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Roundup 10-2-2015

October 2, 2015


Economy/Economic Development – Where Are We Really?

Economic Development – The Cost of Being Cheap

Downtown/Channel District – The Lightning Owner Gets More Ambitious

Transportation – Go Hillsborough, the Epic Saga

Transportation – Building a Better Bus

Economy – Is There an Apartment Bubble?

Downtown/Hyde Park – Related Improves a Bit

So What Is the Deal with the Bucs?

What Can Six Billion Buy These Days?

List of the Week


Economy/Economic Development – Where Are We Really?

As everyone knows, there is a lot of talk of a new boom in the local economy, of going global, etc.  This week, the Tribune had a big piece coinciding with the very welcome Lufthansa flight entitled: “Santiago Corrada: Tampa’s rise as a global city.”  It started with this:

The moment it touched down Friday afternoon at Tampa International Airport, Lufthansa German Airlines Flight 482 confirmed the Tampa Bay area’s status as a world-class destination.

Now, as any regular reader would know, we love the Lufthansa flight and every international flight helps open us to the world.  We think it is great.  However, we think of the terms “global city” (though not so much world-class destination, which has no real definition) as meaning large cities with a well-known amount of pull world-wide: New York, London, Paris, Tokyo, Singapore, etc.  Frankly, we are just not there, which is ok.  You have to walk before you run.  And we are not going to pick apart the details of the piece because it was basically a purpose-written article to promote tourism by the head of the Hillsborough County tourist agency (that is his job).

We also do not need to pick it apart because the Times had a column about the GDP’s of metropolitan areas (also called the gross metropolitan product), which shows where we are economically.  As regular readers will know, these numbers are released every year.

The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metro area in 2014 recorded a $118 billion GDP, a measure of economic output, up 2.7 percent from the GDP of 2013. That performance landed Tampa Bay’s GDP growth at No. 11 in Florida — smack dab in the middle of 22 state metro areas. The figures were included in a U.S. Department of Commerce survey of GDP growth in 381 larger metro areas.

Natinally [sic], the metro area GDPs averaged 2.3 percent growth in 2014. Tampa Bay’s above-average expansion ranked 90th in the U.S.

Is that good? Yes. And not so much.

It’s good because being No. 90 among 381 metro areas countrywide places Tampa Bay in the top quarter of GDP growth. And between 2012 through 2014, this metro area’s GDP has barely wavered from a growth rate between 2.6 and 2.7 percent. Many regions of the country would be envious of that steady — and positive — pace.

It’s not so good because Tampa Bay’s 2014 GDP growth trailed behind every other larger metro area in Florida. Miami-Fort Lauderdale, the greater Orlando area and even Jacksonville all posted growth rates higher than Tampa Bay last year, according to the most recent annual data available.

Growth is good (we will get back to that), though it is also relative to the size of the economy actually growing. And being 90th out of 381 is ok, but exceptional.

The real problem is not in growth (which is about the same as most other Florida cities).  The real problem is in the per capita numbers, which as we have said for years, really tell the tale about how the area is doing.  Conveniently, the Bureau of Economic Analysis has a handy website to provide those numbers. Below is a list of some of the usual suspects, Florida cities, and some southern cities to illustrate just how far behind we remain. (We also put the BEA growth numbers, which are a bit different than those in the article because they are for per capita growth, though they may be using a different category from the database.  It is also notable that the numbers are a different from the numbers we have previously used because it appears the BEA uses different methodology. We decided to go with the government numbers this year.  In any event, the story is similar.)

Source: BEA Click on Chart for bigger version

It should be noted that the BEA uses this definition.

What is “Per capita real GDP by metropolitan area (chained 2009 dollars)”?

Per capita real GDP by Metropolitan Area- Real GDP by metropolitan area is an inflation-adjusted measure of each metropolitan area’s gross product that is based on national prices for the goods and services produced within the area. Real GDP by metropolitan area is measured in chained (2009) dollars.

Per capita real GDP by metropolitan area is calculated by dividing the real GDP for a metropolitan area by the resident population of the area. In its calculation, BEA uses the Census Bureau’s annual midyear population estimate.

Per capita real GDP indicates the trend in output as it relates to population. Although it does not indicate whether the rate of growth in real GDP can be sustained, it suggests the ease with which the economy can continue to support its local population. For a complete list of regional statistics, see Regional Definitions.

As you can see from the chart, the only areas lower than the immediate Tampa Bay area the outskirts of the Tampa Bay area.  We trail even the main Florida metros – by a decent amount.

And we can make another comparison – the per capita GDPs of the top 30 metro areas in the US.

Source: BEA Click on chart for bigger version

At least we are not dead last.

Moreover, looking at the Tribune piece, while tourism is great and bring in money and exposure, you may notice the more tourism based economies on the list (Florida cities, Phoenix, etc.) are not particularly high.  (You could blame it on retirees, but we would still be at or near the bottom of major areas). The real power of the Lufthansa flight is not in tourism – it is in the business connections that it may foster by creating greater access to this area and from this area.

The point is that we are growing and there are definitely people doing well in this area, but we are still far behind places like Denver, Austin, Minneapolis, Charlotte, etc. So, when you see the hype and puffery, remember the reality.  Is that acceptable or a cause for celebration?

Yes, we are growing, there is much to recommend this area, we have many assets, and a lot of interesting proposals, but there is also a whole lot of work to do to actually get the point of actually being a global city.

Economic Development – The Cost of Being Cheap

There was an interesting article in the Business Journal about economic development and the quest for high paying jobs.

The next health care focus of the federal government is brain research, with a hefty goal of being able to map the brain within the next five years. It’s looking to invest $35 billion into this research, but Florida likely won’t get any of that capital.

At least that’s what local health care experts think. At Orlando Business Journal‘s Decoding Health Care panel discussion last week, four panelists outlined why Florida isn’t positioned to receive capital for this research — and what needs be done to alter that fate.

Well given out supposed business environment, cheap labor, taxes, and real estate, and all those other things, how can that be?

“Florida is not in the running for brain mapping because we don’t have the tools to research this,” said Scott Faris, founder and CEO of NanoZyne, a nano-therapeutics company. “As we think about our competitiveness, we have to be able to invest the front dollars to create the infrastructure of this research. Unless we have that, in terms of tools and people, we’re not in a position to compete for those dollars and benefit from the economic downstream of that.”

He continued: “The challenge in Florida is we live in this mentality that we need to have the lowest cost of living. That’s not a competitive strategy. You don’t want to be in the lowest-cost state for business, because you often don’t generate the resources you need to be competitive. In some cases, the highest-cost states had the regions with the most resources. We need to find an equilibrium.”

The key is equilibrium.  Just being the cheapest does not mean being the best.  Moreover, if you do not invest in your area – really invest properly to create real resources – you will be left behind.  And we have failed to do that – especially in proper transportation and planning – but also other resources, which shows up in the per capita GDP/GMP number above.

We wonder if those County Commissioners who seem so ready to run away from really fixing transportation are listening – or looking at the economic numbers.

Downtown/Channel District – The Lightning Owner Gets More Ambitious

Speaking of cheap not being everything, when the Lightning owner first announced his vision plan, we said we liked it but wished there was even more.  Well,

Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik’s plans for downtown Tampa have grown significantly since the preliminary vision was unveiled in late 2014.

Originally pegged as a $1 billion development, the project is now estimated at $2 billion, Vinik said Tuesday. The first phase alone will be more than $1 billion and take three to four years to build out.

* * *

“Over the last eight to nine months, working with renowned urban planners Jeff Speck and David Dixon, we’ve evolved the plan, and frankly it’s grown,” Vinik said.

