller part rather than actually integrated smoothly.  If they want two roof-top pools, we understand, but it can be done better.

Moreover, the parking garage is a point of concern.  Because we do not really have underground parking, dealing with garages is always an issue.   The rendering does not really show it (trees conveniently blocking any real view of the street level in the above rendering) so it is hard to judge, but it seems that it will be very visible to everyone from the north, south or east.  We prefer integrated parking.  It is just better overall urban design.

The street level in the front looks ok (we can’t tell about anything else).  Overall, we do not see a real improvement in the design changes (we think the older concept was more interesting).  Hopefully, it will be better in reality.

– Grant Block

Next up is news about the Grant Block (to view the location, see here):

The 23-story tower Atlanta-based Carter proposed last fall in downtown Tampa is moving forward, with plans to start construction in the summer.

Conor McNally, Carter chief development officer, said Friday that the group is “highly confident” in its plans, which include 360 apartments and 10,000 square feet of retail space. The site is referred to as the Grant block and is one block north of the historic Kress building on North Franklin Street.

Once again, it is good that it might start this summer (could be an interesting summer). However, let’s look at the rendering:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

That is one big building (even taking into account the tendency of renderings to make buildings look taller than they actually will be).  As we said a few months ago:

We understand that not every building is going to be an architectural masterpiece and that the building plan has street interaction (which is good), but it seems a bit of a hulking building.  Tampa should take care that what gets built now does not make it significantly harder to build other buildings nearby.  That does not mean getting into every item of every proposal, but attentiveness, at least to some degree, to view corridors is a good idea.

(See “Downtown – First Glimpse at the Grant Block Concept”)

That rendering does not change anything in that analysis.  Moreover, looking at the plan for the first floor (from the City’s handy Accela system):

You can see that the retail is basically all on Franklin (with a little store on the southeast corner with a few feet of frontage on Florida).  The frontage on Florida (facing the Floridan) will be essentially dead space.  We understand that it is hard to put retail along the entirety of all frontage, but other projects, like Skypoint and Element, have done a better job trying to address more streets, so it can be – and should be – done (not necessarily exactly like those two projects, but something better).  We are not clear why that is ok with that, but, hopefully, the Lightning owner’s team will take note and not repeat the mistake.

So, yes, it is good to have projects being built.  However, without some care and attention to detail, the City is going to end up with projects that it will partially rue in coming years.

– Aspire

Finally, there was an announcement of new plans for an area north of the Straz (see location here)

Lincoln Property Co. is in talks with the city to build a 408-unit, five-story apartment building north of the David A. Straz Jr. Center for Performing Arts, on a surface parking lot adjacent to the Barrymore Hotel. The land is owned by New Jersey-based Denholtz Associates, according to county property records.

Named the Aspire, the complex would have six stories of parking with 866 spaces, according to plans Michael Callahan, the city’s urban design coordinator, presented to Tampa Bay Real Estate Investment Council Inc. on Wednesday.

It would also include a 9,000-square-foot clubhouse and 3,600 square feet of retail space, according to the plans. Lincoln has been building Aspire-branded communities around the Southeast, including a 279-unit project in Nashville and a property in Orlando.

This is the rendering included with the Business Journal article:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

That does not tell us much. Just for reference, here is an article and rendering of the Nashville project and here is the Orlando project.  Clearly, the proposed project in Tampa is more like the Nashville project – if not even more suburban with a “clubhouse.”  We would not be surprised if it were something more akin to the Pier House project, though given the lack of detail, it is actually hard to know what the project would be like.

– Conclusion

So what are we to think of all this?  First, nothing has come out of the ground yet.  Still, it is nice that this part of downtown is drawing projects.  We are happy about that, and we would like buildings to come out of the ground.  The added residents will surely help develop amenities in downtown and add vibrancy.  That is without question.

On the other hand, past waves of development in downtown have shown that the City should be very careful about what gets built. (Just go to Tampa Street south of Jackson and see how vibrant – or, rather, not vibrant – the street is even with the large office towers.)  We do not just want buildings; we want good buildings that serve to truly develop the downtown area.  Walk by Element or Skypoint and you can see they do that. (Are they perfect? No, but they still help not just add residents but to enliven most of the streets around them.)

If built, these buildings are going to be with us for decades.  It is great to have development and by all means build, but design matters.

Economic Development – A Good Column

There was a column in the Times entitled “Trigaux: 10 Tampa Bay projects we can’t afford to screw up”  that, predictably, lists ten major issues that we cannot afford to screw up and gives grades to how they are being handled.  Things like this:

  1. Pinellas lacks land management. Pinellas is in an economic pickle. It’s so built out that there is little available land of significant size left to develop. Compounding the problem, the county is awash in outdated housing and strip malls. Bottom line: Here’s a county that is often unattractive to larger businesses and to younger workers that want to live in new and affordable housing. That’s why population forecasts have Pinellas flatlining for decades to come. Not a good economic formula for the future. Grade: C- 

So true.

We are not going to recount the entire column (we discuss most of the items in our regular Roundups), but we will list the 10 issues and give the grades: Transportation that works (D); A viable next home for the Rays (C); A new Pier (C); the Lightning owner’s project (A-); the efforts of the Tampa Innovation Alliance around Suitcase City and USF (B-); Education (B-); Citrus greening (B) – ok, we don’t really write about this; Pinellas land management (C-); Energy policy (F) – and we don’t really write about this; Regional cooperation (C-).

For the most part, that is about right, except the Rays and Pier should get D’s in our estimation.  (And to the list we would add poor planning and design generally because while downtown St. Pete and Tampa show promise, most of the area is still very poorly planned and designed.)

We recommend that you read the column.

Economic Development – An Interesting Article

We also ran across an interesting article in the Christian Science Monitor on the quest of various areas to become the hubs of cybersecurity.

While California’s Silicon Valley is the US technology capital, cities and states across the country are vying to dominate the booming market for actually securing that technology and information. “What’s the next Silicon Valley for cybersecurity?” asks Peter Singer, a strategist who focuses on cybersecurity at the New America think tank in Washington. “This is one of the fastest growing industries – not just in the tech sector, but in the world.”

The global cybersecurity market was $67 billion in 2011 and is projected to grow as high as $156 billion by 2019, according to premium market research firm Markets and Markets. It will expand as more giants such as Sony Pictures Entertainment, Target, and Home Depot are hacked, consumers demand more and better security, and businesses grow more aware of the potential cost to their sales and reputation if they do not provide it.

Seeing a window of opportunity, state governments and pro-business groups from California to Texas and Florida are positioning themselves to win federal contracts and score venture capital investment. Some are going to extraordinary lengths to build what they call “a cybersecurity ecosystem.” They are commissioning economic impact studies, developing tax incentives to attract companies to their regions and even hiring PR firms to devise branding strategies. They are competing over government contracts, even investing in startups with money from state coffers. With as many as 300,000 cybersecurity jobs across the country unfilled last year, according to security company Symantec, they are crafting academic programs for public universities to win research grants and generate the next crop of highly skilled workers poised to make six figures– and stay local. 

What made this article interesting is that it profiles various areas in the quest, including this, which we quote at length:

Florida: From ‘sunshine state to ‘cyber state’

Forget the Sunshine State. Sri Sridharan’s goal is to make Florida “the cyber state.”

Yes, he bolded, italicized and underlined that prefix for special emphasis, in the title of a report asking for $16.1 million every year from Florida’s board of governors to establish a center for cybersecurity. “One of a handful of states will emerge as the leader in cybersecurity and become the magnet that attracts the billions of dollars of private-sector and military spending that will be invested in this emerging field,” Mr. Sridharan wrote in the pitch, submitted to the board in December 2013. “Florida can become this leader.”

The sales pitch worked. With an initial investment $5 million investment from the state, Sridharan now directs the Florida Center for Cybersecurity, up and running since June. Headquartered at the University of South Florida, the center connects the state’s 12 public universities and its experts under one umbrella to expand academic curricula and score government grants in cybersecurity. The center will offer the state’s best resources – people and locations – when they submit proposals for contracts, instead of competing one against the other for the pot of cybersecurity grant money.

According to Sridharan at least, the NSA and DHS were into the idea: “They phrased it, ‘That’s a winning model.’ ”

Sridharan is well aware of the Greater Washington region’s squabbles over contracts and installations – and hopes it will work to his advantage. Government officials told Sridharan, in meetings to discuss collaborating with Florida on cybersecurity initiatives, that “there is this struggle and tug-of-war taking place” in the nation’s capital, he said.  “That is one of the reasons why, when we presented our business model to them, it really resonated with them,” Sridharan says.

Already, the new center hosted a big workshop – loaded with Washington types – to discuss the NIST roadmap for improving critical infrastructure cybersecurity in October. The university hosted 400 guests after it was selected by the White House as one of the locations to stream President Obama’s speech at Stanford University in February. Shuttling between Tampa and Washington, Sridharan is using these conferences and exercises led by the government to build relationships with various agencies with the expectation he will earn contracts in the future.

Companies can’t hire cybersecurity grads fast enough to fill the job deficit, and Sridharan wants them to pluck employees from Florida. Dubbed a center for academic excellence in cybersecurity, program enrollment has doubled from the first semester to the second. With thousands more certificates in cybersecurity predicted across the state under the new initiative, these Florida graduates, Sridharan expects, will enter the workforce prepared for six-figure-salary jobs – and the state predicts return on its investment through federal and industry R&D expenditures, patents and licensing revenues, and startup companies.

This is just the beginning for the Florida center’s state-of-the-art facility, replete with a screen that shows cyber attacks in real time. Sridharan is asking for a phased-in investment of $36.6 million to build it, complete with a government-approved secure facility to protect classified military or intelligence information and labs and its own data center. After all, Sridharan wants to collaborate with the military’s Special Operations Command and Central Command and other local military hubs.

Florida, at the outset, seems an unlikely contender to dominate the cybersecurity market; nine of the top 10 cities in the country known as hotbeds for identity theft are in Florida. Government officials often note, Sridharan acknowledges, “we have largest number of crooks in the entire country.” But he insists the fraud actually helps his case. “We really need [the Florida center] to address this problem in a big way.” 

We are all for most of what is said in the profile and really like the idea of developing expertise based on assets already here.  Yet, one thing we would point out is this: “Companies can’t hire cybersecurity grads fast enough to fill the job deficit, and Sridharan wants them to pluck employees from Florida.”  While we understand that there is a desire to build the program so that it becomes the place to find talent nationwide. On the other hand, we don’t really want companies to pluck talent from Florida, we want companies to establish themselves in this area to take advantage of all the talent being developed here. (In all truth, we think the speaker probably thinks that, too, but it was ambiguous in the article.)  Anyway, that is positive coverage.

One other thing we would point out, though, is that, as the article makes clear, there is a lot of competition from other areas.  We are all for the effort, though, as made clear by all the other aspirants, it should be remembered that really becoming a hub will be difficult (and an accomplishment of note).

Transportation – The PTC Wins a Case

This week a judge ruled that the PTC can be protectionist.

A judge has upheld Hillsborough County’s right to impose a $50 minimum fare for limousines, a small victory for the county’s Public Transportation Commission in its ongoing battle to maintain regulating authority over commercial vehicles.

Indeed, we have not argued that the PTC couldn’t be protectionist. (It was arguably created for just that purpose.) The question is whether it serves the consumers – the people for whom its members actually work – to be protectionist.  In other words, the PTC can but should it?

Bike Sharing is Good

There was an article in the Tribune regarding the City’s bike sharing program.

Numbers are one way Coast Bike Shares measures success: 100 days into Tampa’s new, downtown bike-sharing operation, ridership has exceeded expectations with 3,000 participants and 20,000 miles pedaled.

And that is great.  We are all for it.  It should have happened long ago.

But another measure of success for the city is the way the program is creating a bicycle-friendly atmosphere, said Ali Glisson, the city’s public affairs director.

“Bike share does something important for the city by just putting cyclists out on the road,” Glisson said.

And that is true.  What is also true is that, as we noted last week, biking and walking go hand in hand (See “List of the Week I”):

Each Coastal Bike Share cycle has a GPS system that allows Cyclehop to track a rider’s trip. This has shown that hubs popular with pedestrian traffic, such as Hyde Park and Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, are also popular with cyclists.

And, as we also said, none of this is that complicated.  You do not need a GPS tracker to know that biking and walking are connected and will have similar destinations.  You just have to get on a bike or start walking and see what the experience is like.  You need to go to places where you can easily walk or easily bike and see what that experience is like.  It is elementary human living all around the world.

If the City really wants to encourage biking, it needs to create more walkable areas – and not just downtown.  It needs to have really walkable areas all over the City.  To really have the investment pay off, it needs to change the code and stop settling.

Ybor City – City Land Proposal

There was more news about the City’s continuing attempt to sell its land in Ybor City.

A man working on one major Ybor City project, the old Oliva Cigar Factory, has his eye on another.

Developer Darryl Shaw has bid to buy and develop a parcel close to the Ybor City Arch. His Ybor City Holdings firm was the only one to submit a bid for the city-owned land on the northeast corner of Nuccio Parkway by Friday’s deadline.

City officials will conduct new appraisals of the site and review in depth the proposal for a residential and retail building before entering into negotiations with Shaw over the next few weeks, said Bob McDonaugh, the city’s economic development administrator. The low number of bids was to be expected for such a small parcel, about a third of a block, and one constrained by a neighboring building.

* * *

The city would not release ahead of negotiations any details of what Shaw is planning for the property nor his proposed purchase price.

But Shaw and his business partner Ariel Quintela, owner of Ariel Homes, recently met with Marti-Maceo Club President Sharon Gomez to discuss their proposal.

They presented plans for 100 apartments and a street-level retail store, Gomez said. The development would include the Volunteers of America building, which Shaw also owns. 

The proposal was presented by someone who is investing heavily in Ybor, which is good.  On the other hand, as noted by the City, the parcel is small and constrained, limiting the proposals.  Moreover, it is a gateway to Ybor, which makes one wonder whether residential (as much as we want more residential in Ybor) is really the best use for the land.

This is the second try in the last couple of years for the City to get rid of this land, and we still do not understand the hurry, especially as the demand for the land appears low.  There is private development going on in Ybor.  There is no need to get rid of City land which could have future uses.

Parks – Where Is The Money?

There was an article in the Tribune that got us thinking about spending.

Then, last year DeMare and other Carrollwood leaders learned Hillsborough County’s utility department plans to close and demolish the 40-year-old Dale Mabry Wastewater Treatment Plant. If the leaders could get approval from the county commission, Carrollwood Village would have more than 50 acres at the plant site for a dog park and more.

A committee was created called Friends of the Northwest Regional Park with John Miley as chairman. Miley said he and Tom Rawls, manager of plant operations with the department, had talked about putting a regional park on the site if the plant was shuttered.

* * *

The committee invited commissioners Ken Hagan, Victor Crist and Kevin Beckner to meetings to present their idea. They visualized a passive park with walking trails, a small lake and fishing pier, a butterfly garden, an amphitheater and, of course, a dog park.

DeMare said the committee wanted to use the model of the Carrollwood Cultural Center, which is run by a private committee of residents with support from the county.

* * *

It will take about two years to close and demolish the plant, clear the site and build new pipes to take raw sewage to a newer plant and bring reclaimed water back to Carrollwood, said utilities director George Cassady. Two storage tanks and a pumping station for reclaimed water will remain and a new pumping station for raw wastewater will be built on the site, Cassady said.

On Wednesday, Hagan got unanimous commission support to have county managers plan how the park could be designed and construction begun while the wastewater plant is being demolished.

“I just don’t want to wait another year and a half to design and build the park,” Hagan said. “I was looking for a way to expedite that process.”

One of many questions still to be answered is where the money will come from for the park. County Administrator Mike Merrill has already told commissioners that the fiscal 2016 budget will be a tight one with $44 million in disposable revenue but billions of dollars in needs.

Because the utilities department is run like a separate business, it cannot give the land to the county for the park. Hagan estimated the county will have to pay the department around $1.7 million or $1.8 million for the 54 acres.

That doesn’t take into account the costs for construction and maintaining the park after it’s built. Those figures are as yet unknown, but sure to be significant.

Commissioner Beckner said he wants to see suggestions from county administrators and Carrollwood civic leaders on possible public-private partnerships that could defray some of the costs.

The park sounds like a great idea for reuse of County land.  It would be a unique asset in the area and help enhance a suburban area with an at least partially urban amenity.  It would also create a community focus.

Of course, a major problem is money.  As explained above, the budget is tight.  What is not mentioned is the $15 million dollars set aside to pursue soccer fields somewhere for tournaments. (Why not just allow a private concern to build on County land if the terms were right but put up no money?)  Do we really need to spend $15 million of taxpayer money for a tournament complex when there are other, better uses?

Meanwhile

– In the Rest of the Country

We hear a lot about the economic development successes of the Tampa Bay area.  And there are some successes, but how do they compare to other places?  This week, we look at a couple of items from Austin (yes, we know, we are not Austin)

First, looking at tech jobs, news about Visa’s expansion in Austin:

Visa Inc. plans to hire 500 engineers in Austin by the end of the year, according to company CMO Antonio Lucio.

Visa’s plans were disclosed in an Ad Age article this week that focused on the company’s push to develop a mobile payment system and rebrand itself as a destination for talented tech workers.

That is 500 engineers THIS YEAR, not a number of back office jobs over a number of years.

Then there is this:

Search engine giant Google Inc. is set to establish a major presence in downtown Austin, with plans to lease more than 200,000 square feet of a 29-story office tower being built as part of the redevelopment of the site that once housed the Thomas C. Green Water Treatment Plant.

* * *

Google currently has three Austin locations, on North Mopac Boulevard (Loop 1), at University Park just north of downtown, and its Google Fiber space in what was formerly the Austin Children’s Museum downtown. The new space will consolidate the employees on North Mopac and University Park, while Google Fiber will remain at the Children’s Museum location three blocks from the new site, Interiano said.

So, it is not clear if there are new jobs involved, but 200,000 sq ft in downtown.  What do you thing think Tampa (or St. Pete) might give for that?

– In the Rest of Florida

We know very well, and support, the airport’s efforts to get new flights.  It is notable that whenever new flights are announced the excessive hype seems to come from people other than the airport staff (which is always pleased but rarely over the top – they are business-like), probably because they know the business.  We thought it might be useful to look at what has been going on recently at some other airports in the state.

First, Miami:

There are now 100 airlines operating at Miami International Airport – a number which surpasses all other U.S. airports.

Last week alone, the airport added two new carriers. On Tuesday, Finnair landed at MIA with a nonstop flight from Helsinki, becoming the 99th airline at the airport. Finnair’s A340 service to Helsinki will be seasonal, but will be extended to begin in October next year.