* * *

Here’s what the first phase will include:

“If things are going well” after the first phase, Vinik said, SPP sees potential for another billion-dollar phase, which would likely develop additional residential units and retail space.

We are glad to hear it.  We hope the first phase goes well.  How big would it be after full build out?

In the long run, the project could encompass up to 6 million square feet of commercial, residential, and retail space.

So about double. This is the old rendering:

From the Times – click on picture for article

This is a newer rendering

From the Tribune – click on picture for article

There are some differences, especially in the northern areas, but these are just renderings. (We are not really much for water-color-ish renderings for accuracy but that is what we have.)

Of course, all this will be determined by the market, but this project has some advantages – it will become somewhat its own draw, it can feed off of other downtown developments, and it has firm funding so it has staying power.  Once again, we like the Lightning owner’s ambition, but none of this is cheap.

In another development that shows that cheap is not everything:

Jeff Vinik’s redevelopment of 40 acres around Amalie Arena will become the world’s first health- and wellness-focused city district, dedicated to the well-being of employees, students, residents, tenants and guests expected to live and work in the area.

The announcement that the Vinik project would be a WELL Certified district came at the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City, where the Tampa Bay Lightning owner, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, developer Paul Scialla of the New York healthy-building designer Delos, and Robbie Fritz of Vinik’s financial partner Cascade Investment addressed the gathering of global leaders and thinkers.

“More than half of all people in the world now live in cities, and we spend 90 percent of our time indoors,” said Delos founder Scialla. “The built environment — our cities — are human habitat, and we have the knowledge to design them to sustain our health, not to harm it.”

The “well” moniker goes far beyond ordering cigarette smokers to the sidewalk.

Although official site plans have not been released, the Vinik project will feature design and technology strategies including enhanced walkability, abundant green space including low-pollen trees, sound barriers to support acoustic comfort, access to healthy foods, green infrastructure, daily monitoring and reporting of district air quality, and access to the amenities of an urban waterfront.

That is all good.  Of course, there are numerous cities that have districts that promote wellness, though they usually developed organically rather than as the result of a master plan.  Nevertheless, we are glad the Lightning owner is committed to doing so.  Moreover, the designation could have a positive effect on attracting tenants and business.

Once again, none of this is cheap.  It requires dedication to building a quality project and spending the money to do it. On the other hand, when you make such an investment, you can get better returns, which is what we think the Lightning owner understands.  If you really want a quality HQ and quality jobs in a really thriving environment, you cannot do it on the cheap and the Lightning owner is acting accordingly.

When you put these two things together – the size and the dedication to walkability and a real urban environment – it raises an issue.  If you are going to build something this big and give the roads a diet in an area with already constricted access, you have to be able to get people in and out somehow.  Unlike most cities that have natural walkability (or even planned walkability), there is no good transit access to this area.  Even if the streetcar is expanded to Tampa Heights, there still will be limited access.  The Lightning owner’s project is very positive and will do good.  However, as he notes, it is contingent on the market.

To truly reach its potential, this project needs access to real transit, and, for this area to truly reach its potential, it needs to build real transit.  That requires real investment and strong political will and leadership, something this area is not known for.  You can’t do it on the cheap. Which brings us to Go Hillsborough.

Transportation – Go Hillsborough, the Epic Saga

The TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough story just goes on and on – and gets even sillier – every week.  Most of the recent coverage has focused on whether the Parson Brinkerhoff contract was properly given, which is an issue (as is the background to that).  However, that is an issue of process, not substance.  We understand the political or media desire to present issues in simple binary arguments (the Crossfire/cable news effect).  On the other hand, such an approach makes for really bad policy.  It solves nothing.

What is getting ignored in the County Commission’s (and the Tampa City Council, too). scramble for cover from their own policies has been the actual substance of fixing transportation in this area, which is critical to fixing the poor economic performance explained above.  Simply maintaining the present infrastructure (even if you add variable rate toll lanes) will not cut it. While we think there should be a discussion about the whole consultant process, that has nothing to do with the actual transportation problem.  To conflate the two is just to create a muddle.

This muddle strategy was used by ideological opponents of better transportation in Greenlight Pinellas: ignore the real issue and focus on some small process ideas. Now, it is Hillsborough’s turn.

“It’s the same strategy” that undermined the Greenlight Pinellas sales tax referendum last year, Mayor Bob Buckhorn said.

Yes, it is, and everyone involved with the TED/PLC process (before it became Go Hillsborough) should have seen that strategy coming and not done anything to help it along regardless of whether it was technically proper or not.  Instead, they walked right into it. That failure – and the muddle it created – is on those officials.

Then again, the fact is that the opponents of Go Hillsborough are not motivated by the issues they are raising – they just oppose doing anything useful for transportation.  They, and the elected officials who follow their lead, are not concerned if it holds the area back and keep us increasingly uncompetitive.  We still need real transportation solutions.

For our part, we have questioned the need for outside consultants from the beginning – not focusing on the contract, just the need – the County should be in better touch with the electorate and should not rush to spend taxpayer money on such things.  On the other hand, we have never questioned the need to truly fix our woeful transportation system and its complete reliance on roads. The real question is whether the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough process was ever going to present a rational, coordinated, viable plan.

Having said that, we just thought this little bit from the Times website was timely:

Well, William Fulton and Kyle Shelton at Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research have. In a piece they wrote for Zócalo Public Square, the two note that light rail is growing in popularity in the most unlikely places.

For those of us stranded in highway traffic here in Tampa Bay, where we’re told repeatedly that light rail just won’t work here, rail’s success in these particular cities might come as a surprise. After all, these cities were developed during the same era that Tampa Bay developed, undermining a main argument by anti-rail activists that this mode of transit can only succeed in cities established before the advent of the automobile.

Yet, as the authors point out, Phoenix voters just approved a tax hike for more light rail. And Dallas has more light rail miles than any other city in the country and wants many, many more. 

Los Angeles has more riders per day than any other city except Boston.

Houston carries more light rail riders per mile than any system except for Boston and San Francisco.

Denver is building a light rail system second-only in size to what L.A.’s system plans to be.

San Diego’s system carries more than 100,000 riders per day. Light rail has also been a surprise hit in Salt Lake City.

Charlotte’s light rail system is now adding a streetcar. 

The cities are using light rail only as one element in transforming their systems, Fulton and Shelton write.

This is nothing new.  We have pointed it out a number of times.  And that does not include Oklahoma City (oh, and Kansas City), which is building a streetcar and looking at intercity rail with Tulsa.  (And feel free to check the per capita GDP for many of these areas listed above.) As the Mayor of OKC says on their streetcar page:

Most cities wait until their highways are at gridlock before they begin taking action. Our city has a history of planning for the future, and now is the time to get started.

Others act. We wait and then we don’t do anything. Yes, Tampa Bay (and its per capita GDP) is exceptional.

Transportation – Building a Better Bus

HART has been discussing its next MetroRapid line.

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority board on Monday postponed passage of its long-range transit plan until it decides whether to first serve customers by focusing on future growth downtown or with a new rapid-bus route to get them to jobs more quickly.

Neither route is funded, and neither would be built for years. Still, the board wants to look at potential bus ridership and consider which plan should get the next slot for development.

The two contenders: an east-west route that runs generally from Temple Terrace to Tampa International Airport, or a Kennedy Boulevard route that runs from downtown Tampa to the West Shore Business District and, eventually, Tampa International Airport.

The board was set to vote on an update of its transit development plan on Monday night. That vote now is expected to be in November.

The 10-year plan is mandated by the state to consider future improvements and additions for HART routes and buses.

Marco Sandusky, senior manager of equal employment opportunities and community programs for HART, told board members that planning and design work has been completed for a $20 million, 17.7-mile east-west MetroRapid route.

But Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman, who sits on the HART board, said Kennedy Boulevard should get priority.

“For what we need to develop for all the tourists and the people that work downtown, I feel like we’re missing the boat here,” Murman said. “I just don’t see the interest in the east-west.”

First, we have nothing against MetroRapid.  Apparently it has increased ridership on the USF to Downtown route, even though it is not really drawing from USF and points farther east.  (see Evaluation of HART MetroRapid BRT – Executive Summary, pg. 5 of the pdf)  We do have a problem with saying it is BRT because it is not.  It is a better bus, which is fine.

Second, we are not really sure what the choice should be.  Frankly, all of HART’s bus lines should be improved. Nevertheless, we have some pretty strong doubts that MetroRapid on Kennedy between Downtown and the airport is key to economic development.  Good transit connections that cause people to leave their cars and rely on that transit is key to such development but, per the study referenced above, that has not really happened with MetroRapid.  Sure, it might happen a little more with people going to and from the airport because some of those people have no choice, but to really bring transit oriented development, the line has to be fixed (either real fixed BRT or rail), and MetroRapid is not.  That being said, better bus service from downtown to the airport would be a good thing.

In any event, there is no money right now.  We need solutions sooner rather than later.

So, yes, there should be good transit between downtown and the airport, but, no, MetroRapid is not it.  By all means, build it – the bus service here should be much better overall, but then connect it to the robust transportation system with real transit.

Economy – Is There an Apartment Bubble?

With all the proposed apartment developments in the area, there has been a lingering question of whether the market can support all the units.  This week, the Business Journal had an article about a NAIOP annual confab.  Among a string of very positive sounding discussions, including some saying that there was strong demand for apartments, was this:

On multifamily, cap rates are at all-time lows with values above where they should be, said Randy X. Ferreira, senior partner and owner at Blue Rock Partners. The company has been prolific, developing more than 13,000 apartments. A low-interest rate environment has been the catalyst in its ability to make acquisitions.

“There’s a huge influx of equity and investors in the market and tremendous competition to buy properties and with suppressed cap rates and surpassed values, it’s becoming problematic,” he said. he said. “Everyone is doing a value-add play where they are fixing old apartments up and raising rents and paying high prices.” That means higher rents that are now exceeding the growth rate of income levels for renters.

The bubble question has been hovering around the multifamily market a long time now.

“We are going to have a significant correction in the market, maybe not now with the government’s inability to raise interest rates, but I think we are in for an adjustment in the market. I don’t see an exit strategy for a lot of people,” Ferreira said.

In other words, yes, it is booming, but a bit of caution is in order.

Downtown/Hyde Park – Related Improves a Bit

New renderings and plans for the proposed Related project on the Tampa Tribune site were recently released (Thanks to URBN Tampa Bay for posting them).  They show some improvements, but also some of the same problems.

First, a site plan:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

So what is better? There is a what appears to be a public riverfront walkway with access to Brorein/Cleveland.  That is a very welcome change.  They are also relocating a tree, though it is going to a courtyard and be hidden.  Finally, from this rendering, it appears the parking garage is a little shorter.

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

On the other hand, the parking garage is still the major feature of the project from the Grand Central/Hyde Park side.  In other words, the pedestrian experience will be dominated by a parking garage.  Moreover, the main entrance to the project is on the corner of Brorein/Cleveland/the Selmon and Parker, which connects the building to nothing in the area.  There is still the inexplicable number of apartments facing the Selmon and complete lack of pedestrian interaction.  And finally, if you look closely on the left of the site plan, you see that Grand Central Avenue terminates into the wall of the parking garage – which does not seem to really help any view corridors from the Grand Central area. If Altis Grand Central did not fit the neighborhood, this does not either.

We are happy they now want put a riverwalk, but there is still much room for improvement.  This is a very good lot.  It is a very good developer. It should be a very good project.  Right now, it isn’t. Tampa deserves better.

So What Is the Deal with the Bucs?

We have written much about the Rays stadium issue.  This week, we stated wondering about the Bucs.

The owners of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have proposed a deal to pay as much as $75 million toward a $100 million makeover of Raymond James Stadium, but Hillsborough County and Tampa Sports Authority officials are balking at some of the stipulations.

* * *

Some of the improvements are required as part of the agreement to bring the college football title game to Tampa in January 2017.

But others are at the initiative of the Bucs and could boost a bid to bring a fifth Super Bowl to the area.

The team, county and TSA have been working toward a deal since January. Some of the stadium enhancements would include massive high definition scoreboards, a new surround sound system, video board control room and other items.

Hillsborough County Commissioner and TSA board member Ken Hagan said the TSA budgeted for the required stadium improvements three years ago but held off because the Bucs wanted to make additional investments.

So what is the issue?

The Bucs seek the right to play an additional “home” game in another city, which has become a major sticking point, because county officials fear it could be used as leverage in future stadium negotiations.

Well, that is an odd request.  Why do they want to play another home game somewhere else?  Yes, their attendance has sagged (as we suspect the season ticket account may have decreased, as well) but that is most likely a result of on field performance.  There was a time when the Bucs always sold out – they also happened to win a bit more.  What was their stated logic for the odd request?

The Bucs see the ability to move an additional game to an international site such as London or another site within the state as a concession for forgiving the $11.6 million obligation the TSA has to construct a practice facility.

But the county says the practice facility had not been part of the negotiations before last week. The Bucs built One Buc Place with their own funding — estimated as three times what the county had set aside — opening in 2007.

* * *

The Bucs see the right to play an additional “home” game elsewhere as insurance for their $75 million investment.

Seems odd to protect your investment by not playing where you are investing. What did the Sports Authority say?

Under the current lease agreement, which will continue to run through 2028, the Bucs have the ability to play one home game, either regular or preseason, outside of Raymond James Stadium.

The TSA has countered with a stipulation that the Bucs cannot move a second regular season game to the same city as either of the other two games allowed under current the proposal.

We’ll just have to see. (Though this does not seem like anyone is having fun.)  We just hope the Bucs improve so they will get back to the support they previously had.  As the Lightning have shown, at least in Tampa, if you win, people will come.

What Can Six Billion Buy These Days?

As regular readers know, we have been featuring megaprojects to give perspective.  We are always happy when others get in on the act, too.  The effort to build a better area is a community effort.  This week, URBN Tampa Bay had a post on a $6 billion dollar development around the new 49ers stadium in Santa Clara.  You can read their very good commentary here.

We especially like this:

To make a stadium work with redevelopment, two factors are key, Santee says. “Transportation is number one; number two is density.” In Kansas City’s redevelopment around the Sprint Center, completed in 2007 as a home for concerts and sporting events, the residential development in the initial stages could not support the retail businesses, Santee says. “Without density, there was not enough to sustain [retail and restaurants] year in and year out.”

Transportation and density. Hmmm.

Remind us again why our elected officials refuse to address these two glaring, longstanding issues in our local planning?

And that goes not just for stadiums but also for downtown, Westshore, Brandon, everywhere. Simply because an area has a poor use or design does not mean it always have to have a poor use or design. Such redevelopment – and those like the Lightning owner’s project – can work here, but, without proper transportation and proper planning, we will only improve incrementally while others run ahead.

List of the Week

This week’s lists are in the first item.

Roundup 9-25-2015

September 25, 2015


Transportation – Willkommen

Transportation – The Dance Goes On

— How To Argue Against Yourself

— The Party of No Returns

— Conclusion

Downtown – Why We Like the Lightning Owner

Downtown/Channel District/Port – More Pictures, More Questions

Downtown – Trump Tower Site

Economy – Unemployment

Economy – Housing

How Many Playing Fields Do You Need, Cont.