On Saturday, Frontier Airlines began operating at MIA for the first time, becoming the 100th carrier. The airline flies to Denver, New York, Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and Chicago O’Hare from MIA.

That is in addition to:

Miami International Airport will get two additional daily A380 flights next year.

British Airways will launch the service starting in October, replacing two daily 747 flights. A three-weekly 777 flight will be dropped, but overall seat capacity will increase significantly.

And

New air service between Miami and Argentina is coming this summer.

Miami International Airport announced Friday that Aerolíneas Argentinas will kick off twice-weekly nonstop flights between Miami and Córdoba, northwest of Buenos Aires, on July 4.

In other words, Miami has flights to second and third level cities in Latin America (we have one flight to Latin America – not really a gateway, yet).  And

Austrian Airlines will begin nonstop flights from Miami to Vienna this fall.

And

Qatar Airways is once again increasing capacity on the popular Miami-Doha route.

Starting on May 2, all five weekly Qatar flights to Miami will be operated by B777-300ER aircraft. Previously, most flights were operated by a smaller B777-200LR.

Even closer to home

Orlando International Airport announced Tuesday that it will offer daily nonstop service to Dubai for the first time.

Emirates will begin the flights Sept.1. Orlando becomes the Dubai-based airline’s 10th U.S. destination, said Matthias Schmid, Emirates’ vice president of sales in the United States.

The airline serves 145 cities. Dubai International Airport, reportedly the world’s busiest, is Emirates’ hub.

That is quite the get for Orlando and truly:

“The opening that this brings us, to that region of the world, [is something] we really didn’t have,” said Aguel.

Given MacDill’s connection to the Middle East and the connections to India that were to be made by the IIFA (Emirates has big connections to South Asia), it would have been nice to have that here.

Now, don’t get us wrong – we think the airport administration is doing a great job.  We know they are pushing as hard as they can for new service, and they have had a string of successes and have had to deal with neglect by the previous airport administration and its supporters.  Our point is simply this: this area has to be realistic in what is really going on around here.

Things are improving – really, they are.  But, as an area, we have been hamstrung by our past (and some present) choices, inflation of achievements, and complacency – especially in past airport administrations, in politics, and in the economy, which definitely has repercussions at the airport.  Now is not a time for hype and swagger (just see the 10 things not to screw up list above) – it is a time for hard decisions, hard work, and to catch up (at least they realize that at the airport, where they are setting the example).

List of the Week

Our list this week is the census bureau’s population estimates for July 2014 (released this week). Here and here.

We will not get into all the stats but we will point out this:

Florida contained seven of the nation’s top 50 numerically gaining metro areas between July 1, 2013, and July 1, 2014, and these areas accounted for more than three-quarters of the state’s population gain over the period:

The biggest growth in pure numbers was in Houston (156,371)

And note the actual estimate for the top areas in Florida:

Miami-Ft. Lauderdale-West Palm Beach 5,929,819
Tampa-St. Pete- Clearwater 2,915,582
Orlando 2,321,418
Jacksonville 1,419,127
North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton 748,708
Cape Coral-Ft. Myers 679,513
Lakeland-Winter Haven 634,638
Deltona-Dayton Beach 609,939
Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville 556,885
Penasacola 474,081
Port St. Lucie 444,420
Tallahassee 375,751
Naples 348,777

Roundup 3-20-2015

March 19, 2015

Due to unforeseen circumstances, this week’s Roundup is being posted a little early.

Downtown – The Boom – a Look Back

There was an article in the Business Journal regarding the Lightning owner’s plans (which we support) and whether they are for real (which is a bit odd, but whatever):

When developer Bob Abberger took the stage at the Tampa Downtown Partnership annual development forum, it was to answer one question: “Are you guys for real?”

As managing director of Strategic Property Partners, Abberger is on the front lines of Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik’s billion-dollar development plans. He said after his speech that he isn’t surprised to be asked that question routinely.

“We’ll continue to get it until we go vertical,” said Abberger, who was previously the Florida managing director of Trammell Crow. “I think there’s always ultimately a question of whether the market supports the vision, and I lived that real time with Trammell Crow, trying for seven years to do an office development. And I was as close to real as real could be for Tampa, but I never got us there. Mr. Vinik will get us there.”

Given the resources available to the Lightning owner, he certainly has the best shot of getting his project built.  Of course, we assume he is not going to build it for charity and the demand has to be there.  On the other hand, at least for urbanism, we have long believed that there is pent up demand that has simply not been adequately met by developers in this area.  There have been fits and starts – usually interrupted by recessions – but there has also been too much settling.

– The Hires

Regarding the Lightning owner’s project, we are encouraged by this news:

Vinik has hired two men considered among the best in the business: “new urbanists” Jeff Speck and David Dixon are city planners at the forefront of the movement to build walkable urban spaces for people to live and work in.

Speck’s hiring leaked out last week and Dixon’s was announced on Tuesday, when the mission for both also was made public. They will create the guidelines that builders will use to fulfill Vinik’s “vision plan” of creating a vibrant and pedestrian-friendly space to unite the district and connect it to the water.

In short, they will design the ground floor of Vinik’s urban redevelopment project.

“When a developer is trying to build a vision plan, you’re still left with a lot of questions,” Speck said. “A vision plan embodies peoples’ hopes and aspirations for the project but doesn’t give you the specificity you need in terms of:

“How many lanes on every street? How wide are the lanes? Where does the parking go? How tall are the buildings? Where exactly will people sit?”

Dixon and Speck will lead a team of architectural designers, residential and retail planners, and transportation and traffic engineers who will answer those questions.

* * *

Dixon, 67, will lead the master plan team. He’s also the senior principal and urban design group leader for the urban design arm of Stantec, an international engineering firm. Dixon was named to Residential Architect magazine’s hall of fame in 2012.

Speck, 51, will serve as consulting design leader. He has his own Washington D.C. firm, Speck & Associates LLC. He’s also a vocal proponent of new urbanism — creating neighborhoods that are hospitable to pedestrians and offer a variety of employment and living options — as well as a vociferous critic of suburban sprawl and auto-dependency.

Vinik brought Speck on board after reading his book, Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time. Vinik liked the book so much he bought copies for his entire staff.

* * *

They have four months to come up with a plan.

* * *

Speck said that, taken together, the established properties and the empty lots are ripe with possibility:

“To find 40 acres of principally surface parking this close to downtown that already has anchors in place in the form of an arena, a museum, a convention center, an aquarium, a marketplace, and you still have all this empty space and the waterfront. What could have greater potential?”

The simple hiring of walkability experts is not what is encouraging (and note that Stantec is already active in this area).  Frankly, we do not think creating a walkable area is actually that complicated – it has been done all around the world and the features are quite well-known. (We would have far more walkable areas if so much had not been bulldozed for strip stores and parking lots.) We are, however, encouraged, that the Lightning owner shows every sign of wanting to do things right.  The reality is that the final product, not who creates it, will be the key to the project. In any event, what do they want to do?

In their quest to build a walkable district in downtown Tampa, the urban planning consultants Jeff Vinik has hired recognize they’re up against a street grid that makes the existing neighborhood a scary place for pedestrians.

“It’s dangerous because the streets look and feel like they’re designed for going high speeds, because they are designed for going high speeds,” said Jeff Speck, the Washington, D.C.-based author of “Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time.” “So one of our key charges is creating street configurations that encourage driving the posted speed limit.”

* * *

“The Channel district is a place that clearly is walkable when you’re in it, without much to walk to,” said Dave Dixon of Stantec’s Urban Places Group and another of Vinik’s consultants. “It’s basically as if you’ve created something and branded it walkable and then created a whole bunch of roads to drive to it. It’s not a walkable district. It’s a place where you can get out of your condominium building or loft and walk to the corner store, but that’s not a walkable life.”

To some degree that is true (though the grid is really not that scary – witness all the people who go to the arena and walk to and from their parking without much trouble), though there has to be a good way to get to the area (see transit) and some flow to traffic (we are not sure about 4-way stops on downtown streets.  This is downtown after all – not a subdivision or small neighborhood.)  And the Channel District is not walkable because it is not truly a mixed use area and is not connected to the business part of downtown (like this and this) in any real way.  The reality is that more than roads that are just not that wide there has to be something to do and properly designed development connecting it – which is not the case now. Maybe that will change.

Then the reporter tells us:

But as a resident of the Channel district, I can say being a pedestrian seems especially treacherous there — it’s an urban neighborhood with the expectation of walkability, combined with driving patterns more suitable for the interstate. I love walking to the Riverwalk, but crossing Channelside Drive and Meridian Avenue is typically a stressful experience. You’re constantly craning your neck around, watching for drivers turning into the intersection — because they are almost assuredly going too fast to watch for you.

We would point out a more important point – very little built on Meridian or Channelside actually interacts with the street (PierHouse and the Port Parking garage – here and here – certainly do not. Nor does the garage next to the arena.)  The area is just not built to be walkable because the City settled.  And generally, free-standing parking garages do not add to walkability (though there are ways to mitigate like this, though not like this.) Hopefully, the Lightning owners plans will change that.

“What we’re actually talking about now is, how do you really connect it to the Channel neighborhood so that what you have is a continuous ring of urban, mixed-use, lively, cool neighborhoods that basically edge downtown,” Dixon said, “and frankly make it much more likely that [residents] would walk downtown to work because it’s an interesting walk that’s been thought through.”

And that is the key – thinking it through – which rarely has been done here. That is why we are encouraged – getting knowledgeable people is a sign of seriousness and is welcome.  And, while business interests are important, they actually wanting to think thing through. It is also good to see that they want to move forward quickly.

– The Past

Given the present situation and the coverage thereof, we thought it would be interesting to take a look back to 2002, from this Florida Trend blurb:

“We believe Tampa is one of the cities that has the best shot” at revitalizing its downtown, says Bob Abberger, managing director of Trammell Crow’s Florida development services.

Both developers expect to attract residents from the ranks of suburban commuters frustrated at spending an average of 40 minutes in their cars twice a day. “There’s more people on the road, and everybody has the same 24 hours on the clock,” says Ray Sandelli, senior managing director of CB Richard Ellis in Tampa. “The ability for people to live, work and play in proximity to each other is very attractive.”

Also helping the prospects for residential development are city investments in cultural and transportation infrastructure.

A new $32-million streetcar system connects Channelside to Ybor City, with stops on the fringes of downtown and a plan to expand. The new, $52-million Tampa Museum of Art is under construction, and the city’s marketing arm is touting the “cultural district” around the museum to attract shops, restaurants and bars.

“Philosophically, a downtown is really thought of as the personality of a city,” says Christine Burdick, president of the Tampa Downtown Partnership, which is charged with marketing the area. “Tampa needs to have, wants to have, a lively downtown.”

It does – and it has for decades, though it often did not act like it. (And note the “live, work, play formulation in use in 2002.) Though the streetcar clearly has not yet worked as advertised.  The museum and the park around it have done reasonably well as a catalyst.

The really interesting thing is that, as indicated in the article, nothing happening now has not been contemplated for decades.  It has been known for decades, really; it was just not done for a variety of reasons – some business, most involved settling. What is different now is that 1) over time, a reasonable mass has grown, 2) the pioneers of some urbanness showed that a market existed for something that few were willing to risk, 3) the market has grown both because of rise in population and because the Millennials (and others, really) are more drawn to urban living and amenities, and 4) other cities have taken advantage of our delays and showed us that we need to move faster.  Add to that the fortunate circumstance of people like the Lightning owner entering our market and good things can happen – as long as the City does not settle.  And the streetcar still needs to be made a real transportation system.

– Conclusion

The bottom line is that the Lightning owner shows all signs of wanting to do this right, and that is key.  It is refreshing that the developer is actually pushing the envelope (because the local government has never shown signs of doing so).  While there have been improvements, there has been talk of fixing downtown for decades – but there is always settling for developers’ desires (for instance the 40 year quest for a Riverwalk still did not lead to buildings that face the river, with a few exceptions) and, consequently, disappointment. Maybe, just maybe, the Lightning owner, with an apparent desire to do it right, can get it done this time.

Economy – Unemployment

There were new unemployment numbers this week:

The January unemployment rate in the Tampa metro area stood at 5.7 percent in January, the same as the state rate and a touch higher than the national average. The metropolitan statistical area includes Hillsborough, Pinellas, Hernando and Pasco counties.

Hillsborough and Pinellas counties each had a 5.5 percent jobless rate, according to a report released Tuesday by the governor’s office.

Hernando County had the poorest showing in the region with a 7.5 percent jobless rate, up from 7 percent in December 2014. It was followed by Polk County with 6.6 percent, up from 6.2 percent in December, and Pasco County with 6.4 percent unemployed in January, up from 5.9 percent in December.

The state unemployment rate for January was 5.7 percent, the same rate as in December and down nearly a percentage point over 2014.

Nationwide, employers added 3.3 million jobs over the past year and the 5.5 percent unemployment in February, a drop from 6.7 percent in February 2014.

Looking just at the Hillsborough/Pinellas rate, we are basically average, though better than last year:

The Tampa metro area rate in January was up compared with a rate of 5.3 percent in December 2014, but dropped from 6.5 percent in the same month a year ago. Both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties unemployment rates ticked up from December 2014 when both showed a 5.1 percent jobless rate. But the January figure is down from 6.2 percent in Hillsborough a year earlier and down from 6.3 percent a year ago in Pinellas County, according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

And, though the numbers were worse than December, we’ll just assume that is due to Christmas season (even if it might not be).

Overall, the numbers are good (though not for the northern counties), but we do not think being average is excellent or a local boom.  And there is always the question of wages.

Economy – The Rent Issue

Speaking of wages, another thing that makes us wonder about many of the development plans in this area is this:

Rent in the Tampa metropolitan statistical area hasn’t increased as much as the national average over the past three years, but it is growing at twice the rate of income, according to a new study by the National Association of Realtors.

As much as we love urban development plans, with this area’s low incomes and apparently rapidly rising rents, we wonder how deep the market for relatively expensive rentals really is right now.  Hopefully, it will grow and sustain the developments, but it is definitely an issue (especially with the poor transit infrastructure forcing people to pay for the costs of car ownership).

Transportation – Here Come the Bike Lanes

The City has been busy putting in bike lanes on Platt and Cleveland.

Lenny Sain rides his bike to and from work at the Fly Bar every day— along Platt Street on the way into downtown and Cleveland Street on the way out.

He has been one of the first bicyclists to test ride the newly installed, buffered bike lane along Platt. The first such design in the city, it was added as part of a larger, $2.4 million repaving and traffic-calming project in that area. A similar buffered lane soon will be added on Cleveland Street.

* * *

City officials are pleased bikers have started using the new lane, but they aren’t so happy about the drivers who have also been using it, said Jean Duncan, the city’s director for transportation and stormwater services.

As part of the traffic-calming project, workers are reducing the speed limit on Platt and Cleveland from 40 mph to 35 and reducing the three-lane roads to just two, which is why there was enough room to create the bike lanes, buffers and on-street parking, Duncan said.

* * *

The Platt Street project stretches from Audubon Avenue to Bayshore Boulevard, and the Cleveland Street project will stretch from the Hillsborough River west to South Armenia Avenue.

Once the projects are finished, the city will paint swatches of the bike lanes green near intersections where drivers will need to pay extra close attention to cyclists when they turn, Duncan said. At some point, her department will look into doing the same thing on existing bike lanes in other parts of the city.

We have no objection to putting in bike lanes, especially if they are buffered from traffic. (They are.  See the picture below.)  Our biggest concern is that cutting the lanes and slowing the speed limit may choke access to downtown – while having residents downtown is great, the reality is that for downtown to thrive, people from outside downtown have to be able to get there relatively easily.

And look at the picture of Platt from the article:

From the Tribune – click on picture for article

First, that is way better than the completely absurd (and basically unused) bike lane on Dale Mabry. (See here and then try to figure out why you wouldn’t use the sidewalk there so as to preserve your life.)

We are told:

Her department closely studied the changes to the roads before making them so it wouldn’t disrupt the flow of traffic on those major thoroughfares in and out of downtown, Duncan said. And the new designs provided for “desperately needed” free parking spots in South Tampa, she said.

Which is fine. One thing we notice, other than that swerving of the bike lanes (who could be confused by that?) – which is odd but probably has some logic to it – is the lack of parking spaces.  In the picture, there is one bus only space (presumably in front of a bus stop) and another lined area that seems perfect for a parking space.  Why not work to add more?

Putting in bike lanes is great (far better than the “share the road” concept where streets are just designated also bike paths).  We just hope that as the process continues 1) traffic is not completely choked and 2) the outcome is logical, intuitive, and really makes the best use of the right of way to add as much parking as possible.  Now, if only the County would get on board and coordinate with the City so everyone could benefit.

TIA – Surely, Something Can Be Done

The airport fact sheet for 2014 came out recently.  Aside from telling us annual passenger numbers (17,552,707 (+3.74% from CY 2013))    It has this interesting nugget:

Top 10 Markets for Tampa: 1. New York 2. Chicago 3. Washington D.C. 4. Atlanta 5. Detroit 6. Boston 7. Baltimore 8. Philadelphia 9. San Francisco 10. Dallas

So, San Francisco is the 9th largest market.  We know the airport is trying, but surely that can be used to sell a nonstop flight to some airline.

Economic Development – How Many Playing Fields You Need, Again

The County is moving forward with its quest for playing fields.

County commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday to seek landowners and developers in order to build a multi-sports complex with 16 to 20 fields. Two different requests for proposals will be put out concurrently — one for land, the other for a firm or firms that can design and build the complex.

Commissioner Ken Hagan, who secured $15 million in county funds for the complex more than two years ago, said this type of center is sorely needed if Hillsborough wants to compete with other counties for amateur sports tournaments. Though the complex is unlikely to pay for itself, at least in the early years, the visitors it attracts will boost the local economy, Hagan said.

“A complex of this magnitude will be a revenue-producing asset that boosts our economy through hotel room nights and consumer spending that occurs as a result of hosting these tournaments,” Hagan said. “In my opinion, our goal should be to offer an ideal blend of economic and social development in our community.”

Top county administrators have been working since December on structuring the requests for proposals to attract as wide a range of options for the county as possible, Hagan said. The hope is that by separating the proposals for land, design and construction, and — after the center is built — operations and maintenance, the county will save money.

The question is whether the County should be spending any money on a complex built specifically for this purpose.  Is there no private interest in building and operating such a complex with subsidy?  Do we really care if a competition is held in an adjacent county?  Is this the best use of $15 million (which is much more – about 7 ½ times as much – than the incentive proposed for a back office Johnson & Johnson project which is supposed to produce 700 high wage jobs.  Will the playing fields investment bring 4900 high wage jobs)?