Transportation – Is Ridesharing Better Than Cabs

Seminole Heights – The Theater

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the County

– What Does a Billion Buy These Days?

– How To Renovate a Mall

List of the Week


Transportation – Willkommen

From Wikipedia – click on picture for website

Today, Lufthansa service starts between Frankfurt and Tampa.  That is reason to smile.

Transportation – The Dance Goes On

We hope you got your smiles in because now we are going to discuss local transportation. This week, the always messy TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough process was further messed up.

— How To Argue Against Yourself

First, the County administrator has picked an auditor for the consultant (not engineer) contract in TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough event (remember, Go Hillsborough is part of the process using the second consultant):

Hoping to quickly restore trust in Go Hillsborough, County Administrator Mike Merrill called for Sheriff David Gee on Monday to investigate the public transportation initiative.

Merrill hopes a sheriff’s investigation will clear up any questions about the $1.35 million contract awarded to engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff to gauge public support for a proposed sales tax that would fund Hillsborough’s future transportation needs.

In the meantime, Merrill ordered Parsons Brinckerhoff and its subcontractors to halt work on Go Hillsborough’s public outreach meetings until the sheriff’s inquiry is complete.

Merrill’s request was made days after WTSP 10News questioned how the multinational firm was awarded the deal. A previous review by the county auditor said the contract was procured legally.

* * *

Gee accepted Merrill’s request. A time frame for the investigation was not available Monday, but Merrill said he was assured by the sheriff that it would be “thorough, complete, but urgent as well.”

Although the public outreach will not actually stop for now:

While Parsons Brinckerhoff will suspend its work on Go Hillsborough, county staff will continue to hold public meetings already scheduled, including two slated for today. The company is scheduled to prepare a report for the county in November, but it’s unclear if the delay will affect that time frame.

It is not clear that the consultants who have been at the meetings will still be at the meetings.

All that is fine, as are a proposal for new lobbying rules.  (Though we still wonder why, with a $4.8 billion budget and presumably connections to every community in the county, the County government could not just find out what people want. )  But, as we have said before, what is the bigger picture and more crucial for trust is whether the process will produce anything useful. (And it should be pointed out that just because you hire a big name consultant – whether you call it engineering services or consulting – does not mean you will get a good result.  For instance, ask Silver Springs, MD. )  That is unclear.

But Commissioner Sandy Murman wasn’t as confident in the referendum’s future.

“I don’t think any of us wanted to get into this process for almost two years and have it come to this,” Murman said. “So we have to get it back on track quick.”

This whole process has been dragged out far longer than it should have with certain Commissioners seemingly trying hard to just string it to avoid making decisions rather than actually fixing any problems. Whether it gets on track at all is on the Commissioners, who will decide what, if anything, goes into the referendum.  That is if they ever get to it:

The Tampa Bay Times spoke with all seven Hillsborough County commissioners after Merrill announced the sheriff’s investigation. Three commissioners, Kevin Beckner, Les Miller and Ken Hagan, said if Gee’s investigation does not raise any red flags, they will still support putting a half-cent sales tax increase on the 2016 ballot.

Two commissioners, Higginbotham and Stacy White, said they likely won’t support a plan for a referendum regardless of the sheriff’s findings.

Commissioner Victor Crist said he remains a “tough sell.” He’s “not completely sold on it” and doesn’t “see an absolute need for having to put something on the ballot” next year.

The wildcard is Commissioner Sandy Murman. The board chairmwoman [sic] has frequently bemoaned the county’s transportation woes and vowed to seek a solution the majority of the board could get behind. For months, a half-cent sales tax hike seemed to be that path. It was a delicate compromise for the Republican-controlled board in a county whose voters resoundingly rejected a full-cent increase in 2010.

But now Murman is less sure. In an interview with the Times, she suggested there might be other ways to find money for transportation besides raising the sales tax.

“This may not be the right time for us to do it,” she said of the referendum. “We have to have the certainty that this has a good chance of passing.

Two years of discussions, millions of dollars allocated, a persistent issue that they never actually do anything to fix, and they are still not committing to what, they themselves, have done in TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough. Why? (And it is hard to believe that they did not have full knowledge of what they were doing and, if not, why not.  And if they were not going to support a referendum no matter what, why did they support wasting taxpayer money on consultants?).

— The Party of No Returns

There was an interesting, though not surprising, article in the Tribune this week regarding the local Republican party and Go Hillsborough.

Even before Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill asked the sheriff’s office to investigate the Go Hillsborough transportation initiative, local Republican leaders had taken a stand against the project.

Last week, the Hillsborough Republican Party Executive Committee voted unanimously to oppose putting a sales tax referendum on the November 2016 ballot to pay for transportation projects. Go Hillsborough leaders have recommended a sales tax increase over 30 years to finance massive road and mass transit improvements.

Republican Committee Chairwoman Deborah Tamargo said the decision to oppose the referendum arose from local Republicans through the party’s precinct committeemen and committeewomen. The reasons were many, Tamargo said, but in general, people don’t think the county has explained adequately why a new tax is needed.

Many thought the county, which has seen higher tax collections thanks to an improving economy, could be spending more money on roads. Others see technological advances on the horizon, such as toll express lanes, that will cure traffic congestion without new taxes.

“For all the money spent on this public outreach, no one has been able to inform the citizens why we need a 30-year tax for a 10-year (transportation plan),” Tamargo said. “Why do we need a tax at this point in time when we have new revenue that hasn’t been appropriated.”

Well, there is this:

Republican Commissioner Ken Hagan said he shares the committee’s commitment to smaller government and lower taxes. But Hagan said the county is challenged by a $7 billion deficit in road and bridge work that will never be caught up with current revenue sources.

“As elected leaders it is incumbent on us to come up with meaningful action to attack the No. 1 issue facing our community,” Hagan said. “And, unfortunately, it is not possible to significantly address our transportation crisis with existing revenues.”

And this

Former Commissioner Mark Sharpe, also a Republican, said the county’s substandard transportation system is hurting the local economy, an opinion shared by local business leaders. Rick Homans, president and CEO of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp., told commissioners last week the county’s gridlocked transportation network is a top obstacle to attracting Fortune 500 companies.

“It’s like not investing in your house over time: It begins to fall apart,” Sharpe said. “Our house is falling apart as our population is growing and getting older. The state and county have to deal with transportation.”

So, that pretty much lays out the need for new revenue in a nutshell.  Of course, part of that need is the failure of County officials to deal with the transportation problem over the years.  On the other hand, that does not change the need.

In any event, so what solution did the Republican Party (and we note this is just the Party officials, not all Republicans nor is it necessarily representative of all Republicans) propose?

Tamargo said many local Republicans are strong believers in express toll lanes, designed for drivers who want to avoid traffic jams and are willing to pay for it. Freeways in the Miami area already have the lanes and the Florida Department of Transportation plans to add them to parts of Interstates 275 and 4 in the Tampa area.

“The hot lanes on the interstate — that is going to be huge,” Tamargo said. “I love it because the people in the hot lanes are paying for me to go faster in the other lanes.”

Well, that is not exactly the case.  (See “Transportation – Behind the Express Lanes”)  Moreover, that position makes it clear that they simply favor roads with no other options – basically a mid-20th century solution that has so far failed us.  And, even if you like variable rate toll lanes and there is money to maintain the existing roads, that does nothing to fix all the inadequate surface roads or help make us competitive in the market for young talent which is drawn to other forms of transportation and areas that offer a variety of lifestyles.  (And really, isn’t it the market that counts?)  Basically, the answer is they offer no solution.