Then again, did you think anything else would happen?

The only opposition to the plan came from Commissioner Victor Crist, who said no one had come to talk to him about the project. Crist said before the commission moved forward, needs and impact assessments should be done.

Money for the sports complex could be used for existing county parks, Crist said, many of which are in need of renovations.

Such studies are reasonable.

In December, Crist offered to vote for Hagan’s motion to seek bids on the sports complex in return for Hagan’s support for an arts and cultural center in New Tampa, where Crist lives. 

Nevermind.

And, of course, the County paid a consultant to tell it that it should do what it wanted to do anyway.

The question remains: in a county without money for transportation and trying to transform its economy to a higher wage economy is this the best use of $15 million?

Economic Development – Tourism is Good, But  . . .

Tourism numbers are out, and are good.

Room occupancy in February was at about 86 percent, 7 percent from the same month in 2014. The room rate was up 10 percent from 2014 at $119.48 and the revenue per available room was up 18 percent at $108.

* * *

Hillsborough County collected about $2.5 million in Tourism Development Taxes in February. That number is up more than 16 percent from last year. This year’s fiscal calendar for Visit Tampa Bay – which began Oct. 1 – is running more than 15 percent over last year at this point and almost 9 percent over 2007’s numbers, the previous record. 

And that is all good.  However, the same report tells us this:

“Every month we’re showing double digit growth over last year,” Santiago Corrada, president and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay, said in a statement. “It’s nice to be No. 1 against our competitive set and it’s overwhelming the amount of business we’re driving here.”

Room occupancy in February was at about 86 percent, 7 percent from the same month in 2014. The room rate was up 10 percent from 2014 at $119.48 and the revenue per available room was up 18 percent at $108.

The Tampa metro’s room revenue numbers are usually in the top three of its competitive set. The other cities in the set include Ft. Lauderdale; Orlando; Charlotte, N.C.; Nashville, Tenn.; Baltimore, Md.; Milwaukee; Austin, Texas; San Antonio, Texas; Fort Worth, Texas; and Long Beach, Calif., according to Visit Tampa Bay.

Number one in what exactly?  Occupancy? Room rates? Growth? Tax revenue?  Definitely not the last one because:

Corrada has set a goal of reaching a three-year total of $30 million in bed taxes by Dec. 31, 2017. This achievement would bump Hillsborough County onto Florida’s list of “high-impact tourism” counties. Then, the county commission could potentially raise the bed tax by a penny. Eight Florida counties now qualify — Duval, Volusia, Orange, Osceola, Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe and Pinellas.

(Note: we agree with that goal.)  If we are beating Ft. Lauderdale (Broward) or Orlando (not a chance) in tax revenue, how is it that they qualify for the extra tax while we do not.  And growth is good but does not tell us if we are still way behind and playing catch up or moving ahead. (And, much as we like tourism, we’d trade our tourism #1 with some of those places if we could get their income levels.)

Once again, the numbers look good.  The hype is not.

List of the Week I

In line with our first item above, our first list this week is brought to us courtesy of a reader who forwarded a link last week: smartgrowthamerica.org’s walkable urbanism of the 30 biggest metro areas.  You can read the whole report here.  Just note that the report is based far more on how things are constructed rather than road grids.

Because it is just 30 metro areas, we will put the whole list here.  Coming in most walkable is DC, followed by NYC, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle, Portland, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Baltimore, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Denver, Houston, Columbus, Kansas City, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Sacramento, Detroit, Miami, San Diego, Dallas, Las Vegas, San Antonio, Tampa, Phoenix, and Orlando.

Here is what the report says about our level of urbanism:

LOW WALKABLE URBANISM

Sacramento, San Diego, Las Vegas, San Antonio, Tampa, and Orlando have low percentages of walkable urban office and retail development over-all, and nearly all of it is in the central city. While Sacramento and San Diego have invested in light rail, outside of their revitalized downtowns and downtown adjacent areas there is little evidence of this investment resulting in walkable urban development.

Historically, drivable sub-urban development has characterized metro Detroit, Miami, and Phoenix. However, in contrast to their popular reputations and low rankings at present, all three metros are experiencing revitalization of their downtowns—and even some urbanizing suburbs—with several outstanding examples of WalkUPs in them

(@ pg 13) So Tampa and Orlando do not really earn a mention.

One thing that should be remembered is that biking and walking go hand in hand.  As with so many things, we are making progress but are quite far behind.  We need an accelerated plan to catch up – as an area – to even become average.  And it should be noted that the Lightning owner’s plans, while very welcome, are still relatively small in relation to the overall area and will not really bring us to the level of the usual suspects.

List of the Week II

Our second list this week shows that we have made progress because Travel & Leisure finally is really noting that we exist: its “So You’re a Little Weird: the 20 Quirkiest Cities in America.”

Coming is as quirkiest, not surprisingly, is New Orleans, followed by Austin,  Portland (OR), Providence, Albuquerque, San Francisco, Baltimore, Kansas City, Seattle, NYC, Tampa, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Pittsburgh, Portland (ME), Houston, Nashville, LA, Philadelphia, Louisville, and Atlanta.

Here’s what they say about us:

  1. Tampa, Florida

The NFL’s Buccaneer mascot is no joke in this Florida city, new to the survey this year. Gasparilla season—parades and festivals celebrating the city’s centuries-old pirate history—lasts throughout the winter, but year round, you can embrace the swashbuckling spirit at Gaspar’s Grotto, offering a $25 “bucket of grog” (read: a huge margarita) to share with friends. To explore one colorful chapter in the city’s history, go to Ybor City—once known as the cigar capital of the world—and visit the two remaining stogie factories, J.C. Newman and Tampa Sweethearts. Showing the diversity of taste here, readers were equally impressed by Tampa’s luxury shopping and its flea markets; one local favorite for budget finds is the Wagon Wheel Flea Market, which ups the ante with live music and a beer garden.

So they like drinking, though we never thought the Wagon Wheel Flea Market would make Travel & Leisure. Fine with us.

 

Roundup 3-13-2015

March 13, 2015

Economic Development – More on Tech Hubs

The Times had a column this week regarding an article in the New York Times about Orlando’s attempts to sell itself as a tech center.   The Times column was really a follow-up on a previous column about the Tampa Bay Tech Forum which we discussed last week. (See “Economic Development – The Tech Forum” )  To this week’s column:

Many metro areas beyond Silicon Valley and Seattle seek recognition as a technology hub. Tampa Bay is one of them. My column Sunday in the Tampa Bay Times was headlined At the Tampa Bay Technology Forum, it’s time to stake a claim as a tech hub. It focused on the tech group’s growing confidence that this metro area needs to tell the story that the depth of tech activity here deserves more respect and awareness.

The region’s tech feedback I’ve received so far seems to boil down to this: Before we talk the talk, let’s walk the walk. We need a breakthrough tech company started here to achieve enough size and innovation to spark questions like “What’s up in Tampa Bay?”

“Painting the tech community with one big brush not only diminishes the efforts of those actually developing new products and organically generating high-skilled jobs, but it also perpetuates the notion that all we need is better PR to draw attention to our region,” Ken Evans, an area technology executive, said in an email.

Then there is the geography game. Grow all the startups you like. But if they move to California for the venture capital or get bought and moved elsewhere by a bigger company, does that help build the local startup community?

All of that is perfectly reasonable and essentially what we have been saying for a while. PR is good but it has to be based on actual achievement. So let’s look at that New York Times article and what it says about areas that have done ok in developing into tech centers:

But let’s look at the place that scored fourth on P.P.I.’s list: Utah County, Utah, whose largest city is Provo. In February, The New Yorker proclaimed that Utah is “the next Silicon Valley.” That’s hyperbole, but Provo (population: 116,288) does punch far above its weight; of 73 private venture-funded companies in the world with valuations over $2 billion, according to The Wall Street Journal, Provo is home to two. A large, new National Security Agency facility in the area is adding to the concentration of tech jobs and workers.

Provo provides an example of one of two models for competing with Silicon Valley. “There’s a group of people who really want to live there and there’s a really good research university,” says the urban theorist Richard Florida. He’s referring to Brigham Young University and the opportunity to live among a large Mormon community. But approximately the same formula describes the success of Boulder, Colo., which has the University of Colorado, proximity to great mountain sports and a disproportionate concentration of tech jobs and venture capital funding.

* * *

What New York and Provo have in common is they provide not just the resources necessary to start a high-tech business, but also the impetus to keep it there once it succeeds. In the Provo (or Boulder) example, the businesses stay local because the owners and the workers really want to live there. (This is something else Silicon Valley has always had going for it.) In the New York example, they stay local because the location provides an irreplaceable business advantage.

In other words, you need talent, money, and lifestyle. (In case you are interested, here is the New Yorker article on Provo, here is the Wall Street Journal chart on valuations, and here is the 2010 New York Times article on Boulder.  New York City is just New York City and does not need any articles to explain the appeal.)  And

Mr. Florida pointed to Pittsburgh as a cautionary example. He used to teach at Carnegie Mellon, a top research university that produces a lot of graduates capable of starting and staffing great technology companies. But start-ups that spin out of Carnegie Mellon have neither a strong lifestyle reason nor a strong economic reason to stay in Pittsburgh once they succeed. “If there was a successful start-up, eventually it got sucked into the Silicon Valley vortex,” he said. 

So, maybe Pittsburgh is not the example that people in this area should be looking to (like here) – of course, you have to get to Pittsburgh levels before you can move past it.  And maybe we can learn from its issues.

So, what lessons does this provide for someplace like Orlando, if it wants to shift its economy toward high tech?

“I think what Orlando has is a combination of the space stuff and the Disney stuff,” Mr. Florida said. “It’s not trivial, those things taken together, but it’s hard to see how you put them together.”

Local officials point to one way they might. Orlando is a center for modeling and simulation technology, because flight simulators and theme park rides can rely on a lot of the same technology. Tourism isn’t generally thought of as a tech-intensive field, but Disney recently developed its MyMagic Plus system (waterproof wristbands with RFID chips that give visitors access to rides and unlock their hotel room doors) in-house in Orlando.

Still, tourism is heavily dispersed geographically, and while there are a lot of tourism dollars in Orlando, even Disney is not headquartered there. Companies that produce technology for the hospitality industry do not need to cluster in Orlando.

So Orlando has tourism/media/simulation as a draw (though it has weaknesses there) What is our strength?  Diversity is fine, but what is the draw?

What we are getting at is this: as we said last week, we have some tech companies.  We have some lifestyle – especially the beach (though our development pattern, relative lack of urban amenities, and poor transit, as well as a deep-seated and long-standing tendency to favor the generic over the idiosyncratic and just copy other areas are not big draws).  We do not have much in terms of funding yet.  If a young techie with no connection to this area has a choice about where to live, set up accompany, and run it long into the future, what is the draw?  And more to the point – what is the draw over other cities?

– An Aside

And in a related note there is this:

President Obama kicked off an initiative on Monday intended to train more people for higher-paying jobs in high-technology services as he seeks to counter wage stagnation in an economy that has otherwise been improving.

Even as unemployment has fallen to 5.5 percent, few American workers are seeing more money in their pockets. The president announced that his administration had enlisted 21 cities or regions and about 300 private-sector employers to expand training programs and would chip in $100 million in federal money for grants to encourage innovative approaches.

“We are going to more effectively capture what is the boundless energy and talent of Americans who have the will but sometimes need a little help clearing out the way,” Mr. Obama told an audience of mayors and other municipal leaders attending a conference of the National League of Cities in Washington. “Help them get on a path to fill the new jobs of this century. And that’s what middle-class economics looks like.”

Of about five million unfilled jobs in the United States, the White House said, about 500,000 are in high-technology areas like software development, network administration and computer security. The average job requiring technology skills pays about 50 percent more than the average private-sector job, according to the White House.

The president’s initiative, called TechHire, will focus on regions of the country with more than 120,000 open technology jobs. The participating municipalities and employers will explore new ways to recruit and train workers. Among the cities participating will be New York; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Philadelphia; Louisville, Ky.; St. Louis; San Antonio; Portland, Ore.; and Chattanooga, Tenn.

That is very interesting, especially given 500 tech jobs that need to be filled here.  So, what areas are getting in on the programs?

Louisville;  New York City; Philadelphia; Delaware; City of Kearney and Buffalo County, NE; Colorado; St. Louis; Salt Lake City; San Antonio; Los Angeles; Minneapolis; Kansas City; Memphis; Rural Eastern Kentucky; Nashville; Rochester; Detroit; San Francisco; Albuquerque; Chattanooga; Portland

Well, that is an odd list, though in one respect it is quite normal: we are not on it.  Just like we are not in the Google fiber plans. (Here is a report on Kansas City’s superfast internet.)  The question is why?  If we are serious about changing the economic DNA, why aren’t we really pushing for these things. And if we are pushing, why are we not getting them? (Surely our importance in elections should be able to get us on federal programs.)

 – Conclusion

The fact remains that we are a consumer of ideas, not a producer – not just tech, but development, governance, transportation, arts, food, pretty much everything.  We are consistently behind other areas that push the envelope.  While there may be isolated incidents of cutting edge achievements, as an area, we are not cutting edge. Arguably, for a big metro, we are not even average. (And no amount of cheerleading will change that.) And until that changes, while we improve and have great potential, we will still be playing catch up and have to work extra hard to attract the high-tech and other knowledge based jobs to transform the economy.

Westshore – More Residents

There was an article in the Times about how the Westshore area is getting more residents.

Since Brooks moved into her Villa Sonoma condo on Spruce Street a decade ago, five upscale apartment complexes with 1,640 units have opened in nearby areas of West Shore. Five more complexes, with 1,440 units in toto, are either planned or under construction.

“We’ve had the work and play, and now we’re getting the live,” said Ann Kulig, deputy director of the Westshore Alliance, a nonprofit organization of area businesses.

Located near a major airport and just a 25-minute drive from Clearwater and St. Petersburg, West Shore has long been Tampa Bay’s premier business district and one of the largest in Florida. It has 37 hotels, two shopping malls, more than 200 restaurants and bars (plus a few strip joints) and 4,000 businesses, including PricewaterhouseCoopers, LabCorp and Bloomin’ Brands.

Within this relatively compact area, you can catch a movie, buy groceries, watch a football game, even hit the beach at the little-known but lovely Cypress Point Park on Tampa Bay. Yet while almost 94,000 people work there and thousands more come to shop and eat, fewer than 15,000 call West Shore home.

First, Cypress Point Park, being on the water with some sand, may be a “beach” if you are using a Waverunner or parasurfing or doing some plane spotting, is not a beach of the sort this area is used to and is really quite hidden away – here  – (if you drive across the Howard Frankland and ever look around you would know it was there).

Nevertheless, yes, Westshore is getting more residents.  And that is good.  Moreover, the residential projects are not bad – they have some urban-ish design (but no street interaction or retail or good walking spaces) and some density. But

West Shore has one big disadvantage, though, compared with more traditional urban cores.

As the resurgence of downtown St. Petersburg has shown, being pedestrian-friendly is a big plus in luring new residents. Shoppers and restaurant-goers like to stroll without fear of being mowed down by cars roaring past at 60 mph.

So far, the words “walkability” and “West Shore” have not been widely used together. The business district is criss-crossed by numerous six-lane highways that at times take on the feel of NASCAR speedways.

“It’s better than it used to be,” said Kulig of the Westshore Alliance, “but there’s certainly room for improvement.”

Well, it is hard to be worse than Westshore used to be and the room for improvement is gargantuan.  The City could easily have made walkable/urban the areas like Spruce between Lois and Boy Scout/Westshore or around new projects on Lois if it really cared to.  The failure to do so was a choice, and par for the course.  In any event,

As part of a repaving project on busy Boy Scout Boulevard, which skirts International Plaza, the Florida Department of Transportation is adding sidewalks and widening ones already there. Crosswalks have appeared along Boy Scout, Lois, West Shore and Kennedy Boulevard.

Brooks, who saw West Shore’s residential promise earlier than most, likes her condo in Villa Sonoma because it’s right behind three popular restaurants — Lee Roy Selmon’s, Roy’s and Fleming’s — that she can easily walk to. It’s also possible, if a bit dicier, to get to International Plaza and WestShore Plaza on foot.

But as a city planner with AECOM (formerly URS Corp.), an engineering firm that has worked with the Westshore Alliance, Brooks wants to see the business district become far more pedestrian-friendly.

Much of the focus is on West Shore Boulevard, which already serves as a Main Street of sorts because it links the malls, several hotels and scores of businesses. One idea is planting more trees along the street to provide greater shade and thus encourage people to walk from, say, hotel to mall.

Brooks also envisions a “transit circulator,” perhaps a rubber-wheeled trolley, that could run up and down West Shore at lunchtime and ferry office workers to the malls and restaurants.

Those small improvements are fine as far as they go. However, while the distances are not that far, the obstacles are great because for decades the entire area has been built for cars alone, and remains so. (Like putting the Chrome sculpture - ok it’s not exactly the Chrome logo – in a location that makes it for viewing almost exclusively by drivers who are blowing by.)  And some of the biggest obstacles can be seen in the Times’ teaser picture for the article:

From the Times – click on picture for article

Who wouldn’t want to take that walk by the scenic historic water pipes and dried up drainage ditch/retention pond nowhere near anything interesting? (Which also raises the question about why this area is so obsessed with putting all utilities connections in highly visible locations and retention ponds on the street, but that is for another day.) And when you get to wherever you are going, you still have to negotiate all that parking.

We understand that retro-fitting the Westshore area will take some time (if not major reconstruction).  Our bigger concern is that, despite some small measures to improve walkability, the City still is approving projects that are distinctly more pedestrian friendly, like the restaurants near the Container store that, while built to the sidewalk, do not have a front door on the street – they face their parking lots.  Shade trees are nice – good even – but if you walk under shade until you have to cross giant parking lots or cross extremely inhospitable streets, you are still going to drive.

Even as West Shore becomes more residential, though, it lacks the sense of place that characterizes older, leafier areas like Hyde Park and St. Petersburg’s Old Northeast.

That is true in the sense that Westshore has no focus and no outstanding locations for pedestrians.  Really, the sense of place in Westshore is of being in a 1980’s office park and the corresponding sea of parking.

Once again, we think the development of residential in Westshore is great – it is well past time.  And we understand that fixing some of the issues will take a while.  However, if the City is serious about doing something about Westshore, it can start by not allowing poorly designed developments.  It really does not cost any more to have a proper front door – it is time to require it.

Downtown – The Straz Thinks Big

The Straz announced ideas for a new master plan:

A master plan calls for creating an outdoor event plaza overlooking the river; a waterfront restaurant; and a grassy amphitheater that slopes down to the water.

In addition to creating new view corridors to the river, the center’s leadership also envisions giving arriving patrons something to look at: an oval-shaped pavilion set in the water, near shore, maybe something topped by an eye-catching and statement-making piece of sculpture.

And

Under the plan, the area between the venue and the Hillsborough River would be transformed with a new entry plaza, a riverfront restaurant and café with terrace seating, retail stores, an amphitheater and an events center for weddings and parties. A new underground parking garage with spaces for 100 cars is planned for the south side of the Straz.

Grandest of all perhaps, would be the addition of a small over-the-water pavilion housing a tall avant-garde sculpture intended to serve as a visual cue of the venue’s presence downtown.

There are a number of renderings in the articles, but we will highlight two: first, an overall shot:

From the Times – click on picture for article

You can see the actual lot here (it seems that the rendering, as renderings often do, makes the lot look a bit longer than it actually is).  The second rendering is what appears to be the outdoor pavilion.

From the Times – click on picture for article

Setting aside the cost of the expansion and where the money will come from (though if we had to pick priorities, we’d pick the streetcar extension first), we have decidedly mixed feelings about these plans.  We like the terraces.  We think the pavilion is architecturally interesting (if, in fact, something like that actually gets built rather than just being a rendering).  We have no problem with the feature in the river.  Putting a restaurant overlooking the river is fine.

However, looking at the overall vision, one thing we note is that the plan partially cuts downtown off from access to the river (far more than the apartment building to which many objected does.)  The pavilion, while interesting, is squeezed next to the bridge and blocks the view corridor. Its apparent screen wall is not set back from the river very far and walls in the space quite a bit (and will wall in views from the south even more than the bridges already do.)

People objected to the apartment building because it was too close to the river and walled it off from downtown, which the Mayor, rightly, pointed out was not really the case.

“Let me tell you, this is not going to block the waterfront,” Buckhorn said. “This building (the Straz) sits 67 feet from the waterfront. The Tampa Museum of Art 127 feet from the waterfront. The proposed Residences at the closest is over 200 feet from the waterfront.”

So how close to the river is the pavilion? And how much will it cut downtown off from the river?

And there is a canopy of unknown material and height that may or may not also block view corridors. And we are not sure about the walkway under the bridges which were originally said to be too low (especially the CSX bridge) to have a walkway under them.

Frankly, we do not know enough to really decide definitively if it is the best thing. What did the Mayor say?

“It’s bold,” said Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who was briefed last week. “It is in keeping with everything that we’ve tried to do in terms of focusing activity on the waterfront. I think it is very complementary of the Riverwalk and the development that will occur along the Riverwalk.”

Maybe or maybe not.  That remains to be seen, because

Buckhorn also said he recognized that the plan is still being made, but that the city stands ready to expedite permitting once construction plans are ready.

Wouldn’t it be good to see the full plan planned before deciding anything?

Transportation – That Pesky Gandy Connector

The Gandy connector, which should have been built long ago, has reared its head again.

Gandy is a state road, which means the Florida Department of Transportation controls it. An average of 34,000 cars travel on it each day, said Kristen Carson, the department’s spokeswoman. And during peak times, traffic swells by about 1,500 cars per hour.

It’s a vital link between Pinellas and Hillsborough, and it’s the only major part of Tampa Bay’s extensive hurricane evacuation route that is not a limited-access highway.

Across the bay, construction to improve the flow of Gandy Boulevard traffic is under way. The $83 million Pinellas plan to build an elevated road should be done in about two years and will run east of Interstate 275 to east of Fourth Street.

But Tampa’s Gandy corridor remains sluggish. Without incident, it takes about 30 minutes to get from the Selmon Expressway to the other side of the bay or vice versa each morning and afternoon.

That is by choice.

The mile-long stretch of Gandy Boulevard between the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway and the bridge has been a commuting nightmare for years, raising the question: When is it going to be fixed?

The answer: No time soon.

Proposals to solve the problem have been tossed around for years, the most recent a 2010 plan for an elevated expressway 30 feet above the road. The Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority did studies and drew plans that included paying for the road with expected toll revenue, said Joe Waggoner, the authority’s executive director. But it never worked out.

“There just wasn’t the (momentum) to take the next step,” Waggoner said.

To be exact, there was no political leadership or foresight to overcome overblown opposition.

Though the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization reported that 54 percent of the community supported the elevated expressway project in a poll, Waggoner said it didn’t seem like most residents did — another reason the project never got off the ground.

Alan Steenson, president of the Gandy Civic Association, agreed.

“There’s people in the community that support this concept, but the majority are probably still against it,” Steenson said, including himself.

Steenson, 80, worked in construction for about 30 years. He admitted the traffic is bad, even more so in the past few years. But he still doesn’t like the expressway idea.

“Let’s put it this way: They tried,” he said. “They tried very hard. And in my point of view, they’re going to keep at it. But I suspect most people would be opposed to a 30-foot-high structure down the middle of their street.”

Except it is not running down their street, and it is not just a local road.  The fact is that there needs to be a connector or some sort, but that is not going to happen any time soon.

Jean Duncan, who heads Tampa’s transportation department, said the elevated expressway idea could be revisited.

“It’s not like it’s being completely ignored,” she said. “It’s just this type of project is quite a major undertaking.”

In the meantime, Duncan said she’s doing what she can. The city doesn’t have jurisdiction of the road, but it can manage the flow of traffic, she said. That’s why the lights at three intersections — Lois, Manhattan and West Shore — were retimed last summer in cooperation with the FDOT.

In other words, not much is going to happen while development continues and the problem festers.

The article then gets into the idea that people might like a connector but do not want the construction.  We get that.  Construction is a pain.  Then again, sometimes it just needs to be done.  A connector is a vital connection in our local transportation infrastructure. (Like an east-west road in the north)

As we noted a while back, the connector saga is a microcosm of the greater transportation failure in the area. (See “Transportation – A Case Study in Inaction” )   If Tampa (and the Tampa Bay area) really wants to get to the next level, it needs to deal with its problems.  Transportation is high on the list and includes both transit AND roads.  Deal with it.

Not Only Downtown Is Important

There was a nice article in the Times regarding a growing food scene in Seminole Heights.

Seminole Heights has become the “it” spot in Tampa, with dozens of existing restaurants, bars and food businesses crowded along N Florida and N Nebraska avenues, and a big handful on the horizon, poised to debut this spring.

What’s going on?

Tigi Taylor, who will open Hampton Station, a neighborhood pizza-wings-burgers spot at 5921 N Nebraska, at the end of March, thinks it’s only natural that Seminole Heights’ time in the limelight is nigh.

“It’s about 15 years overdue. The real estate collapse stalled things. Residential always rebounds first, and commercial comes next. People are moving back in from the suburbs because they are sick of traveling. And now that the businesses are opening, you’re getting younger couples who are moving here, people who are used to living in a city.”

What is going on is that clusters tend to grow organically.  Space in Seminole Heights is less expensive than space in South Tampa or downtown.  People taking a chance tend to not want to spend money they do not have to.  Once you get some successes, others are drawn to the area and you get a cluster.  That is what is happening with Seminole Heights.  In the meantime, the City has not really done much to support the area (just drive down Florida and look at most of the buildings 20 years old or less or the parks in the area and you will know what we mean), focusing much more on South Tampa and downtown.

The growing food scene in Seminole Heights should be a lesson that government can only engineer so much.  The question is whether the City will be agile enough to take advantage of the work of private citizens and help it flourish.  There is a whole city out there.

International Trade – Cuba

A few weeks ago, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce endorsed the idea of having a Cuban consulate in Tampa should relations between the US and Cuba improve.

A resolution passed unanimously by the chamber’s board said the consulate should be secure, and that business leaders believe “Tampa should return to its rightful and historical place as an economic engine” for facilitating trade with Cuba as relations between the two countries open back up again. Cuba’s history with the Tampa Bay area goes back to the 1500s, the chamber said.

(You can read what they actually said here.)

Around the same time

A delegation of 75 top U.S. agriculture leaders organized by Minnetonka-based Cargill Inc. will arrive in Cuba this weekend on a trade mission to explore the potential for increased business between the two countries.

* * *

“If the embargo did not exist, and the financing restrictions didn’t exist, we’d be shipping more there,” Vorwerk said. “Why are the Brazilian companies getting the benefit instead of our ag groups?”

More about Midwestern farmers’ views on Cuba here.

Also at the same time, the State legislature began looking at a resolution to oppose normalizing ties.

So what do local officials have to say about the possibility of having a consulate here?

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn has been open to the idea, also endorsed by U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, but he’s not seeking it out.

“If the decision is made to locate it here we will do everything we are obligated to do by law, protect the diplomats and make sure the rules are abided by,” he said in January. “Clearly the mayor of Miami has indicated that they are not interested. If the powers that be at the federal level decide, then we will live with it.”

Of course, the decision starts with the Federal government.  However, if there are relations (a big if still), it is logical to have a consulate here given our longstanding ties to Cuba.  And, if we are trying to be a gateway to Latin America and Federal policy allows it, it makes sense to reconnect with our longest standing relationship with it, Cuba. (The rest of the country will connect, anyway.)

As for Miami, what they want does not concern us.  We do not have to ask their permission.

USF – More Money

There was news of another big donation to USF.

Since he met a proverbial Ad Man on his paper route growing up in New Jersey, Jordan Zimmerman always wanted to be one himself.

The University of South Florida helped him achieve that goal, and now the Fort Lauderdale agency owner is showing his gratitude. On Monday, USF announced it had received a $10 million donation to the school of mass communications, which will be renamed the Zimmerman School of Advertising and Mass Communications.

USF is proving that it can bring in the big donations, which is great.  And once again, thanks to the donor for his generosity.

List of the Week

Given all the recent discussions about economic development, our list this week is quite relevant: Site Selection’s 2014 Top Ten Metro’s by Number of Projects.  It focuses on all those relocations and economic development projects that are constantly touted. You can read the article for their criteria (which is basically the number of projects).  We will focus on larger metros.

Coming in first was Chicago, followed by Houston, Cincinnati, Atlanta, Dallas, NYC, Columbus (OH), Detroit, Louisville, and Kansas City.

Of note, even in the smaller metro categories, there were no Florida cities in the top 10 (there were a number of Ohio and Texas cities).  So, yes, we are making progress, but let’s not get carried away.

Roundup 3-6-2015

March 6, 2015

City Elections – Friends and Family

Tampa held city elections amidst people saying that elections mattered. Incumbents won (except the race without an incumbent).

The election may also be remembered for its dismal turnout — about 27,000 votes, representing just 13 percent of the city’s 211,000 registered voters and believed to be the lowest figure in decades. 

Not much to see here.

Economic Development – Incentives and Silliness

The County Commission approved the incentive package for the possible Johnson & Johnson “shared services” facility.   Then, as usual, things got wacky.

Hillsborough County’s efforts to build a bioscience cluster and attract name-brand corporations got a major lift Wednesday morning, when the Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved a $2.1 million local incentive package for Johnson & Johnson Services.

Um, no.  First, Johnson & Johnson hasn’t even decided to put the facility here yet.

“We have created the synergies and critical mass that’s providing the framework for significant strategic growth in our biosciences cluster,” Hagan said. “With Bristol-Myers Squibb coming here and Johnson & Johnson considering expansion, there’s absolutely no doubt that we’ve raised the awareness throughout the industry that Hillsborough County is a serious bioscience contender.”

As far as the Johnson & Johnson proposal goes, that would be true if payroll and billing were biomed, but they are not.  While it may be good to get Johnson & Johnson’s facility, it is decidedly not biomed.

“Our region is becoming quite the place to go to. The ‘open for business’ sign is out there,” Murman said. “[Johnson & Johnson] is one of the most highly respected brands in the United States and if we can land this expansion, this will definitely put us on the map like the Mercedes deal if we had gotten that.”

North American headquarters, back office consolidation . . . what’s the difference? And since when has there not been an “open for business” sign out here?  The County has been open to subsidizing sprawling subdivisions, malls, shopping centers, back office operations, warehouses, pretty much anything that comes along – except good planning and proper transportation.

Look, we hope Johnson & Johnson chooses to come here. (let’s just assume for now that the incentive package is ok.) And it would be fine for the Commissioners to say they would really like to see Johnson & Johnson here, too – and to expand beyond shared services to have actual research and manufacturing here. But the entire situation should be dealt with in a realistic and rational way. The overblown (and inaccurate) comments (and coverage) just make us look like a small town (and emphasizes the pattern of diminished expectations combined with hyperbole that have keep us from realistically assessing what is going on and doing what we really need to do.)

We are pretty sure the people who run research labs or corporate headquarters know the difference between a back office, an HQ, and a research center. They will make their decisions based on facts and their self-interest. So, being happy if Johnson & Johnson comes here is fine, but what exactly is the point of the hyperbole?

Transportation – On the Road Again

The Florida Transportation Commission approved a 5-year plan this week.

Before unanimously approving the DOT’s $39.6 billion work program for the next five years on Monday afternoon, board members lauded the eight DOT secretaries and managers for their proposals that will be one of Scott’s lasting legacies: a pro-growth transportation plan that’s heavy on road widenings, tolls and public private partnerships.

* * *

In all, the work plan will construct 708 additional lane miles of roadway, resurface 6,917 lane miles of existing roadway, repair 208 bridges and replace 87 bridges.

* * *

The plan now goes to lawmakers for approval. 

What does that mean for us?

Here are some Tampa Bay highlights for 2015/16 – 2019/20:

$3.4 billion work plan

– $446.9 million for Interstate 275/Howard Frankland Bridge replacement (FY 2019) between Hillsborough and Pinellas.

– $350.6 million automated people move project at Tampa International Airport Gateway Center (FY 2016-2019) in Hillsborough.

– $329.7 million for Gateway Expressway, from SR 690 at US 19 and SR 686 at County Road 611 to west of Interstate 275 in Pinellas County. (FY 2017)

– $78.1 right-of-way for Tampa Bay Express interchange improvements (FY 2016-17) in Hillsborough.

– $44.2 million in construction, $6 million for right-of-way for US 19 from north of SR 580/Main Street to Northside Drive in Pinellas. 

– $54.6 million in construction of SR 52 from west of Suncoast Parkway to east of U.S. 41/SR 45; and $15 million in construction of SR 52 from west of CR 581/Bellamy Brothers Road to east of Old Pasco Road in Pasco County; $52 million in construction, $4 million in right of way, and $5.7 million in planning and engineering of SR 52 from east of McKendree Road to east of Fort King Road. (2016-2019)

– $21.8 million in construction of SR 50 from Windmere Road/Bronson Boulevard to U.S. 98/McKethan Road in Hernando.

– $21.3 million for County Road 578 at the Hernando/Pasco border from Suncoast Parkway to U.S. 41 at Ayers Road.

The first three are needed.  The last four seem ok.  Number three is an interesting question.  FDOT just had public meetings about the idea, to mixed reviews at best. (See “Transportation – Express Lanes Meet the People”) It was not clear that the Express Lane idea was definitely going forward, but, apparently, it is a solid part of the plan for FDOT.  Moreover,

While the state moves along with plans to build express toll lanes on area interstates, it is also looking at how to incorporate “premium express bus service” into those lanes.

The Florida Department of Transportation and Jacobs Engineering are looking at potential station locations and what such a service might look like. Funding hasn’t been addressed yet, at least not publicly.

The express buses would potentially serve Wesley Chapel, the University of South Florida, downtown Tampa, Westshore, the Greater Gateway/Carillon area and downtown St. Petersburg.

Jacobs Engineering Planning Director Scott Pringle made a presentation to the Metropolitan Planning Organization board on Tuesday, saying the object of the commuter transit plan would be to get bus customers to their destinations more quickly using the express lanes.

If you are going to build the variable rate lanes, then it would make a certain amount of sense to run commuter buses from distant suburbs on them.  On the other hand, the more buses you run on the lanes, the more congested/slower they will get.  The more congested/slower they get, the higher the tolls will be to maintain the lack of traffic in those lanes on which the whole variable rate concept relies.  The higher the tolls, the fewer the people will be able to use them, leading to more traffic in the other lanes.  And that does not even get into how you get people to the express buses in the first place – that requires a robust local transit system or sticking the buses in a lot of traffic before they hit the highway. And who pays for the buses? So the idea is worthy of study, but there are some questions.

But the biggest question is how it fits into the whole transportation plan for the County and the area.  Since the Go Hillsborough outsourced outreach is going on right now (see here) to try to find out what people in the County actually want, why is FDOT moving forward with specific plans, like variable rate lanes, without finding that out? And how will those plans fit with the broader desires of people who actually live here?

We are not prejudging that – we are saying FDOT should not be prejudging that.  FDOT’s efforts and the County’s efforts should be coordinated, and that does not seem to be the case (at least not publicly).

There was also news about the Gateway Express project:

Most of the land has been acquired and contract specifications nearly are ready to go out as the $337-million central Pinellas County expressway moves toward construction.

The two-prong Gateway Express highway project will connect U.S. 19 to I-275 along the 118th Avenue North east-west corridor, and Bayside Bridge to the new expressway, going north and south, with elevated roads to bypass traffic signals and congestion.

Once completed in about seven years, the toll roads should allow drivers to save nine to 13 minutes in their rush-hour commutes for about 75 cents, according to Florida Department of Transportation estimates.

* * *

Construction bids are expected to be awarded in the fall, and work is scheduled to start in late summer 2017 and will take about five years. Motorists will encounter road realignments and readjusted access points to businesses and side streets during construction, Hunt said.

Which is fine, as long as it is not used as an excuse for not having effective transit.

Additionally, there was something about the Suncoast Parkway:

There’s some big news concerning a major highway project that has been in the works for years in Citrus County.

It’s an idea that has been on the books for a long time. The Suncoast Parkway 2 project has been a slow-going process, but now things have moved into the fast lane with possible construction getting underway next year.

At one point, the project to extend the Suncoast Parkway into Citrus County was just about dead, but there has been a big turnaround.

Gov. Rick Scott has included $149 million in his proposed budget for the right-of-way design.

* * *

The 13-mile extension would go up to State Road 44, in Lecanto, with an interchange in Homosassa.

For those who do not know, the extension of the Suncoast Parkway was in the original plan but got held up for a variety of reasons.  It is all well and good to move forward with that plan, but what the area really needs is an east-west road in northern Hillsborough or Southern Pasco.  This is what we are told is a benefit of the Gateway Express:

“It will ultimately tie in to a bigger system that will allow folks in Pinellas County to travel from U.S. 19 all the way to Georgia without hitting a signal,” Hunt said, connecting directly to interstate highways or other express roads to move around the state.