One Commissioner really summarized what we think about this move:

“I find it interesting they took a stand on something — the referendum — when there is no referendum at this point,” said Higginbotham, former chairman of the Republican Executive Committee.

Exactly. Though, not that is matters for him because he is not probably going to support anything anyway because:

“I don’t support it . . . I still feel we have the ability within our means to fund this.” — Al Higginbotham, District 7

Which is strange because the County has never been able to do that before – in fact, it is not doing that right now.  Instead, it has spent its time subsidizing various things like the Bollywood Oscars, Bass Pro Shops, playing fields, etc.  Where is the actual plan to really fix transportation with present funds?  There is none.  Period.  There have been two years of discussions and not one proposal to cut other services to fund transportation.  It is really hard to take that statement seriously, especially when you consider the Republican Party position:

Sharon Calvert, the executive committee’s secretary and founder of the Tampa tea party, presented a formal resolution to oppose the referendum. Calvert is an outspoken critic of Go Hillsborough and the Parsons Brinckerhoff contract.

The resolution claimed rising home values, an expanding economy and population growth are boosting county revenues and no new taxes are needed for roads and transit.

Sure, if you do not improve transit and you pave no new roads.  If you are ok maintaining the status quo this is the plan for you.

The fact is that the opposition to a referendum is more ideological (See “Does God Hate Trains?”) than practical, which is not unexpected.  And everyone is entitled to their opinion.  At least we know their position, which, sadly after two years of discussions, is more than what we can say about some Commissioners.

— Conclusion

So, if you want to know why we lag other areas, you can just look at this process and the complete lack of political leadership, vision, and will involved.  As noted by one Commissioner:

Beckner said his colleagues were caving to outside pressure from vocal antitax opponents. He said it was a “political knee-jerk reaction” to back away from Go Hillsborough when the county is just weeks away from unveiling its blueprint for tackling gridlock.

“How can you say you’re not going to support something when you don’t even know what the damn plan is?” Beckner said. “I don’t see how anybody could say we don’t support it unless you say you don’t believe in investing in transportation and don’t have the political stomach to put it to a vote.”

There is really nothing else to say.

Downtown – Why We Like the Lightning Owner

In complete contrast to the Go Hillsborough circus, the Lightning owner spoke at the Tampa Tiger Bay club and showed why we like him.  He was balanced and reserved but obviously committed to making his project work.  In other words, unlike so much of what goes on in local politics, businesslike.

On a scale of one to 10, how close does Vinik feel to signing a big corporate headquarters?

“I think I’ll regret it if I answer that question with a number,” Vinik said. But he said he’s talking to a lot of people, including a lot of executives in the Northeast, where he worked as a hedge fund manager.

A few companies that recently decided to move somewhere else in the Southeast had Tampa on their short list, he said. One started with 47 prospects, and Tampa made it to the final five.

“We are getting closer and we are resonating,” he said. “There are several major prospects out there we are having discussions with.”

But Vinik said people should not focus only on landing a Fortune 500 headquarters. It would be great, and he thinks it will happen in the next year or two, but it also would be good to land smaller pieces of big companies that bring high-paying jobs.

“Let’s not turn away 2,000 high-paying jobs because it happens to be a regional headquarters,” he said.

Totally devoid of hype and completely reasonable.  Yes, we want an HQ, but we are all for bringing other high-paying jobs.  (We are opposed to calling smaller pieces an HQ, but he doesn’t do that, which is great.)

How could Vinik manage to bring the Museum of Science and Industry, a big complex of buildings and parking lots near USF, to his downtown project near Tampa’s waterfront?

That’s “the biggest issue we’ve discussed with the board of directors of MOSI,” Vinik said.

The decision ultimately belongs to MOSI and Hillsborough County, which owns the E Fowler Avenue property. But he said a feasibility study is about to start. One big consideration: How to accommodate the children MOSI gets for its camps?

“What’s going to happen to those 4,000 kids?” he said. If a newer, better downtown facility is possible, “we sure better have that transportation working well to bring the people from North Tampa, from north Hillsborough County to downtown.”

Hey, someone talking about north Tampa and its connection to downtown.  That is rare, indeed.  And his point is completely valid.

With all that good stuff, there was one thing that we do not entirely agree with.

Does Vinik support the Florida Department of Transportation’s planned expansion of Tampa’s I-275 downtown interchange? (A representative of his land development company, Strategic Property Partners, told the Metropolitan Planning Organization in August that the company did support the Tampa Bay Express project.)

“I’m talking to a lot of companies, and the No. 1 thought on their mind is, ‘How do we move our employees around this area?’ ” he said. “I think everything is on the table when you look at improving the horizontal flow of workers in this area as well as visitors as well as people who are living here and doing their shopping.”

The area’s population is growing at 1.5 percent per year and could grow at 2.5 percent per year, he said.

“Huge growth,” he said. “We’ve got to think ahead for transportation, and it’s going to require a lot of different means to move all these people around.”

So this is a bit tricky.  His actual answer is also correct.  We do need various transportation improvements.  On the other hand, Tampa Bay Express, which he did not explicitly endorse, does not seem to be a very good use of very large resources ($6-9 billion) for moving those people. And what is he supposed to say anyway.  That is the only thing on offer from the state – without alternative choices.  So his comments are much like the airport director (who needs state money to build the airport master plan):

“I think we’re so far behind that we have to start somewhere,” says Tampa International Airport CEO Joe Lopano, who sits on the MPO’s board and voted to support the TBX plan.

Lozano says the TBX is by no means “a silver bullet,” but says simply that, “We’ve got to start somewhere. And we’ve got a project that’s worth billions of dollars that people are willing to do that’s gonna have some benefit, so let’s do it.”

We are so far behind – too bad certain County Commissioners were not listening – but the choice from FDOT is TBX or nothing, which is not much of a choice (though, once again, the real fault lies with local officials).

Another iteration of the Lightning owner’s discussion was a little different:

Vinik said solutions from wider highways to express buses and light rail have been debated, but “it’s a complicated equation, and that’s why I think we’ve all struggled with it. I will reiterate that improving transportation around here is critical in the years ahead.”

Vinik routinely sidesteps political hot potatoes, and he brushed off frequent references to light rail, a concept voters on both sides of Tampa Bay have soundly rejected. However, he said he wants to see the TECO Streetcar line “become a real, viable means of transportation,” expanded to traverse all of downtown and eventually reach Tampa International Airport.

“That would be a great demonstration project of how transit can actually move people and take cars off the road and create a better environment.”

But Vinik was noncommittal on the subject of light rail. When one attendee asked if he would participate in organizing and leading the business community in supporting mass transit, he offered a one-word response: “Maybe.”

It is not really his job to organize the business community (or make the county Commission actually be sensible).  He is for expanding the streetcar for a reasonable business purpose, but his support for that project will help push it.  The real point is that he is moving forward with a real urban project and notes the importance of transportation solutions for its success, including some rail.  He also notes that there has to be a way to keep downtown open.

That brings us to the whole issue of road diets, which, if done properly in the right conditions, can be fine.  The only problem is that if the solution to bringing people downtown is simply to widen the roads, the road diet will not work.  The whole point of road diets (and even variable rate express lanes) is to not have people drive.  However, if there is no real alternative (and there is still no planned alternative from north Tampa or really anywhere outside of downtown), where are the people supposed to go?  Most likely, somewhere other than downtown or into gridlock. There has to be, and there is, a better way.

We really like the Lightning owner.  We like his approach.  We like his ideas, even if we (may) disagree with a few things.  He seems to have the same approach as the airport director, when asked about a transportation referendum:

“Well, I think we’ve got to do it right. If you’re going to go after something, do it right, and I hope you agree that’s what we’ve done here. And that’s what George Bean did 43 years ago. First guy to have a people mover system at an airport. He did it right, and we as a community have to get together and do it right.”

Too bad so many elected officials do not agree.

Downtown/Channel District/Port – More Pictures, More Questions

The Port posted the whole presentation of their master vision plan here. It has many nice pictures, so you should look at it. Here’s one:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

Coincidentally, the Tribune had an interesting article on some of the challenges for the plan.

That is why Port Tampa Bay leaders last month unveiled plans for a $1.7 billion development that would remake 45 acres of prime waterfront land in the Channel District. Where longshoremen once unloaded bananas, port leaders now envision hotels, a major park, a marina and two signature 75-story residential towers.

It’s a project loaded with challenges, as well as opportunities, according to the real estate market study used to help develop the plan by designer Luis Ajamil of Miami-based Bermello Ajamil & Partners.

The Channel District lacks transit and employment options. The development will also have to contend with the Tampa Bay area’s high rate of vacant properties and find a way to coexist with a neighboring $1 billion redevelopment of land around Amalie Arena by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik.

And the scale of the port project, some 9 million square feet of mixed-use development, has some real estate agents describing it as ambitious.

“My takeaway is it’s good to see the port thinking about those ideas, but I’d be surprised if what they showed us in their concept plan is what gets built,” said David Conn, an executive vice president with CBRE, a real estate service and investment firm.

The port’s 15-year plan would create a cruise district, the central waterfront, a park district and a marina district across 45 acres parallel to Ybor Channel. Its two residential towers would each have about 450 units and would be the tallest in Florida. 

First, as we have discussed before, even if built (which is a big if) the apartment buildings will most likely not be Florida’s tallest, though that is not really relevant now because, as we said, it is a question whether they will be built.  On the other hand, yes, much of what is presented in the vision plan is good (setting aside the whole port/cruise question).   And we also agree that it is unlikely to be built as presented.  The plan is an idea of what could be – which is fine – but there is no telling if any of it will come out of the ground as shown.

Bob McDonaugh, economic development administrator for the city of Tampa, said the shift to urban living will boost demand further but acknowledges there is a degree of doubt.

“We’ve never had the number of units being developed at the same time as we do now,” McDonaugh said. “I’m not certain we’re ready for a 75-story building, never mind two of them, but the market will determine that.” 


Ajamil briefed port leaders last week, saying there is already strong interest from developers. The Tampa Port Authority board awarded his planning firm a $1.3 million contract extension to turn his splashy renderings into a fleshed-out master plan.

He told the Tribune that much of the grunt work on the project is already in place. Development in the Channel District has already created demand for small retail stores like coffee shops and a grocery store.

“What you see is a residential downtown becoming a reality,” he said. 

Sure.  There is residential downtown.  Whether everything proposed can be built and make money then add the Port’s ideas is a question.  But, as said above, the market will determine that.  On the other hand, the article notes that Harbour Island is mostly built out but fails to mention that only the north part of a Harbour Island bears any resemblance to what was first proposed for the island.  In any event,

Brenda Dohring Hicks, CEO of the Dohring Group, a Tampa commercial real estate, appraisal, brokerage and technology firm, is less convinced and described the project as a “Herculean effort.”

If successful, the port development could provide the missing piece of the city’s downtown, making a contiguous urban walkable community from the central business district through Channelside and on to Ybor City, she said.

The two residential towers would serve as the project’s icons, a slice of Miami on Florida’s west coast, she said. But she warned that Tampa does not attract international buyers and investors as Miami does.

“Something of that size will take a lot more smart people and deep pockets than are in Tampa,” she said.

Well said.  So let us be clear – it is not that we do not want to see the Port’s property developed along the lines of the plan (though more pedestrian friendly along Channelside and keeping in mind the Port’s main business is being a port.) In fact, we think the project should be more urban especially on the north side of the plan where the development is cutoff from Channelside. It’s just that we are not particularly moved by pretty pictures and a lot of hype.  We’ve seen that movie too many times (including with our namesake project) in this area.  At least, this time there is a little more sober approach – especially considering there does not seem to be any funding for anything yet.

Ram Kancharla, vice president of planning and development at the port, gave an overview of the vision to a packed house inside the Stageworks Theater, outlining the plan to bring apartments, offices, retail, a marina and park to the strip along the waterfront. He acknowledged that the concept is the only part of the plan finalized at this point.

Financing is still very much in the works, he told the partnership members, whose goal is to foster a vibrant and diverse downtown Tampa.

* * *

Kancharla said he expects to see the plan move forward quickly within the next year. “There will be a lot of activity to put these things in place in the next six to 12 months. We have to get funding and get the first phase going as soon as we can. There has already been a lot of interest, from investors” and developers, he said. But just how quickly the plan progresses and in what order, he said, will depend on the private sector and the real estate market.

So who knows what will happen and how it might look? By all means keep being ambitious (in fact, do not settle), but we will stay realistic.  And if and when something comes out of the ground, assuming it is along the lines in the pictures, we plan to go enjoy it.

Downtown – Trump Tower Site

More information on the proposal for a mixed used building on the former Trump Tower site was filed, including a site map of the bottom floor:

From public records, via SkyscraperCity – click on picture for website

and a footprint

From public records via SkyscraperCity – click on picture for website

We like this project overall, though have some mixed feelings. We really like the retail on the Riverwalk.  We like the lobby serving as a connection from Ashley to the Riverwalk.  On the other hand, while we know you need mechanical and loading dock, putting them on the Ashley side will just make that stretch of Ashley even deader, which is sad.  Yet, to move that from Ashley would mean putting it on the river, which is not good at all.

Last week, we spoke about rarely having to settle for a really good reason.  We think this might be one of those situations.  Across Ashley is a completely bland streetscape with a building having no street interaction and a parking garage.  While that is not what we would have chosen, the City was fine with it.  (It has already sacrificed this stretch of Ashley so there will not be much more damage with this plan.)  In this proposal, it seems that you probably can’t energize both the river side and the street side of the building (at best you could maybe energize half of each side).   We think they do it about as well as possible (with the caveat that we haven’t seen any actual design, just these drawings).  We also like that you can access the Riverwalk from both the north and south sides of the building.

It may be possible to do it better, but the site has width constraints and we haven’t seen something better.

Having a dead block or two of Ashley is not what we really want (not to mention the dead block around the convention center) but the tradeoff seems ok, especially because this proposal even tries to add a little life to Ashley with part of the lobby.  If someone has a better layout, we’d be happy to see it.

Economy – Unemployment

Time to check in with the unemployment stats.

The state added a solid 19,600 jobs in August — second-best in the country to California — as its unemployment rate tumbled to 5.3 percent, the lowest mark in more than seven years. Tampa Bay, where unemployment dipped to 5.2 percent, was second only to Orlando among Florida metros in creating jobs over the year.

Good stuff.

Brown said he’s not surprised the twin-tourism meccas of Orlando and Tampa Bay are leading the way in job growth this past year. Low gas prices have helped lure a record number of tourists to theme parks and beaches.

Along with tourism, two other industries known for lower wages — health care/social assistance and retail — have been major contributors to Florida’s growth.

But Vitner said he’s encouraged to see solid job gains across the board, particularly in business services and construction. The number of construction jobs dropped slightly in August but is still up more than 25,000 from August 2014.

Even government and manufacturing have added 7,200 and 6,100 jobs, respectively, over the year. The only industry still ailing is information, down 1,000 jobs from a year ago.

And that is not bad, though we are not sure if “information” means “IT” or something else.  If it is IT, that is not good.