“One of things we’ve heard for so many years is Pinellas County is kind of that county that is hidden because there is no easy way to get there,” Hunt said. “This gives them much better access to Pinellas and around the state.”

And there would be even better access if people did not have to drive through Tampa  to get to Pinellas (reducing some Tampa traffic, too). That should be a regional priority.

Port/Channel District – The Interview

There was an interview in the Business Journal with the Port Director that had some interesting nuggets that clarified somewhat issues at the Port.  First, there is finally real confirmation that the ongoing master planning for the Port land in the Channel District is about real estate development.

Please talk about your role given Jeff Vinik’s investment downtown. I imagine you are working with them closely. We have shared with them some snapshots of our ongoing Channelside master plan that we’re doing which is 50 acres and matching that up with their 24 plus the Channelside complex and the idea is in the long term we would sort of blend those together. We couldn’t have a better partner than the Vinik team to do that. It’s exciting. It’s rare you see any community in America where the elected officials, the business community, the Port, the developers, all the stakeholders, the media are all lined up in support of creating this place as they put it, to live, stay and play down by the waterfront.

From the previous coverage, that was assumed to be the case, and we are neither for nor against the idea right now, namely because there are no details of what is really contemplated to be accomplished, what is contemplated for actual port facilities in the area (how much will it cost to move them?  What might be lost? What is the impact?), and what effect any of that will have. (Though past efforts by the Port in real estate development were not so successful) All that should have been determined and truly publicly discussed before any masterplanning began.  The taxpayers are stakeholders, too. (And we are not sure why the media would line-up rather than report.)

Then there was this regarding the cruise business:

Can you talk more about your cruise strategy given the arrival of AIDAvita, the German ship? When you talk about aircraft and the jet age of aviation. Everybody understands that jets got bigger and they continue to get bigger with the airbus. There’s always a place for a smaller aircraft. You don’t take a 747 to go from Tallahassee to Tampa or from Tampa to New Orleans. You’ll fly a 737 or a business jet. Embraer jets. Bigger is better when there are long hauls. In the cruise industry the dynamics are similar but in some ways, there’s some financial drivers that the cruise industry — like getting more people on a ship. Their costs per passenger goes down and that’s they way the cruise industry is going. But the facts are, in the cruise business, we’re going to reach potentially a million passengers this fiscal year and the ships, we are marketing cruises with two of our cruise lines right now to 2019. So that’s five years from now they are selling cruises in our market. That’s great news. Holland America has been here 31 years. This is their 31st cruise season here in Tampa. We have very strong commitments with our cruise partners.

What about the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and talk of a terminal outside the bridge? The bridge can be an issue at some point if they want to bring those larger ships in. But we just don’t see an alternative that makes sense as a business, return on investment to go build something that is going to cost a half a billion to a billion dollars to do something if you can only service — and remember for every large ship that would come and use that potential facility outside the bridge, it’s going to replace two. If we are cutting in half the number of ships, then that’s a problem. Then if you can’t service commercial cargo at that facility, I don’t know how it works. We are getting signals that we will have healthy cruise with our partners for the next decade. We are going after more of the AIDAVita for those port of calls and then we are also going after the more boutique cruise ships — much smaller — 200, 400 passengers, high disposable income net-worth people that would come in and we hope our marketing efforts will pay off in that area. There was a preliminary cruise study that FDOT released and as an afterthought, at the last minute, they threw in there some potential options to solve that without any study of those options and believe me there are more options then they discussed which included building a new bridge, building a tunnel or building something outside the bridge. We’re not there yet. Whatever there will be, we will work very closely with the region community, stakeholders and just as importantly, our stakeholders.

It is good that the cruise business looks solid for the short term.  However, that still leaves the problem of the size of cruise ships, the Skyway, and the channel, which would take a decade to deal with anyway.  As explained, the economics of the cruise business calls for larger ships.  So let’s review what was said when FDOT presented its study:

Pitching a plan to the federal government to replace the Sunshine Skyway with a new, taller $2 billion version to accommodate larger cruise ships might be a tough sell.

Even modifying the bridge to accommodate the newer, larger ships could cost $1.5 billion.

And doing nothing to address the cruise ship issue would have a considerable economic impact in terms of lost jobs and wages, said Richard Biter, assistant secretary of intermodal systems development for the Florida Department of Transportation.

Biter was citing a long-awaited report his agency released Tuesday studying several options for how to work around the limitations of the Skyway and keep the cruise industry robust in Tampa Bay.

* * *

The do-nothing option would mean that eventually, as cruise lines replace their ships with larger ones, the local cruise business would fall off significantly.

* * *

Once a feasibility study is complete, a finance plan could be hammered out, Biter said, and that would likely involve both public and private funding.

Alfonso said he is hoping the feasibility study will take months, rather than years.

Port Tampa Bay is already the eighth largest cruise port in the nation. Just last year, the port hosted 854,000 cruise passengers and will likely top the 1 million-passenger mark this year.

Currently, the cruise industry’s economic impact on the Tampa Bay area includes nearly 2,000 jobs and an annual income of some $90 million.

So doing nothing seems like a bad long term option. (And will marketing to small ships with a few high income people replace all the other lost income?) We understand that the full list of options needs more study (though that should have already been done as this issue has been known for years, which is not on the Director) but is there a preliminary preference or at least goals that need to be met by any option?  Once again, we are not advocating a specific solution, we are advocating for a real discussion about it.

We get that the Port Director is trying hard and we understand that he has been dealt a specific hand that he is working to make the best of.  We also understand that he has some bosses with their own interests which may limit his latitude.

The real issue is that, when you get down to it, the taxpayers are also involved and the communication from not just the Director but even more the Board about this very important regional asset is not what it should be.  These are major questions for the area that deserve a full discussion, and too often, and not just with the Port, it seems the discussion comes after the decisions are already made.

Economic Development – The Tech Forum

There was a column in the Times about the Tampa Bay Technology Forum and a new effort they are working on.

Now TBTF wants to be bolder, louder and smarter, and market Tampa Bay as a “Go To” region for both emerging technology and for the young tech talent it wants to retain and recruit.

* * *

“This will not be some self-deprecating or apologetic message,” he insists. “We are here and already on the national scene with world-class talent addressing world-class problems right here in Tampa Bay.”

And that is a good message.  Having the actual business leaders promoting their business is always best.

Here’s the challenge: Tampa Bay may recognize it’s tech savvy with growing bench strength. But what is the broader perception of this regional tech community?

Not to be too simplistic, but Google “best tech cities” or a similar phrase and look at the recent results.

Last month, CNBC’s “five tech hubs you probably didn’t know about” listed Omaha, Neb., Dallas, St. Louis, Washington, D.C., and — gulp — Miami. The website CIO (for chief information officer) last fall listed 15 “hidden gem” cities for tech job seekers, with names as diverse as Portland, Ore., Austin, Texas, Raleigh, N.C., and —gulp — Miami/Fort Lauderdale. The SmartAsset website last fall ranked the 10 “best cities” for tech workers and — whew — Tampa nabbed the No. 10 spot.

It seems TBTF has its work cut out reintroducing the bigger world to its technology clout.

Scott wants to retool the message. “We are aware we are not quite Austin,” he chants before yelling, “Stop. Let’s reboot.” He starts again: “No, we are not Austin but something else that is cool.”

Yes, it has its work cut out, but it seems to have the proper attitude – generally, realistic but positive.   (though we are not sure we should, as one person in the article does, call ourselves a “tech hub” quite yet.  That is a title usually conferred by others).  As is this:

“We believe more is going on here in Tampa Bay than we are given credit for,” said Brian Murphy, this year’s TBTF chairman and the CEO of Tampa cybersecurity firm ReliaQuest.

According to this dynamic mix of execs, technology is taking center stage.

In Tampa Bay, the breadth and depth of growing tech companies is approaching a critical mass. What does that mean? Here’s one answer: When people outside the area interview for jobs at tech companies here, they rarely ask whether they will be left high and dry — that there are no alternative places to work here — if they relocate here but the position does not work out.

* * *

TBTF council member Jason Warnke, managing director at the Accenture consulting firm, said long-awaited plans to benchmark the Tampa Bay tech community will help the larger world see what’s here.

And bench-marking is also good – it can tell us, and others, where we are and also show us where we have to get better.

So far, there is really nothing to dislike in all this.  The tech community should be out front in advocating for the tech community in this area.  Bench-marking will allow them to tell the story of how that aspect of the economy is growing.  And acknowledging we are not where others are is ok, healthy even.  It allows us to know what we need to do to get where we want to be.

Then the column concludes with this:

Can TBTF deliver? Since the group was first organized, its various board members and top execs have visited with me to detail the latest, greatest plan to showcase this area’s crazy quilt of tech services. It’s fair to say, this time around it appears the group’s high-horsepower leadership all seems remarkably focused on the same goals.

Great.  Unity of purpose should give them the confidence to go forward and increase the chances of success.

But then this

It’s swagger time.

Only if you want to emphasize your insecurities. If we really have all these assets, laying them out will speak for itself and we do not need pompous superciliousness. And if we don’t have these assets, we will just look silly.  Put away the swagger and embrace the achievements – and make more.

Economic Development – Sponsorship is Good

In more tech news. the recently announced Gasparilla Tech conference now has a sponsor.

ConnectWise, a 15-year-old company with over 90,000 users, will help fund the Gasparilla Interactive Festival, which will feature speakers and panels on technology, media and entrepreneurship on March 6.

Good for them, and for the conference.  Even better that they are local.  That is how, over time, you really develop a tech scene.

USF – About Time

USF is looking to update its dorms.

And in 1964, on the north side of the University of South Florida campus, a set of dormitories collectively known as Andros I opened to 650 students.

College dormitories typically don’t age well, and more than five decades after they rose, the Andros dorms will face the wrecking ball and be replaced by a vibrant, live-work-play residential village with retail, restaurant and even grocery store space for 2,000 students.

They do not age well if they are designed poorly (note: some of those fancy colleges up north have dorms over 100 years old and no one is complaining.)

They are functional cinderblock bunkers, most with two beds in the sleeping area, narrow hallways, study desks that aren’t reached by natural light, tight showers and toilets.

In other words, they are designed poorly, which is why it is good they are being replaced.  It is about time.  And there is another purpose than just replacing worn out buildings:

The university is seeking to shed the “commuter college” tag and earn classification as a primary residential campus under the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. To do so, it must increase the percentage of degree-seeking undergrads living on campus to 25 percent.

USF Tampa has 5,589 on-campus residents. That’s considered 105 percent of capacity, with a few hundred students doubled up in rooms intended to be singles.

Dorm dwellers represent about 14 percent of the Tampa campus’ enrollment of 38,561. In 2009, the school mandated that all first-time-in-college freshmen live in campus housing unless they are over 21, married, or live in Hillsborough, Pinellas or Pasco counties.

The village concept coming to the north side of campus is expected to benefit off-campus students, as well.

“We’re also looking at students not just on campus, but what we call ‘resi-muters,’” said Genshaft. “There are about 15,000 students that live right around the university, so they can come across the street and to the village and be a part of the whole culture of the university.”

Setting aside that the original layout of USF, putting the main parts of the campus in the middle of a giant property far away from the surrounding area (and thus not having any real sort of college area in the city) is a bit odd, it makes sense, given that layout, to have amenities in the residential areas.  It also makes sense to try to make the campus more of a traditional college campus.  Given its mission and size, USF is never going to have almost all of the students living on campus, but the more people who do live on campus, the more of a traditional college experience students will have (and that “commuter campus” label will be removed).  And with that, the school will become more appealing, which can do nothing other than enhance the school and the area’s talent pool.

Coming Out Watch – A Case Study

We have often written about the excessive hype given to small or medium achievements in this area.  We have also often said things are getting better, but we are still playing catch-up with other areas.  An article in the Times this week about something not exactly development/economic/politics related is a great example – though it also has a corrective.  The article was entitled: “How Tampa Bay became a ‘foodie’ paradise.”  (Talk about swagger.) In reality, the title is the largest bit of hype, but it sets the tone.  The article details how the “foodie” culture in the Tampa Bay area is growing, which is true, but is colored with the slant indicated in the title.

Interestingly, and commendably, at the end of the article one finds a more realistic discussion, like this:

Consider this: The first official Trader Joe’s opened its doors in Pasadena, Calif., in 1967. Forty-seven years later — 47 years! — Tampa finally got one. On Feb. 13, St. Petersburg did, too. Trader Joe’s is notoriously selective about where it goes. But finally, Two Buck Chuck can be had on both sides of the bay. That signifies considerable change nationally and, even more so, locally.

“Trader Joe’s has sophisticated market research,” USF’s Strom said. “They know how many people are seeking out organic goods.”

Right, catching up to everyone else. And people in the know – the people outside this area to whom this line of discussion is attempting to appeal, know that, so why act otherwise? And this:

“We were late to the game,” Strom said. Call it awareness, call it snobbiness. But what we are about has been reframed: “Now even people in Florida want more than Outback Steakhouse.”

Yes, late to the game (which, nevertheless, is better than not even trying to play).

So let us be clear: yes, the food culture here is maturing, which is good.  We are moving forward, but we are still playing catch-up.  Having two Trader Joe’s is good, but not particularly impressive.  And Trader Joes, while a nice store, is not really a “foodie” store.  In more developed foodie areas, it is just a good grocery store.

It is fine to highlight the growth of foodie culture in the area. So cover it, and even be positive about it, but just know that if you say this area is a “foodie paradise” to anyone who is from or experienced a real leader in “foodie” culture – say the other Bay area – or even smaller areas that are farther along that we are, they might look at you like you just fell off the turnip truck (and we do not mean the locally sourced, organic turnips).

List of the Week

There is no list this week.

Roundup 2-27-2015

February 27, 2015

Economic Development – More Adventures in Branding

As regular readers will know, the Tampa Bay area has long attempted to create a brand, with less than excessive success.  One of the problems – the biggest problem – has been that it is not clear what to emphasize.  What are we?  What do we really want to be?

Recently, the Hillsborough County EDC tried to learn more.

Members of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. learned that Tampa still has a long way to go in telling its story to the world at a joint leadership luncheon meeting on Thursday.

“Tampa is a little under the radar. You’re a little vanilla,” Development Counsellors International President Andy Levine told the group. “This is a highly competitive thing you are trying to do.”

True enough.

The EDC invited Levine to speak to the group’s members to outline one of the many placemaking strategies available to define who we are and to sell our story to the world in an effort to establish the region as a place for robust business growth.

The strategy of earned media, or carefully telling a business story to the right media outlet to get national attention to a community, is Levine’s specialty. He shared some examples of possible story themes that an agency like his could work with as it helped develop earned media impressions. Those examples included Jeff Vinik’s plans for the southern end of downtown Tampa, CENTCOM and even the idea of Millennials and their parents looking for livable cities they can share.

Tampa Bay has a diverse economy and that is a good thing, Levine said. “But a diverse economy is a boring story to tell in earned media.” The message? Somebody will have to pick which story to tell. “There is no doubt in my mind that you have the stories to tell and you have the ability to do this,” he said.

CENTCOM is certainly a story to tell, though it has never really been big on the local economic development radar and it is not clear exactly how you tell that story.  The Lightning owner’s plans are great, though not unique (just recently, there was news of a similar-ish project in Jacksonville. here and here) and do not exist yet.  And, those do not say what we are nor do they define our place as it is.  Look at some of the examples the consultant used:

Chattanooga, Tenn. targeted the New York Times with a story after the city launched an initiative to have the fastest internet in the country. That exclusive story begat more than 850 more stories in newspapers and magazines across the country. The city even has been able to seize on the new reputation to retell its story in targeted ways.

Salinas, Calif., took a sleepy reputation as America’s Salad Bowl (they are famous for lettuce production) and spun that forward relying on the city’s proximity to Silicon Valley to tell the story of ag tech.

Charleston, S.C., has a story that resonates in Tampa Bay. Known as a tourist town with no real business reputation, Charleston has built its credibility as a home of startups, in part, through earned media.

Those are stories about things that have been done.

So where are we?

Tampa does not have a bad reputation weighing it down, but also does not have a good reputation to build from, Levine said. “Tampa is behind what other communities have been doing in earned media,” That’s a good place to start, he said, citing examples from around the U.S. 

So, basically, we are neutral, and we are behind and not just in earned media. When decades have been spent settling for a real estate and back-office based economy enhanced with diminished expectations and a culture of excessive hype that may sell here but does not really fly in other places, it is not a surprise it is hard to tell our story.

But nothing need be permanent.  We have assets, and we have the ability to have solid accomplishments.  Yet, as long as minor achievements are trumpeted as huge successes (and huge successes are not extant) without a critical eye to our deficiencies and the political will to change them, we are only holding ourselves back.  Our real branding will come from real achievement.  And hype just gets in the way.

There is one person with access and something to say, per the Times:

Leveraging his past Wall Street credibility, Vinik used a TV interview on CNBC Wednesday morning to tell a bigger world that Tampa is an “undervalued” asset. He urged businesses to visit and appreciate its new opportunities — and weather.

That’s a powerful message to a critical national investing audience from an individual whose past success as manager of the Fidelity Magellan fund back in its heyday gives Vinik a strong bond with listeners.

* * *

Now he’s traveling to personally recruit a corporate headquarters, and trying to broaden the reach of his “live, work, play” development message.

Last week, Forbes explored many of these Vinik themes. 

And that is all good. (You can see the clip here – video only here. Forbes article here.) We admire the Lightning owner’s willingness to go out and sell his product, which includes selling Tampa. Though, the fact that he has to work so hard to sell the potential of the area is actually a sign of our lack of both major achievement and of a brand.  And, though his pitch necessarily speaks of the present, it is more about what could be (like his project, which we like), not what already is (which is what the usual suspects are selling).  But it is a start and is welcome.

The real issue for the area can be found in this question from Times column:

Who else these days boasts the clout and the message to put Tampa in the spotlight?

Unfortunately, there are not too many.  Hopefully, that will change.

Economic Development – Conference Fest

As if to emphasize the challenge there was this in the Business Journal:

Tampa startup mentor and StartupBus global director Mitch P. Neff has fallen for a different music and barbecue capital of the American South.

This year, the fifth year of Neff’s StartupBus program, he’s chosen to bus local and national entrepreneurs to Nashville instead of Austin, Texas.

StartupBus, which originated when Neff lived in California’s SIlicon [sic] Valley, will head to 36/86.

* * *

The summer tech and entrepreneurship conference is put on by Launch Tennessee, an economic development group. It starts June 4 and lasts four days, according to sister paper Nashville Business Journal.

* * *

In his post, he praises Nashville for landing Google Fiber. Applications to join the Bus will open soon, Neff said.

The reality is that we are not just competing with where we are and used to be.  We are competing with basically every other decent sized city in the country (and other countries) to tell our story, to brand ourselves, and to attract talent and achievement. (Google Fiber anyone?)  And the competition is fierce.  Yes, we have made some progress in changing local attitudes and in some accomplishments, but, as we keep saying, other areas are already ahead and are moving faster.  The only way to succeed is though realistic assessments of where we are and what we need to do to advance.

Economic Development – Something Stirring

Late yesterday, there was this news from the Business Journal:

Johnson & Johnson Services Inc. could bring a headquarters operation and 700 jobs to Hillsborough County.

The company is considering spending $23.5 million to establish a North American shared services headquarters operation.

The Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners is being asked to provide up to $2.1 million in incentive payments for the project. The local incentives would be in addition to $7 million in state incentives, as part of the state’s Quick Action Closing Fund program and state appropriation, according to a county commission agenda for the March 4 meeting.

Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ), a New Brunswick, New Jersey-based health care firm, would pay an average wage of at least $75,000 for the new jobs, according to the agenda item.

The job numbers and salaries are good.  We do not know the exact structure of the incentives (especially given the standard very limited time or details given to the public to examine and comment upon any proposed deal – why would the taxpayer care about taxpayer money?), so we cannot speak to that.  If properly structured (per the TribuneIf approved, the county’s portion would be paid on a per-job basis over at least four years, according to county documents.“), it is probably fine based on the job/salary numbers.

Though what exactly is Johnson & Johnson Services? It is not exactly clear other than it is a subsidiary.  From the article it sounds like an administrative/back office type organization (and it seems to have the copyright to all J&J websites), but there may be more.  This is what the Tribune tells us:

So it is admin/back office operations. And that’s fine, but it is not the corporate headquarters many economic development officials seek – more like the hq of their back office operations.  But the jobs and salaries mentioned are still good.

So if they choose to come here and bring those jobs, great.

Economic Development – That’s the Spirit

Staying with that theme, there was a piece in the Business Journal about an interesting idea:

There’s strong bioscience research going on Hillsborough County, but limited options to find out about it.

That’s why the county commission unanimously approved a measure that could lead to creation of a biomedical depository for clinical trials — a sort of one-stop shop for patients to learn about research that could benefit them and an initiative to draw more bioscience companies to the county.

The medical community currently posts data on trials to a federally run website, but it’s difficult and time-consuming to find a specific clinical trial in a local community, said Commissioner Ken Hagan at the board’s Feb. 18 meeting. “The purpose is to create a local depository, which will provide the community with [information about] the trials being conducted, answering basic questions about who is conducting the study, what is being studied, why it’s being studied and when it’s being studied,” Hagan said. “The results of these studies can provide individuals or patients with more options.”

We like this idea.  It is a good way to develop a story to tell while also creating something practical. (And it will enhance any efforts at developing medical tourism.) Depending on the quality of the database and the portal to it, it could be really useful.  We also like this:

“Big companies follow big data,” Hagan said. “This depository would enhance what is going on industrywide in this community and would be an incentive for companies to take notice and want to be located in this cluster.”

That is the way local government should be thinking. What we have is ok – but we can do much better.  Hopefully, something good will come from this proposal.  And note the lack of hype.

Transportation – Allowing Competition is Big Government

There was news about ridesharing this week.

Ride-share companies Uber and Lyft could operate legally in Florida if legislation filed Wednesday by Sen. Jeff Brandes passes this session, bringing an end to nearly a year of feuding with regulators in Tampa, Orlando and Miami.

* * *

Brandes’ bill would create the first statewide requirements for the companies and would likely supersede any regulations in place on a local level.

“We’ve entered this whole new world of transportation options, and the Legislature needs to get its arms around it and recognize that the safety of our residents and tourists are the No. 1 priority,” said Brandes, R-St. Petersburg.

That makes sense.  Why not create a uniform, statewide rule?  Transportation stretches beyond municipal or county boundaries so transportation rules should also do so.  Uniform rules will open up the market and create more certainty.  It will also relieve the PTC from having to deal with an issue with which it shows no interest in actually dealing.  One would think they would be happy.

While Brandes advocates having one set of consistent, clear regulations, PTC chairman Victor Crist said he disagrees with legislation that grows “big government.”

“I really prefer to have local rule and local jurisdiction,” said Crist, who said the bill would trump local law if it passed. “I see this as another mandate coming down from big state government without community input or control.”

One would be wrong.

Moreover, the stated objection to the legislation because it creates “big government” is absurd.  Creating uniform, logical standards is not “big government;” it is good government.  Price controls and protectionist measures are “big government.”  Impeding competition is “big government.” Interfering with consumer choice is “big government.” Excessive fees charged to cab companies are “big government.”  The PTC as it functions (really, fails to function) – a completely unnecessary additional level of government regulation – is “big government.”  (As for community input, the PTC shows no apparent interest in community input.)

But the PTC’s rules are not about making sense, they are about protecting vested interests.

Having one set of uniform rules for the whole state is a rational way to deal with a new issue. We have no idea if the law will pass (actually, we think it won’t), but it, or something like it, should.

Rays – Rumblings of Reality

With baseball season rapidly approaching, and time wasting in the Rays stadium saga, there has been much news of late regarding the Rays.

Mayor Rick Kriseman is lobbying the City Council on a revised agreement with the Tampa Bay Rays with the hope of securing enough votes to allow the team to look at possible stadium sites in both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

But the mayor won’t bring the new deal to a council meeting unless he thinks he has a chance at success, mayoral spokesman Ben Kirby said Tuesday.

Kriseman and the Rays have agreed on how development rights — which are shared between the city and the team in the contract for Tropicana Field — would play out if the Rays leave the Trop before the contract’s expiration in 2027, Kirby said.

Well, that is a move in the right direction.  Any details?

Council member Darden Rice said Kriseman has described the new deal to her.

“Predictably, it clarifies the intention is not to do that (allow the Rays to profit), but that the city couldn’t just go ahead with a new project and impede baseball traffic or crimp parking,” Rice said.

Good.  Anything else?

But it’s not apparent that development rights are still the main obstacle.

“If that were the reason, I’m optimistic,” council Chairman Charlie Gerdes said. “But then Coach (Bill Dudley) said he wanted a shorter search. That’s a new wrinkle to me.”

Last week, Dudley told the Times that the team should have 18 months — not three years— to find a new site. 

All this needs is new wrinkles.  What exactly does limiting the time accomplish other than annoying people.  If the Tropicana Field site the best, giving the Rays extra time to confirm that on makes them more committed.  If the Rays are not going to go back to that site, no matter how much the time is limited, they are not going back.  And, in any event, St. Pete is losing leverage every day.

Rays owner Stuart Sternberg says he remains hopeful he can reach an agreement with the St. Petersburg city council that would allow the Rays to search for a site around the Bay area before the lease expires at a cost of up to $24 million to the team if they found a site by 2018.

But with the initial proposal voted down in December and not much progress made toward reaching a new agreement, Sternberg spoke Monday of the team moving forward on construction of a new stadium without the city council’s approval because the new stadium would have to open no later than 2028.

“We definitely won’t need their approval and we wouldn’t have to pay them anything,” Sternberg said. “Remember now, this (proposed) agreement that we have that we’re paying them for only allows us, which is perfectly fine, to look in the Tampa Bay area. So, at some point we would be open to look, not that we would, that’s not my intent or desire here, most anywhere, but right now we’re only focused on Tampa Bay, and that’s always been our focus.”

Sternberg said the team’s timeline for having a new stadium, wherever that would be, has to begin with the assumption the team would have a stadium in place by the time its contract with the city is over.

“Look, at some point we’re going to have to prepare for a place to play when our lease agreement is over,” Sternberg said. “So if it’s over in 2027, we can’t say the last day of 2027, where are we opening the season in 2028? We have to start planning for a facility at some point, wherever that might be. So the question is when do you start looking at that. You obviously can’t do that during the 2027 season, because you have to build a building.

“What’s the lead up time? Two years? No, people told us to expect five to 10 years.”

A leadup time of 10 years would mean the search is only two years away.

Baseball stadiums are not built overnight, Sternberg noted.

“From a practical standpoint it takes a very long time, relatively speaking, from the time you begin a process to try and build a baseball facility to the time you throw out the first pitch,” Sternberg said. “It takes many, many years.”

And that is the point.  St. Pete basically has only two years of leverage.  All these machinations are just silly.  As noted by a City Council member at a workshop to talk about the situation:

“I’m not sure that as soon as you let them look, they’re gone,” council Chairman Charlie Gerdes said. “I don’t personally accept that premise. I look at it as, the sooner we let them look, the sooner we’re in the game to keep them here.”

Right.  Moreover,

“We have the ability and the desire to maintain St. Petersburg as the home of the Rays much past 2027” when the team’s lease with the city expires, Councilman Jim Kennedy said at a council workshop, though he added, “I realize without the Rays getting on board, it’s more difficult.”

And until the Rays can look around and determine that a St. Pete site is best (if they so determine), they will not be on board.

Of course, this has all been the case for years.  All that has happened is that time has been wasted and any solution made more expensive (kind of like all the transportation issues in the area).  We realize that is the Tampa Bay way, but it really needs to change.

Westshore – More Apartments

There was news of more apartments in Westshore:

Crescent Communities is planning 374 new apartments in the heart of Tampa’s Westshore district, near International Plaza and within walking distance of hotels, restaurants and office buildings.

* * *

Jacksonville-based Summit Contracting is the general contractor on the project and told sister news organization the Jacksonville Business Journal that the apartments are a $44.5 million project.

The site is on North Lois Avenue, near Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, Roy’s and several office buildings and hotels and near International Plaza. It is adjacent to a parcel of land that Crescent sold to Orlando-based Parkway Properties Inc. in early January.

Based on the information in the City’s handy Accela portal, the building will be 75 feet tall, which implies not more than 7 stories (we doubt it will top 5 – you can see a rendering here) with a parking garage surrounded by housing.

While it isn’t the city center, the density of office and retail properties gives Westshore the potential to become a live-work-play environment coveted by Millennials. The district started to see an onslaught of new apartment development in early 2013.

Indeed.  Westshore is getting much development.  The potential is great.  Unfortunately, we have not seen any actual developments that will make the area really more walkable.  While the new apartments have a denser style, that which surrounds them is still all car based. (Millennials want to be able to walk.) Hopefully, that will change, but from the projects approved by the City, we are not holding our breath (and with major developments already there, like International Plaza which was inexplicably built in about as anti-pedestrian design as there can be, there is little hope for change).

Rocky Point – New Happenings

There was also news about Rocky Point.

A Sarasota developer is proposing a 14-story residential tower on the water in Rocky Point — a site that’s sat dormant since previous plans crashed along with the real estate market.

Ascentia Development Group has filed plans with the city for a tower adjacent to the Westin Tampa Bay at 3015 N. Rocky Point Drive, on a 3-acre site.

The plans call for 258 residential units on floors four through 14, on top of a three-story parking garage. The units will range in size from studios to four bedrooms, according to the documents.

In 2006, Cortex Resort Living and High Point Development LLC had proposed a luxury condominium development on the site, with units that were to range from 1,500 to 4,300 square feet, with prices ranging between $600,000 to $3 million.

This is a drawing of the project, but you cannot tell much from it.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

And then there is this:

A boutique hotel is in the works for the site of a shuttered restaurant on the Rocky Point waterfront.

Tampa-based Lifsey Real Estate Holdings is partnering with Pinnacle Hotel Management, based near West Palm Beach, on a nine-story, 180-room boutique hotel, said Stan Lifsey, principal.

The project will be built on the site of the former Crawdaddy’s Restaurant, which is now used for overflow parking for events at the Rusty Pelican. Pending city approval of a rezoning request, construction could start in September and October. Lifsey said the group would like to be open at least a month before the January 2017 national football championship at Raymond James Stadium.

From the information on the Accela database (search this address: 2500 N Rocky Point Dr), the majority of the land in the project will be used for parking.

Rocky Point has a unique location with access to Pinellas and Tampa.  It has always held to potential to be a really interesting urban village type area. Though, because it was (is) built with a 70’s/80’s mentality, it never achieved that and much of the land is really underutilized.  Nonetheless, we are all for developing/redeveloping the island.

City Elections – The Column

Since the school superintendent was removed, there has been a lot of talk about how, as we noted, elections matter. (See “Hillsborough County Schools – A Glimpse Into the Future” )  With Tampa city election coming up, there has been talk about turnout, including a column in the Times this week:

Not on voting. But with turnout Tuesday predicted to be somewhere in the pathetic teens, election day seems lackluster. This week, I early-voted at the library. Had the place to myself. Tumbleweeds blew by. No sound but the crickets.

Here’s the thing: This isn’t even a boring election in which one candidate is pretty much like the next.

* * *

“Elections matter,” the departing MaryEllen Elia told the crowd at a going-away this week — words that sound way better than just crickets.

So, as we asked a few weeks ago (see “City Elections – The Column”):  If elections matter and turnout is important, why are the elections in March instead of during the general election? Why incur extra cost to do something that can only push turnout down? 

List of the Week

Our list this week deals with the areas with the “the top large, medium, and small U.S. markets for quick-service restaurant expansion.”  In other words, the best places for new fast food restaurants.

Coming in first is Minneapolis–St. Paul, followed by Salt Lake City, the Tampa Bay area, Raleigh–Durham, Orlando, Miami–Ft. Lauderdale, DC, Charlotte, Phoenix, and Pittsburgh.

We leave it to you to interpret.

Roundup 2-20-2015

February 20, 2015

Economic Development – Some Promise and Some Thoughts

This week, news came out that Citigroup was considering adding a significant number of new jobs locally:

The New York money center bank Citigroup, already a powerhouse employer in this market, is considering a plan to add up to 1,163 jobs averaging a hefty $75,000 and $90 million in capital investment at its Sabal Park campus near Interstate 75 in Hillsborough County.

It’s not a done deal. Citigroup has other locations where it could place such high-paying jobs, which involve work in accounting, legal, human resources and operational support. The deal here depends on whether state and local authorities can agree on an incentive package of just under $15 million — and whether Citigroup finds a better deal elsewhere.

That is a large number of jobs with what appears to be good salaries (of course, it could be few very high salaries among a large number of lower ones.) So what are the details?

Even if the Citigroup deal lands in Tampa, there is no guarantee all of the jobs will materialize. That’s why the state and local incentives are largely designed to be paid out over time, after the promised jobs arrive, said Hillsborough director of economic development Lindsey Kimball.

Citigroup would be obligated to fill the first 200 jobs by the end of this year, with 618 more by year-end 2016. The final year, 2017, would require 345 more jobs to add up to the proposed 1,163.

The deal also calls for Citigroup to maintain a base of 5,173 existing jobs, and for the new jobs to remain, averaging $75,000, over at least six years.

Wednesday’s meeting will require county commissioners to consider three different incentives. One, part of the QTI or Qualified Target Industry incentive, involves a county commitment of up to just under $1.4 million. The other two incentives, one for up to $1.4 million and the other for $600,000, are tied to job creation and performance standards. Combined, the county commitment could reach $3.4 million, spread over 10 years. With the state’s commitment, if it is approved, the total package would top out at a shade under $15 million.

From the reporting, the deal appears sound. We agree with this Times editorial:

Both the state of Florida and Hillsborough County have a dismal track record in making investment choices in attempts to create new jobs. In one of its most recent negotiating debacles, the county agreed to pay $6.25 million to entice Bass Pro Shops to locate near Westfield Brandon mall. In exchange, Hillsborough will get an influx of low-wage jobs and the negligible cachet of having a destination retailer that already has nine locations in Florida, including a store in Orlando and plans for another in Sarasota.

But the Citigroup deal is different. It is smartly structured to appeal to a company that already has a sizable local workforce. The deal also is designed to release incentive money gradually for higher-paying jobs, and it would build on an established office park near Interstate 75. Commissioners should commit the resources to help make Florida’s offer an attractive and competitive bid. 

Given all the money the County has dished out over the years for far less worthy endeavors, it sounds like a bargain.  (And just to show what a folly the Bass Pro Shops subsidy was, there was an article this week about various big box retailers looking for locations in the area – with no mention of asking the public to subsidize them.) And, in due course, the Commissioners approved the proposed incentive deal unanimously.  (We’ll see what Citigroup does.)

Which leads us to an interesting item in the Business Journal.

Quantity versus quality.

The old question of values has divided Tampa Bay’s economic developers and tech sector representatives on what government’s role is in growing a startup scene.

The argument normally saved for private discussion and online forums gained stage time during the region’s first Startup Week earlier this month. On trial: how valuable is a developer’s “multiplier effect”?

Two panelists, one from Hillsborough County Economic Development and the other from Tampa Bay Technology Forum, differed on how to best count job growth numbers from county efforts.

Apparently, just counting the actual job numbers is not enough.  So what is the debate?

In an interview after the panel discussion, county economic development head Lindsey Kimball explained the multiplier effect drives her strategy when growing the local economy.

Fostering high-paying jobs begets more jobs in services these spenders can now afford, Kimball said. She believes these jobs created by the multiplier effect also need measuring to better show economic development’s success.

“We’re not trying to attract average-wage jobs,” Kimball said. “Our strategy is definitely about attracting higher wage jobs for their positive benefits for all levels of the community.”

As we have said on numerous occasions, yes, high-paying jobs lead to other jobs, which makes them a better target.  On the other hand, we are not sure how you can accurately count the multiplier.  Why not just wait for the spin-off jobs to materialize and then count them?  Anything else seems like a bit of a fudge that serves rhetorical purposes far more than it does anything useful.

Now the other side:

Her fellow panelist, TBTF head Daniel James Scott, had denounced the multiplier as a false impression of how many quality jobs a company creates.

The extra jobs will come to Tampa Bay no matter what, Scott said.

“One great [product] developer making a great wage is a positive way of selling a message,” he said. “One great [product] developer making a great wage and supporting five people not making a livable wage is not what I want my Tampa Bay to be.”

The conversation previously made a public splash with a proposed $8.25 million economic development incentive to lure Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World to Brandon in 2012.

The tech sector decried the project. Bass Pro will open later this year.

When asked to elaborate on his comments during the panel in a later interview, Scott said he believes local startup executives can create the same number of jobs as a relocated company headquarters.

Whereas Kimball believes money still flows into a company’s Tampa Bay office, and local workers inevitably contribute part of their paychecks to the community, Scott sees it differently.

Companies that open an office in Tampa Bay are funneling that wealth to their non-local shareholders, Scott said. The jobs created in the Bay area are easily cut if the company faces dire straits.