Still, there’s reason to keep any celebrations to a minimum. The two big caveats of the recovery haven’t gone away:

The low paying jobs are still a concern.  Of course, making some money is better than making no money, but still.  And the second issue is very interesting.  Even taking into account retirees, it seems odd that with a 263,000 person population growth the labor force shrank by 87,000.  Moreover, a drop of that size would account for between .5% and 1% of the labor force and, thus, the unemployment rate, anyway.

Though, even with some more higher paying jobs, there is a persistent problem with the kind of jobs:

Rising poverty: Some major metro areas are starting to make progress against poverty. But in most regions, poverty rates and poor populations continue to outstrip their pre-recession levels.

In 2000, the Tampa Bay metro area’s poverty rate stood at 11.3 percent of the population. That was lower than the 11.6 percent average of the country’s top 100 metro areas. By 2013, a few years after the recession, this metro’s poverty rate had climbed to 15.4 percent, higher than the 100-metro average of 15 percent.

By 2014, Tampa Bay’s poverty rate climbed again — to 15.8 percent — even as the 100-metro area average fell 0.3 percentage point to 14.7 percent. Orlando’s poverty rate soared from 10.7 percent in 2000 to 16.7 percent in 2014. Miami and Jacksonville numbers also are up, U.S. Census data say.

Enough with just counting jobs. Aim higher.

That speaks for itself (and the jobs we are really getting).  So does this:

But WalletHub, the online personal finance resource, says Florida has one of the least fair tax systems in the nation, ranking 45th overall; is No. 3 among states where the top 1 percent in income are most undertaxed; and is No. 4 among states where the poor are overtaxed.

That is a 1-2 punch that is the result of years of policy choices here and at the state level.

Having more jobs is better than what was happening a few years ago.  But we are nowhere near where we should be.

Economy – Housing

Time to check in with the housing market, too.

Home sales in the Tampa metro area rose by 14.4 percent in August compared to the same month a year ago, outpacing national numbers by more than double.

Locally and statewide, the figures are bucking a national trend for the most part as the National Association of Realtors reported sales slid in August by the most since January as supplies continued to tighten and prices rise.

Home sales nationally were up just 6.2 percent in August compared to August 2014 but down compared to July. Sales are expected to remain flat for the remainder of the year, according to the Realtors.

Florida’s success can be attributed to a busy summer for real estate likely brought on by an economy growing through jobs, said Brad Monroe, former president of the Greater Tampa Association of Realtors.

Or you could read it this way:

Tampa Bay homes sales continued strong in August although sales in both the bay area and statewide are cooling from their torrid pace earlier in the year.

“Home sales in Florida are beginning to moderate, even as inventory gets tighter,” John Tuccillo, chief economist of Florida Realtors, said Monday. “The August gains in sales for both single-family homes as well as condos and townhouses are lower than they were in the late spring and early summer. We expect the current pace of growth to be typical for the year.”

All four Tampa Bay counties notched double-digit increases in sales of single-family homes in August. Pasco had the biggest jump, with year-over-year sales shooting up 19.2 percent, followed by Hillsborough at 15 percent, Hernando at 13.6 percent and Pinellas at 10.6 percent.

But the increases — while healthy — were nothing like those in five of the previous six months. Year-over-year sales in Pinellas, for example, had rocketed by 34.6 percent in February and 27.1 percent in July.

Price gains, too, were modest enough to dispel fears of a bubble. No Tampa Bay county had a median sales price increase in August of more than 10 percent.

“Prices haven’t seen significant increases this year, which is likely the by-product of many homes being sold in the REO (foreclosure) category,” said Charles Richardson, senior regional vice president of Coldwell Banker. But “that number is coming down quite a bit.”

Though something to keep in mind:

The Tampa metro area is on track to reach an eight-year high in home sales in 2015, according to RealtyTrac, which released its August Home Sales Report today.

The Tampa region also ranked in the top five of metro areas with the highest cash sales, highest share of institutional investor purchases and in distressed sales.

In sum, the housing market is still doing well, though not crazy.  That’s fine, though there are still some issues.  We’ll just have to see what the long-term trends show.

How Many Playing Fields Do You Need, Cont.

Hillsborough County has set aside $15 million on the premise that there is a lot of untapped business in youth sports. This week there was a proposal for a new set of playing fields in Pinellas County.

A group of sports partners are hoping to relocate the Atlanta Braves spring training facility to Pinellas County and are among the three groups that have submitted proposals to build on the former Toytown landfill site.

SportsPark Partners LLC’s plan includes converting the 240-acre site into an “international destination” for amateur and professional sports with athletic fields, a hotel, office space and a sports medicine facility, according to the request for proposal submitted to the county Aug. 31.

The group — made up by Echelon, a real estate development firm led by Darryl LeClair; the Gary Sheffield Sports Foundation; and the Atlanta Braves — estimated the investment to total $662 million.

The SportsPark would also host Sheffield’s philanthropic venture The Project, which would bring low-income and inner city children to learn about sports and “play amongst the best talent in the world,” according to a one part of the proposal.

But another aspect of the project is geared toward expensive travel teams and tournaments.

Listed as the team’s architect is Populous, one of the nation’s leading firms for sports architecture and the same firm that’s building the Braves’ new Cobb County Stadium. The proposal says the site plan can be modified to host two Major League Baseball teams for spring training, which is a trend in the sport.

The proposed complex would be much like Disney’s “Wide World of Sports” complex near Orlando, where the team is under contract for one more year. That facility includes much more than baseball fields. It would include including facilities to host tournaments in a dozen sports, including basketball, soccer and swimming.

The proposal would include a 10,000-seat baseball stadium with berm seating for an additional 1,000 fans, a 15,000-seat fieldhouse for basketball or other indoor events, a track and field facility with 20,000 seats, an aquatic center with a pool and hockey rink and a 200,000-square foot dormitory that could house 800 people.

We have no idea if it will happen (you can read about other proposals for the site here), but, if it does, that’s fine with us. (Even if it does foreclose another possible location for the Rays. At this time, given St. Pete’s apparently lack of desire to deal, it really doesn’t matter.)  It is in the area, centrally located, nice complex and backers, and no taxpayer cash (at least not in Hillsborough).  And there is the Spring Training fillip. All the better.

From the Times – click on picture for article

Hillsborough should let it go.  There are a lot of things that $15 million could go to that are more worthy. (Though, even if it is all used for road work, it would still not solve our transportation issues.)

Transportation – Is Ridesharing Better Than Cabs

There as an interesting article in the Guardian (UK) about ridesharing.

Uber’s controversial ride-sharing service is 40% cheaper than taxis in Sydney – and more reliable, too, according to an investigation by consumer advocates.

Choice found little evidence to support the claim by the New South Wales Taxi Council – printed on billboards around Sydney – that ride-sharing services such as UberX were “no safer than hitchhiking”.

The UberX feature, which connects passengers with registered private vehicles, has triggered protests around the world by the taxi industry, including earlier this month in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra.

But ride-sharing has taken off in Australia, and was used more than 1m times in the year to May, Uber says.

Investigators from Choice compared 28 taxi rides to the same number of trips using UberX. They found that taxis were more expensive nine times out of 10, and by an average of 40%.

Only with surge pricing – which boosts the cost of a UberX trip when demand is high – did taxis become cheaper, by about 6% in most instances.

There is much more in the article, including the response by the taxi companies, which you can read here.  You can read it and decide for yourself.

Seminole Heights – The Theater

Anyone who has been in Tampa for any length of time knows that over the decades Tampa has loved to demolish its past. (How else could a walkable city with an elaborate streetcar system have turned itself into so auto-centric a place?)  Now at risk is the old Seminole Theater, which is now used as a church. (See what it looks like now here. See what it used to look like here.)