A locally grown company provides more wealth for the community, Scott said.

He wants an organization such as Startup Week to measure the number of jobs created by the local startup scene. He wants local promoters of the startup space to better tell past and current successes.

“Bar none, startups have greater economic impact,” Scott said. “We’re not faking it. We just haven’t done a good enough job telling the stories.”

We also agree with much of his point.  Branch offices are easily trimmed and money does go out of the area. (Like this from this week.)   On the other hand, the appeal of a headquarters is that many of those issues should not apply.  (Subsidizing retail seems to play not part in the conversation – and it shouldn’t.) We do not really care if the HQ is a start-up HQ or a company moving here, though obviously it is easier for government officials to tout a big number of jobs of an existing company moving here. (It would be great if startups grew and kept their HQs here.) And that is really the point.  Do not fudge the numbers.  Count the jobs that actually exist (not just what is promised or speculated about – whether from a company moving or a “multiplier.”).  And push on all fronts.  Help the startups to grow the local economy and bring in other companies.  Given our low income levels and the amount of competition from other areas, can there be another strategy?

We are not sure what there is to debate.

Downtown – Endorsement, Speculation & Branding

There was news about the Lightning owner’s project.

First, the Board of Governors of the university system recommended funding for moving the USF med school downtown, which was expected.  (And if you are curious, here is an executive summary of the proposal.  There are more documents here.) Now the legislature must actually fund it, which we figure will happen.

In other news,

Tampa Bay Lightning Owner Jeff Vinik could begin construction on his corporate headquarters office in downtown Tampa without having signed a tenant.

Vinik’s real estate arm, Strategic Property Partners, is “actively considering” speculative construction, said Bob Abberger, managing partner of SPP.

“If we’re going to be serious about securing a headquarters user, we have to have product ready to go,” Abberger said Thursday. “So we’re in active discussions with our partner about making that decision.”

That “partner” in Vinik’s billion-dollar development plans is Cascade Investment LLC, the investment firm controlled by Microsoft Founder Bill Gates. SPP is working on getting the office component to “permit ready” status, Abberger said.

And some details on the idea for the building:

That building is to rise at the corner of Channelside Drive and N Morgan Street, across from the arena. It’s expected to be 400,000 to 500,000 square feet and taller than the 12-story USF building, which would be built on a much wider base. The new corporate headquarters would also have its own parking garage.

We are not going to comment on the business decision of whether to build a speculative building, and we certainly do not know the status of their discussions with potential clients.  We will just have to see.

Finally, that leads us to a piece in the Times regarding possible names for the development.   You can read the whole article for all the names, but there was this – which has a lot of merit:

Some Times readers peppered their proposed names for the Vinik project with some passionate opinion.

Reader Jean Keenan vented that the Channelside name has grown strong enough to have “overcome the ridicule that Tampa as a beer-swilling smut town has known.” She urged Vinik to build upon it.

“From where I sit as a mid 20s-something member of the ‘creative class’ (read: hipster) from a conservative family background, it feels like both young and old alike are looking for an authentic experience, not overt artifice,” Zac Taylor emailed about the Tampa project.

“This area already has a name. Actually, it has several names: downtown Tampa, the Channel District and, less formally, Channelside. Why can’t we stick to one and reinforce the growing ‘completeness’ of our downtown, rather than look for another gimmick?

“I don’t mean to sound overly cynical,” Taylor said. “Actually, I’m very enthusiastic to see Vinik act as a leader, and see rich opportunities in a project of this scope. Let’s push for the best project we can.”

“Names are tough,” reader Sam Pannill of Largo concedes in his email. “Whatever they come up with is going to sound like a new subdivision in Brandon.”

Indeed. We’re ok with Channelside. (and we’re fine with beer, too.)

Economy – The Housing Market

There was an interesting article in the Tribune about rising rents and whether they will get more people to buy.   We are not going to get into all that.  There was one thing that is an interesting corrective to the real estate numbers that come out.

Of the 906 homes sold in Hills­borough County in November, 45 percent were purchased for either second homes or rental income. In Pinellas County, of 1,697 homes sold, 54 percent were purchased for second homes or investment, according to RealtyTrac, one of the nation’s leading sources for housing data.

A portion of the purchases most certainly is due to the flock of snowbirds that make their way to the Sunshine State each year and purchase second homes, said Daren Blomquist, vice president of RealtyTrac. But most of it is due to what are known as institutional investors, he said.

So about half of all purchases are not owner occupied.  To us, that means that, even if houses are sold and prices go up, there is a weakness in the local economy – unless you are in real estate and, in particular, investing in properties with rising rents.  While you should always expect some investors and second homes, a strong local economy would have a higher rate of owner occupancy.

Economic Development/Transportation – The Editorial

Last week, we discussed the County looking at expanding the urban services boundary.  The Tribune had an editorial on the subject. We will not quote the whole thing, but it echoed much of our thoughts:

Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission officials say the changes in Lutz and Balm — which are much further along in the review process — would address development that, thanks to past commission decisions, is taking place anyway. They believe it would result in more efficient use of the land.

Perhaps, but we don’t believe poor development decisions of the past should determine the urban service boundary.

And Hillsborough County commissioners should recognize that including the rural Little Manatee River area in the urban area would make a mockery of planning.

County officials say that if the urban service boundary is extended below the Little Manatee River, the county would likely establish a special taxing district, where residents in the area would pay for improvements.

But that would only cover water and sewer costs and local roads, not address the expensive transportation needs that such distant development would generate.

Extending the boundary might benefit a few select landowners and developers but won’t improve the county’s economic prospects or quality of life. Indeed, it would signal to business leaders and residents alike that Hillsborough is still wedded to the short-sighted growth policies that created the transportation mess now smothering the county.

White, who was elected last year on a conservative platform, understands that ignoring the costs and consequences of development decisions is the same as throwing taxpayers’ money away.

As he told us:

“How can we talk about transportation problems out of one side of our mouth and then continue with this almost reckless sprawl?”

Exactly.

Transportation – The Meetings Begin

Speaking of transportation, the first of the 36 outsourced public meetings took place this week:

Like Reyes, the more than 40 people who attended the first “Go Hills­borough” meeting Tuesday night had specific transportation issues they wanted to share with county officials. For Reyes, it was safety.

Quite the turnout.  Even if you more than double the 40 to 100 for all 36 meetings, you have only spoken to 3600 people out of 1.2 million.  In any event:

Tuesday’s meeting was the first of 36 workshops the county will hold as it works to develop a transportation strategy for coming decades. Unlike typical meetings where an audience sits and listens to a discussion leader, attendees at Tuesday’s meeting were free to walk around, look at exhibits and suggest road or transit options.

One board listed different categories of transportation and transit improvements, from smart traffic signals to expanded bus routes. Participants could stick red dots under the categories they thought were important.

Actually, over the years, there have been numerous meetings (not outsourced) where people could examine maps and boards, talk to planners, and draw all over maps. (and those meetings had many of the items in the outreach website.)  They have led to where we are now – doing it again.  Hopefully, this time will have a better result, but given the recycling of ideas, we are not sure.

At least there was this:

In addition to seeking people’s opinions, county officials also want to use the workshops as a means to educate the public about the condition of Hillsborough’s road system. For instance, one display titled “What are the conditions of our roads?” said over 30 percent of county-maintained roads are either in poor condition or getting there.

The display went on to say the county faces more than $750 million in road maintenance needs.

“We’re spending $5 million a year on road maintenance,” said Eric Johnson, director of strategic planning for the county. “We should be spending $20 million.”

The not-so-subtle message: The county does not have enough money to keep up current roads, much less construct large thoroughfare expansions. To have large road, trail, bridge and mass transit improvements will require a tax increase.

And that is the point.  Planning has been so bad (not to mention the failure of the impact fees process) that the County is in a huge hole.  No one wants to pay more taxes, but there is no money to do what is needed, let alone move forward.  At least that is telling the truth, which is good for the process. Though one has to wonder when you see this:

Betty Kinsey, who attends Mt. Olive A.M.E. Church where the meeting was held, placed her dots under intersection improvements, street enhancements and new and expanded bus routes. Kinsey said she’d also like to see more sidewalks in her neighborhood and around the church. “We need to make the streets work better, not only for passengers but for buses,” she said. “We also need sidewalks because a lot of students ride their bicycles. They need more protection.”

On the board where Kinsey was carefully placing her red dots, there was no category column for light rail. Someone grabbed one of the many available markers and drew a line and “Light rail” halfway down one of the columns. The new category soon had a cluster of red dots.

So light rail is not even an option the County is considering?  Given that, the recycled ideas, and the political climate locally, having optimism in the results of this process is difficult.  Of course, time will tell, but there needs to be far more leadership if anything truly useful is to get done.

Transportation – Did This Need To Be Said?

We wrote last week about the travails of the ferry proposal.  As part of that, the County was said to be exploring different options for a station in South County.  Then:

Hillsborough County Commissioners reaffirmed their support for high-speed ferry service between Apollo Beach and MacDill Air Force Base but cautioned that recent environmental and operational questions about the project need to be answered.

Commissioners approved 7-0 continuing the county’s agreement with HMS Ferries and Southswell Development until March 1, 2016. The agreement means the county will continue studying proposed sites for the ferry terminal and boat basin.

Commissioner Ken Hagan made the motion to continue supporting the project noting that the initial proposed terminal site at the Fred and Idah Schultz Preserve has drawn opposition, most recently by Port Tampa Bay Executive Director Paul Anderson. 

It would have been very odd indeed to start looking for other locations (and spending money) if the County was not still interested in the project, but now support has been confirmed.  Maybe this is why some felt the move was necessary:

Commissioner Al Higginbotham said he wanted to dispel “whispering” that he opposed the project, which, if approved, would call for the county to spend $20 million on construction of the terminal and purchase of ferry boats.

Higginbotham said employees and officials at MacDill Air Force Base support the project but noted that approval is needed from the federal Department of Homeland Security and Department of Defense.

Higginbotham and Commissioner Stacy White also said they need assurances that ridership numbers projected by HMS Ferries are real and that the ferry service business won’t fail.

First, making sure ridership projections make some sense is fine.  Second, any business can fail, but one can put items into any agreement that provide some protections.  (For instance – and this is just an off-the-cuff idea and we have no idea if anyone would agree to it –  the company could buy the ferries and the County pay for them over time so that if the service fails within that period, the taxpayers are not on the hook for more.)  Third, speaking generally, many concerns about whether various Commissioners support any transit arise because historically (not just the two mentioned) many (most) Commissioners have so often failed to be actually supportive of real transit.  Being more actively engaged and constructive may help alleviate that concern.

In any event, the service is still worth considering.

Ybor City – If A First You Don’t’ Succeed, Try Again

The Business Journal reports that City has put out an RFP for land in Ybor City.

Tampa is releasing a Request for Proposals aimed at generating new economic opportunities in historic Ybor City.

The city wants to transform vacant, city-owned property along 7th Avenue. Specifically, the RFP is for a vacant, city owned parcel located on the northeastern corner of E. 7th Ave and Nuccio Parkway to be purchased and redeveloped with a variety of uses, meaning a combination of residential, retail, and/or office space, a release from the city said.

Transforming one vacant parcel of land can catalyze the transformation of an entire neighborhood, said Mayor Bob Buckhorn in the release.

That may be true to some degree, but there are already a number of proposed projects in Ybor, so it is not clear the City needs to get rid of any land to begin the transformation.  In any event, the RFP can be found here.

Although not noted in the article, this seems to be the same land for which the City put out an RFP in 2013. As reported in 2014:

In December, City Hall put out a call for development proposals for a third of a block it owns at E Seventh Avenue and Nick Nuccio Parkway. It got two responses.

The best, officials say, came from the Liberty Group, a Tampa-based hotel investment, development and management company with $300 million in assets. It proposed an $11.3 million hotel with 70 guest rooms and suites, interior lap pool, ground-floor lounge and rooftop bar.

Recently, however, Liberty president Punit Shah told the city he was considering taking his project to a bigger site elsewhere in Ybor.

Tampa economic opportunity administrator Bob McDonaugh, who briefed the City Council on Thursday, said he doesn’t know where the second site is. And city officials won’t have any hard feelings if the sale falls through.

“If he’s unable to come to some type of arrangement with the other property owner, perhaps we would re-engage,” McDonaugh said. “But the whole idea … was to induce someone to investigate constructing a hotel in Ybor City. If it’s on the city’s land or somebody else’s land, I’m okay either way. The end result is getting more rooms in Ybor City.”

Since that report, a hotel proposal was announced. (It is not clear what the status of that project is.)

We are not opposed to selling public land for a project, but it needs to be a special project. If the private sector is doing the job on private property, why get rid of a public asset? (Not to mention that as private land is developed, the public property becomes more valuable, so why sell it now?)

If the City does not need to get rid of the taxpayers’ land, it shouldn’t.  You never know what good, public purpose the land can be used for later.  Why limit the options?

Bro Bowl – History

There was an article in the Times this week that indicated that the funding is finally in place for the City to destroy the Bro Bowl and then build the EPCOT replica.  While it has never been explained why the City was so determined to destroy the Bro Bowl, there was little doubt that it would get its way eventually.  Interestingly, though not surprisingly, while the article mentions the move to get historical status for the Bro Bowl, it completely ignores the effort to actually save it.  Though it does give us this:

“Very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very good news,” Tampa economic opportunity administrator Bob McDonaugh told the City Council last week. A trailer and fencing are to be delivered to the 11-acre site starting Feb. 23. “We will see the mobilization of the contractor, and construction will begin the first week of March.”

Indeed.  Needlessly destroying someone’s history rather than saving it through an easy compromise for a reason, if it exists, that you are not willing to reveal is certainly a reason to celebrate. We cannot say we are surprised.  That is part of the local DNA that has not changed.

All those quirky, skateboarding techies in Silicon Valley will certainly be impressed.

USF – Some More Money

There was another big donation at USF.

Bookkeeping is in Lynn Pippenger’s blood.

The retired Raymond James Financial executive comes from a long line of them, including her great-grandfather, who was a county auditor, clerk and justice of the peace, and her grandmother, who ran the books at a Cleveland department store in 1900.

* * *

With a lengthy family heritage of finance behind her, Pippenger, 76, landed her first gig as a grocery clerk, established a career at Raymond James and, this week, earned a spot on stage at USF’s Muma College of Business, where she announced her $10 million donation to the newly named Lynn Pippenger School of Accountancy.

Once again, we thank her for her generosity.

List of the Week

Our list this week is the Airports Council International rankings for 2014.   We all know that TIA is a great airport, so how does it rank in this year’s survey?

In the Best Airport by Region (North America), the top five are Indianapolis , Tampa, Jacksonville, Sacramento, and Ottawa.

In the Best Airport by size (15-25 million passengers), the top five are Seoul Gimpo, Wuhan, Hangzhou, Cancun, and Tampa.

Those are both very good rankings, and we are not surprised.  The airport has long been an example of what this area can do when it really wants to and does not settle.

Roundup 2-13-2015

February 13, 2015

Economic Development/Built Environment/Transportation – Adventures in Planning

Hillsborough County has a history of poor planning and not sticking to its stated plans.  This week, the Tribune had a report regarding the urban service boundary.

The last time developers and large landowners pushed to extend the boundaries of the county’s urban service area was September 2007. At the time, the planning commission recommended against expansion, saying there were 15,500 acres of developable land available inside the existing urban service area — enough to handle population growth through 2025.

But now, with new population projections in hand, the planning commission staff is recommending that the urban boundaries be expanded in three areas totaling over 16,000 acres, about 25 square miles. The recommendation comes on the heels of a recent planning commission study called Imagine 2040, which projects the county will grow by 600,000 people in the next 25 years.

“What we looked at in our Imagine 2040 outreach process was how to accommodate that growth,” said Melissa Zornitta, the planning commission’s executive director.

“We heard from a lot of people who said they want to focus on opportunities for redevelopment and infill. But we did hear from some folks who said they wanted to have choices, opportunities for a suburban lifestyle.”

First, there is no lack of the suburban experience within the urban services boundary already.  That is in no way a justification for expanding it.  Second, who really wants this expansion other than people who want to profit from land outside the boundary?  Apparently, not the County Commission.

White, whose district includes two of the expansion zones — 6,678 acres in the Balm area and 9,374 acres south of the Little Manatee River — said the expansion would involve building miles of sewer and water lines into rural areas where population is sparse. He and other critics say such urban sprawl ultimately is subsidized by taxpayers.

The expanded urban service areas would also put more pressure on an “already strained transportation system,” White said, at a time when the county is trying to find ways to make up a $7 billion deficit in road and bridge needs.

“How can we talk about the transportation problem out of one side of our mouth, and then continue with this almost reckless sprawl,” White said Monday during a meeting with the Tribune editorial board.

Instead, White said, the county should concentrate on redevelopment of blighted areas and filling in developable land already inside the urban service boundary.

“We need a lot of revitalization efforts in our older communities,” he said.

And

A move to expand the urban service boundaries is sure to arouse opposition from environmentalists and other community activists who helped defeat the last attempt in 2007. Besides White, Commissioner Al Higginbotham expressed doubts about the proposal’s chance of passing.

“There is no support from the staff to expand it,” Higginbotham said, “nor do I see this board ever voting to support that.”

Commissioner Sandy Murman said she’s waiting to see what the planning commission recommends before making a decision. She pointed to an economic prosperity committee she chaired several years ago that recommended creating economic development areas along existing or planned thoroughfares or mass transit. None of the economic development areas were outside the urban service areas.

“We thought by urbanizing these areas where we already had pockets of development, that would lessen sprawl to a degree by creating more suburban development that would be inside the urban service area,” Murman said. “We have to be very careful with anything that has to do with extending the urban service area.”

One gets the distinct impression that the Commissioners are not for it. So what prompted the look?

The Hillsborough planning commission staff has already drawn up comprehensive plan amendments for two of the expansion areas — 72 acres in Lutz and the 6,678 acres in the Balm area southeast of Riverview. The amendments will be discussed by the planning commission at an April 27 public hearing.

The area in Lutz, near the apex of U.S. 41 and North Dale Mabry Highway, is surrounded on three sides by the urban service area, Zornitta said. It is currently zoned for four housing units per acre.

“It’s not something that really fits with the rural area based on its land-use category,” she said.

The area under consideration in Balm is designated as rural but long ago was zoned to allow planned villages of two housing units per acre — provided the builder paid to have water and sewer extended to the villages. Some of that development is already happening, Zornitta said.

“From a planning perspective, two units per acre is not using the land and the infrastructure wisely,” she said. “It’s eating up the rural area, but not in an efficient way.”

The largest area under consideration for urban services, 9,374 acres between the Little Manatee River and the Manatee County line, is not ready for hearings or workshops. The planning commission staff and the county’s Development Services Department are working with a group of large landowners who want to develop some of the area while preserving its environmental features.

The largest of the landowners is a development group associated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Rhea Law, the attorney representing the church, could not be reached for comment.

Setting aside that Lutz was supposed to be rural (that’s why the Veterans Expressway does not connect to I-275) but has clearly been allowed to not be rural (that fine planning again, not to mention the Balm area), so what?  The whole point of the urban services boundary is to provide proper planning and keep the taxpayer from subsidizing development and the maintenance of that development.  If people own the land outside the boundary, ok.  That does not create an obligation to have development there.  This is about planning so how will expanding the boundary help transportation for which the County already cannot pay? Help the built environment?  Lower long term maintenance costs for the taxpayer? If and when the urban service area is full, maybe then it should be expanded – but not now.

The point is this: either there is planning or there is not.  As shown in the Lutz example above, Hillsborough County has none.  It pronounces policies with one hand, then completely ignores them with the other.  It is no wonder that there is no money for fixing transportation – there is no logic to how the County is built.  It has been an ad hoc sprawlfest.

As noted in the Tribune editorial we quoted last week, just because things have been done one way traditionally, does not mean it should continue.  Even the Commissioners, who have loved subsidizing sprawl, are not on board.  Hopefully, they will stick with that position because it is well past time to actually stick to a plan.

Transportation – Enter the Public

It seems that the outsourced transportation workshops are about to start.

“Go Hillsborough,” the county’s effort to learn what types of transportation improvements residents would support, will hold its first community workshops this month.

The county on Thursday released a schedule of 36 public meetings and workshops that will be held around Hillsborough. The first meeting will be Feb. 17 at Mount Olive AME Church in North Hyde Park, followed a meeting Feb. 19 by a meeting at the Town ‘N Country Regional Library. The rest of the meeting schedule can be found at www.hillsboroughcounty .org.

For those who can’t make the meetings, Go Hillsborough will communicate through Facebook, Twitter, an I-Neighborhood smartphone app and a dedicated telephone number.

The outreach effort, which will last through mid-May, is an attempt to reach consensus on transportation and mass transit projects that will cost billions of dollars. The county doesn’t have that kind of money, and the final transportation plan will likely require a tax increase that will go before voters in November 2016.

So now the process will stretch to May, not April.  Nothing like more delay.  Here is the list of meetings.  One thing you may note is that, even with all the meetings, there are areas that do not really have a convenient meeting.

In any event, what is the structure of the meetings?

The interactive public meetings will be split into two phases. The first, called “Voices,” will include 12 workshops, four larger meetings to provide geographic context, and two telephone town hall meetings. The Voices phase will culminate in an “Issues and Opportunities” report.

The second round of 18 meetings, called “Choices,” will delve further into potential transportation options. This phase will try to identify areas of agreement among communities. Once community needs and desires are understood, strategy and funding options will be recommended for the community transportation plan.

As we have said, public input is good, especially if it is actually considered, but this should have been done at the beginning by the County.  Nevertheless, now it is what we have.  Hopefully, it will be useful.

Transportation – The PTC Sues, But Still Cannot Justify

While we really would love to never write about the PTC because it is such a stronghold of stagnant thinking, we feel compelled this week because it has made another move against ridesharing:

Even with threats and fines, Hillsborough County hasn’t been able to get ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft off the streets.

Now it wants a judge to shut them down.

The county on Wednesday joined cities such as Las Vegas, Miami and Portland, Ore., in calling for the court system’s support in the ongoing battle between regulators and ride-share companies.

Board members voted during Wednesday’s Public Transportation Commission meeting to pursue injunctive relief against Uber and Lyft after both ride-share companies failed to comply with a cease-and-desist letter issued at the end of December.

So what was the justification?

County Commissioner Ken Hagan said that although he thinks “there is no question this technology is the way of the future,” something has to be done to force Uber and Lyft to cooperate and take part in negotiations.

“I, for one, am not going to tolerate just ignoring our laws and refusing to comply,” Hagan said.

Of course, there were negotiations – just not successful ones.  And people should follow the rules, but the rules should make sense.  Good government requires not having arbitrary rules that are made to favor one party over another and ignores the good of the public at large.  And minimum pricing does not make sense. (And where are all the reforms the PTC was supposed to put in place?  Why not lower fees to help people enter the business and compete?) So is there something else that is the real reason for the PTC’s action?

Leaders of the taxi industry celebrated quietly after the motion passed Wednesday, slapping each other on the back and whispering excited congratulations.

Yes, to protect the status quo and the cab companies from competition, which can be seen in another lawsuit involving minimum pricing for limos:

Then Rob Brazel, the county’s managing attorney, spoke on behalf of the transportation commission and in favor of the minimum fare. He said limos act like cabs when they’re not busy, and without the minimum, they would pick up regular cab customers for basic rides rather than just ritzy transportation —- an unfair competition, he said.

He argued that the commission should continue to regulate limo fares because the Legislature should make those regulatory choices. Those “who are affected by them,” like Black Pearl, should not.

So providing nicer rides at the same price, which the PTC has admitted numerous times is what the consumers want, is “unfair.”. And ridesharing is even more competition (if people did not want ridesharing, it would not be an issue.)  The reason people choose such services is because they are considered better than the cabs.  But, clearly from its actions, the PTC’s focus in not on the consumers.

Transportation – The Bizarreness of the Ferry

There was more news about the bizarre tale of the Ferry.  As you might recall, everyone was very happy with the Ferry idea until the Audubon Society came out against the proposed location for the ferry stop/terminal in South County for environmental reasons.

Audubon’s opposition caused the Hillsborough County commissioners to back off their previous support for the project and order a search for alternative sites. The county had planned to appear on behalf of the project before the board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, which owns the preserve land. But after Audubon announced its opposition, the county pulled the item from the board’s agenda.

Now, the Port apparently does not like the location either.

Port Tampa Bay is the latest agency to oppose building a high-speed ferry terminal on state-owned conservation lands in south Hillsborough County.

President and chief executive officer A. Paul Anderson said Friday he and other port officials think a proposed ferry terminal site on the Fred and Idah Schultz Preserve would endanger maritime traffic.

The preserve is next door to Port Redwing, where the port authority has plans to create a cluster of steel businesses.

“Putting a ferry in channels with active shipping is an issue that everybody should focus on,” Anderson said in an interview. “Potentially it’s an issue of safe operations in the channel for us, for the pilots, for the maritime users of the port. It’s just not the best location from an operations standpoint.”

The port’s opposition could be a serious setback for a daily ferry service between south Hillsborough and MacDill Air Force Base. In August, the environmental group Audubon of Florida criticized plans to put the ferry terminal at a preserve, where state funds totaling $2.7 million were spent restoring the land to native habitat. The Schultz property was formed with spoils from dredging.

We cannot speak to the safety issue, except to note that, as the Tribune does, there are operating ferries around other ports so the issue needs careful, unbiased investigation, and this:

“The whole thing is baffling bordering on the inexplicable,” Turanchik said. “There were no security concerns when we wanted to lease you the property but now there are?”

Others who recommended the Schultz Preserve, according to Turanchik, included Mosaic, the phosphate company that owns significant property on the bay, and Ann Paul, Audubon’s regional coordinator in the Tampa Bay area.

Paul later said she that when she made the recommendation, she didn’t understand that the ferry terminal and park would cover 20 acres and include parking for 1,500 cars.

Port Tampa Bay staff even worked with Hillsborough County to identify possible access roads to the proposed ferry terminal and park, according to a June 16 letter from Anderson to County Administrator Mike Merrill. Anderson told Merrill that though the port opposed the public using Port Redwing Road to access the ferry site, other access roads were possible.

“PTB staff has thoroughly explored possible options for access to Schultz Park to identify any other route which would be a less-direct and potentially detrimental impact on port operations,” Anderson wrote.

Yes, it is bizarre.  One would have thought that the safety issue would have been the first thing anyone would have noted about the location.  There is no indication of why it came up now.

To be clear, we do not really have a preference regarding the exact location of a ferry stop and we are not prejudging the safety issue. However, we do have an interest in having things done properly and efficiently and not dragging on forever. Our concern is the bizarre way this whole issue is going.  Why are people supporting and helping plan the service, then doing a 180?  What is actually going on – is safety really the issue or is there something else?  In any event:

Meantime, the county has completed a search for alternative sites, said County Engineer Mike Williams. The next step is to review all the sites for compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act.

“Any comments from anyone — but obviously from the port as a landowner in very close proximity — will be considered in the NEPA phase,” Williams said.

A number of sites, including the Schultz Preserve, will undergo the NEPA review. The county will hire a consultant using federal grant money to handle the study.

“We’re hoping we can do it for around $300,000,” Williams said.

The review should begin in the next couple of months, Williams said, and will take six to 12 months to complete.

Ok, so another year or more before a location is approved.  Will there then be more objections?

With this episode and the lagging of the TED process, one cannot help but ask can any transportation be properly and efficiently planned in this area?

TIA – Growth

The airport administration released numbers for the airport:

Tampa International Airport had 5.5 percent more passengers come through in the first quarter of fiscal year 2015 than last year, with the number of international passengers up 19.2 percent.

“We had a very, very good first fiscal quarter,” said Airport President and CEO Joe Lopano. Almost 4.4 million passengers came through the airport in the first quarter, beating the 2015 projected number by 160,000 passengers.

“The first three months continued the growth we saw at the end of 2014,” said Damian Brook, airport vice president of finance.

Alaska Airlines, with flights from Tampa to Seattle, filled 93 percent of its seats in October, November and December, Brook said.

Frontier Airline more than doubled its passenger traffic by introducing new destinations, he said. Frontier added flights from Tampa to Cleveland, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and to Philadelphia, a flight that has been quite popular, said Frontier spokesman Todd Lehmacher. “Overall, Tampa has been a very good destination for Frontier,” Lehmacher said.

“Every international carrier saw growth in the first quarter,” Brook said. Part of that was because international carriers offered a total of 18 percent more seats in the first quarter. Also, Copa Airlines, with flights to Panama City, Panama, came on board and Edelweiss Air AG added a second weekly flight to Zurich last year.

The airport also set a record for revenue, bringing in $49.8 million in the first quarter, Brook said. That represents a 3.5 percent increase in revenue over the same time period in 2014.

That’s all good – and Lufthansa still has not started. The proof of the director’s strategy is right there. Now, if we could just get a San Francisco nonstop.

Moreover, there is this:

JetBlue Airways has announced more flights to Cuba and Haiti.

The New York-based airline said Thursday that it would add a new charter flight to Cuba this summer.

The Friday flights from Tampa to Havana will begin June 5. Travelers have to make arrangements directly with JetBlue partner ABC Charters.

Which is good.

In other news, St. Pete-Clearwater International is also doing well.

January marked the fourth straight month for record-breaking passenger service at the St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport, with a 24 percent increase year over year.

In January, the airport served 106,942 passengers.

The airport served 1.2 million customers in 2014 and with seven new destinations coming on line over the next few months, it could be lining up for another record-breaker.

The number of international passengers was down for 2014 by about 3,000 passengers but in January, the airport saw a 30 percent increase in international passengers, compared to January 2014.

Excellent.

Economy – Employment Numbers

Last month, it was pretty much the same story in employment according to ADP:

After a strong finish in 2014, Florida added 14,400 private sector jobs in January, according to a report released Wednesday.

The state remains the third-best job creator in the country behind California (up 35,400 jobs) and Texas (up 25,800 jobs), according to the report, which payroll-processing company ADP releases monthly.

* * *

About 97 percent of Florida’s new positions were in the lower-paying service-providing sector, while the remainder were goods-producing. Among select industries, trade and transportation saw 2,500 new positions, business services saw 2,300, manufacturing saw 600 and natural resources and construction saw 800.

There really isn’t anything new to say about that.

Downtown – A New Police Station

It seems that Tampa may be getting a new police station in the not too distant future:

“The existing police station site has outlived its usefulness,” Mayor Bob Buckhorn told the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday. He intends to start the planning for a new police station as he puts together a budget for 2016.

One Police Center at 411 N Franklin St. is a former SunTrust Bank building that has served since Mayor Dick Greco’s administration bought it in 1996 for $2.95 million.

But the costs of maintaining the structure that Buckhorn calls “Big Blue” are on the rise, and he said “it makes no sense for me to put money into a building that’s obsolete.”

Indeed, the taxpayers’ money should not be wasted.  We have no problem with having a new police station if the present one is inefficient and expensive to maintain.  Where might a new one go?

Buckhorn said he prefers that a new police headquarters be in the urban core of the city, but he doesn’t know that it has to be in the heart of downtown’s central business district. The city could build, lease space or move into a renovated building.

Moving from one renovated building to another seems a bit odd.  Also, leasing a building for a police station also seems a bit odd.  One would think that, if money on a new station is going to be spent, the police should use a purpose built building that they control.  As far as location, we think it should be in the downtown core for a number of reasons – being close to city hall, being close to many events and providing stability downtown, central location, etc.

And what will happen to the present building?

Buckhorn expects that he will have no problem finding developers who are interested in buying the headquarters site, which includes a parking garage, and either tearing down the police building to build something new or renovating the existing structure as a private development.

That’s fine, as long as it is not the reason for the move in the first place.  It will be interesting to see how this develops.

Downtown – The Riverwalk

The next segment of the Riverwalk is getting ready to open.

After four decades, six mayors and millions of dollars, the end of construction is in sight on a high-profile piece of the Riverwalk.

Tampa officials have scheduled a March 27 grand opening for a long-desired but expensive-to-build section of the downtown trail.

Expected to join Mayor Bob Buckhorn at the 5 p.m. ceremony are former Tampa mayors Pam Iorio, Dick Greco, Sandy Freedman and Bob Martinez.

And a sixth mayor is sure to be remembered, too. Bill Poe, who started work on the Riverwalk in 1975 when he was mayor, died last May 1.

The section of the Riverwalk now nearing completion goes 1,460 feet from MacDill Park north under the Kennedy Boulevard bridge to Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.

* * *

Once the new segment is open, the Riverwalk will offer about 2.6 uninterrupted miles of waterfront walking, jogging and cycling.

Still to come: a section going north from the Straz Center to Water Works Park. Once the new segment is open, the Riverwalk will offer about 2.6 uninterrupted miles of waterfront walking, jogging and cycling.

Still to come: a section going north from the Straz Center to Water Works Park.

That is great.  We are happy the Riverwalk is finally going to be without interruption.  It has been a very long time coming (and too much of downtown is built to ignore the river), but it is welcome.

The only thing is that we hope the next time there is a project that enjoys a broad consensus, it does not take 40 years to get done.

Downtown/Built Environment – One Building Rising

One residential project in downtown has apparently begun construction.

Downtown Tampa’s newest apartment complex is under way.

Richman Group, based in Connecticut, has started construction on the Aurora, a five-story 351-unit apartment project at 124 S. Morgan St., just north of the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway.

The article includes an updated rendering that is cropped.  This is the full rendering:

From the Richman Group – click on picture for website

As we said when it was announced, the project looks ok for somewhere outside of the core of downtown, but this lot will be in the middle of downtown if the Lightning owner’s project gets built.  In fact, it will be on a main pedestrian corridor between the core of downtown and that project.  We are not even so concerned with the height (though it does seem that it will barely clear the Selmon Expressway, which is a bit odd).  The real problem is that there is no street interaction and not much else to it.  It could be anywhere, which is not really appropriate in the middle of downtown.

The article tells us:

The office market has traditionally been the anchor of downtown Tampa, though revitalization advocates — among them Mayor Bob Buckhorn — have turned their attention to bulking up the residential base in recent years. Densely populated urban cores have the potential to become the kind of live-work-play environment that creates a unique sense of place, drawing both visitors and a Millennial workforce.

Setting aside that people have been trying to get residential downtown since One Laurel Place was built back in the early 80’s (not to mention that right before the recession, quite a bit of residential was built and much more proposed) if not before, it is true that you can create a unique sense of place, but not with generic projects that lack street interaction. (Has Tampa learned nothing from the 1980’s and early 90’s and the projects built then?)

While we understand the City wants to fill lots with buildings, this project appears to be the very definition of settling.

Harbour Island – The Argument Continues

There was also news about the proposed Related project on Harbour Island that has been the subject of a dispute with people in a nearby building.

The developer, Miami-based Related Development LLC, plans a 21-story tower called “The Manor at Harbour Island,” with 340 residential units, which the lawsuit claims would normally require on-site parking. Instead, the plan calls for using parking spaces in the Two Harbour Place garage.

The suit does not challenge another tower nearby that’s planned by Intown/Framework Group.

The suit was filed by nearby residents, including several who live in The Plaza tower next door to the proposed tower. The suit asks a state court to intervene in the process and cancel a city council approval of the parking and bridge plan. They claim the planned 560 parking spaces for the new tower would overwhelm the garage, and they dispute the developer’s contention that daytime workers would not need parking in the evening as apartment residents would.

We have a hard time believing that the use of a completely unrelated garage (note that among the people suing, no one is losing their parking space) is the reason to drag this on and on. On the other hand, the case is the case. Nothing to do but wait.

Seminole Heights – Small but Important

A proposed loft projects in Seminole Heights also is getting going.

The conversion of an old warehouse into loft-style apartments in Seminole Heights officially begins today.

The team behind the Warehouse Lofts — developer Wesley Burdette, architect Brian Wolf of Wolf Design Group and Sunshine Bancorp CEO Andrew Samuels — will be joined by Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn at 11 a.m. today to celebrate the beginning of construction.

At $5.5 million and 48 units, the Warehouse Lofts is a small deal. But those smaller projects can help create a unique sense of place and build the urban density that most neighborhoods in Tampa lack. Click here to see inside the warehouse.

First, almost every neighborhood in Tampa lacks a sense of place and urban density due to the policies of the City over decades.  In any event, this is an important project because it can provide a proof of concept that such projects can work outside of the area around downtown and help move Florida Avenue in Seminole Heights to where it should be, which is an urbanized street with reasonable costs.

List of the Week

Instead of a list this week, we have an interesting interactive map (here) from the Urban Institute called Mapping America’s Future. You can scroll over various metropolitan areas to see projected population growth.  Click on the metro area and you get a more detailed breakdown of the projections.  For instance, they project that the Tampa Bay area will grow 22.75% by 2030, while Orlando is projected to grow by 48.96%, Austin by 55.34% and Denver by 25.22%.  Of course, none of this is set in stone, just projections.  And it does not really get into economic information. Nevertheless, it is interesting.

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