A Bay area church is getting a last minute reprieve after the city ordered it to be demolished.

Praise Cathedral on Florida Avenue in Tampa was already in bad shape, but when an alleged drunk driver slammed into the wall of the church, the city ordered to have it demolished.


The city agreed to allow the church six more months before a final order to demolish the building.

“Thank God,” Hall said. “That’s why we’re proud they gave us time. We want to raise money.”

Now there is a Facebook page to save the building.

So much of what was Florida Avenue in Seminole Heights, especially the urban part, is gone, it would be great to save the theater.  Please check out the Facebook page and do what you can.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

The Fast Co Innovation by Design awards were given out.  This year, the winner was All Aboard Florida. Here’s what they had to say (there is a rendering at the website):

All Aboard Florida

Creators: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP, Roger Duffy
Firm: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP
Client: Florida East Coast Industries Inc

Public-private partnerships have yielded a new wave of civic innovation, such as the popular Citi Bike program in New York. All Aboard Florida scales this strategy to a commuter rail system. The new 235-mile rail network is meant to connect South Florida to Central Florida, and its stations would feature shopping opportunities to revitalize the economies. SOM-designed rail stations in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach would serve as key nodes of the system and are envisioned as gateways to their respective cities—and architectural destinations in their own right.

No word on if we will ever see it here.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the County

– What Does a Billion Buy These Days?

This week, we look at a project in LA (We do not think we have mentioned this before.)

Over one year ago, developer PRH LA Mart unveiled ambitious plans to build a high-rise complex on the border between Downtown and South Los Angeles.  The project – budgeted at approximately $1-billion – would replace a pair of large surface parking lots with a combination of residential units, hotel rooms and pedestrian-oriented commercial space.

Yesterday, the Los Angeles Department of City Planning published a new draft environmental impact report (DEIR), revealing new information about the mixed-use development, which is now called “the Reef.”

The completed development calls for approximately 1,664,000 of new floor area, divided between two properties known as the West Block and the East Block.  Additionally, significant alterations are proposed for the existing Reef building – a boxy mid-rise structure built in the mid-1950s.

You can go here to get more detail.

– How To Renovate a Mall

With all the talk about University Square Mall and renovating it, we thought this project in Silicon Valley was interesting (not because we think it would happen here, but so that people know what is being considered elsewhere).

Vallco Shopping Mall, in the heart of suburban Silicon Valley, is a classic example of the dying shopping center. Half the stores are empty, the food court is abandoned, and people leave Yelp reviews talking about their fear of zombie ambushes in the eerie corridors.

So now developers plan to start over. The mall and the sprawling adjacent parking lot may be turned into a new walkable neighborhood, topped with the largest green roof in the world.

Below is a rendering.  You can see more here.

From Fast Company – click here for website

Now that is a lifestyle center.

List of the Week

There is no list this week.

Roundup 9-18-2015

September 18, 2015


Transportation – Check Yourself, Love Yourself, Hurry and Wait

— Go Hillsborough

— The Commissioners Support the Commissioners

— And One More Thing

Downtown/Hyde Park/ West Side – The Altis Grand and Settling

Downtown – Grant Block Moves Forward

USF – Med School Moves Forward

West Tampa/Built Environment – On Transformations

Economy – Housing Market

Economic Development – Start-Ups

Rocky Point – It Deserves Better, Too

TIA – When You Stop Going Along to Get Along

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

— What Can a Billion Buy These Days

— Desert Rail

— Google Town

List of the Week I

List of the Week II


Transportation – Check Yourself, Love Yourself, Hurry and Wait

This week, the head of the EDC spoke about issues that get in the way of getting an HQ.

But on Wednesday, Rick Homans, president and CEO of the Tampa Hills­borough Economic Development Corp., also bluntly described what’s holding the region back as it seeks to lure a major corporate headquarters that would transform the area.

In a presentation to Hillsborough County commissioners about corporate recruitment efforts, Homans said he hears three concerns from CEOs about the Tampa market.

The first should come as no surprise: transportation. It’s an issue the county has wrestled with for years and is hoping to address with the Go Hillsborough transit initiative.

But the other two roadblocks are discussed less publicly. One is a lack of “Class A” office space, meaning at least 100,000 square feet with the modern amenities a Fortune 500 company would expect in a new headquarters.

* * *

The third concern that CEOs have of Tampa is fear of being, as Homans put it, “too much of a pioneer.” There’s trepidation in being the new kid on the block — or the only kid.

The last two issues first.  Building an office building is not that hard, and, as the article points out, the Lightning owner would love to do it.  As for being the first to move, someone has to be first.  There is nothing you can do about that.

Which leaves us with the ever-present issue of transportation.  Our transportation problem is the result of bad planning, poor decisions, lack of political will, and lack of vision.  Now, we have the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough process that is supposed to address all that. Whether it will or not, no one knows.  So far, based mostly on a lack of will and uniformity of vision and purpose among the elected officials, it is doubtful that if will solve our problem.  But all that can change as long as there is a proper focus.

— Go Hillsborough

This week, that focus, which was never really sharp, got a little blurrier.

Fearing that complaints of political cronyism would derail a years-long transportation initiative, Hillsborough County commissioners voted Wednesday to re-examine their $1.3 million contract with an engineering firm they hired.

The action came a day after WTSP-TV aired a report linking Tampa public relations consultant Beth Leytham with the decision to hire engineers Parsons Brinckerhoff to lead the county’s Go Hillsborough public outreach effort.

The WTSP-TV report, using text messages gathered through public records requests, showed Leytham advising County Administrator Mike Merrill against hiring certain firms that might compete for the work Parsons Brinckerhoff is now doing. Parsons Brinckerhoff was not mentioned in the texts.

* * *

Though never mentioning Leytham, the county commission Wednesday unanimously supported Commissioner Kevin Beckner’s motion to audit the process that led to the selection of Parsons Brinckerhoff. Beckner said accusations made in the television investigation and by tea party-affiliated groups have “put a cloud over the Go Hillsborough effort.”

Beckner said a similar cloud helped sink the Greenlight Pinellas transportation initiative, which asked voters to support a penny per dollar sales tax increase for transportation projects. The ballot initiative was overwhelmingly defeated in November.

Hillsborough County leaders have alternated between favoring a half-cent or full cent sales tax increase to build and repair roads, bridges and trails, and to expand mass transit options. Whichever option the commission chooses, it will likely go before voters in the November 2016 election.

“It has become apparent that with the Go Hillsborough initiative, much like Greenlight Pinellas, the campaign war has already begun,” Beckner said. “I think it’s really important that as soon as possible we address this issue and restore the trust and confidence our community expects of us.”

(You can read the above-referenced rather extensive WTSP report that also touches on a lot of local governance issues here and come to your own conclusions.)  Setting aside that we are not sure there ever was real confidence in the process, especially as it seems to constantly get drawn out, vaguer, more confused, and apparently lacks the confidence of a number of decision makers, that is fine.  We are not sure that having the County audit itself – rather than someone independent – is even worth the effort.

However, a lot of that does not have to do directly with transportation.  As far as transportation goes, the process has been an expensive mess for a while now.  But then, a lot of what the County does is an expensive mess.  There is still time to produce something coordinated, comprehensive, and useful.  Whether that happens remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, at the City Council,

Tampa City Council, at the urging of council member Lisa Montelione, is exploring backing out of a contract with engineering consulting company Parsons Brinckerhoff for work the company was going to do in support of the Go Hillsborough transportation plan project.

* * *

“I’m not sure why we need to spend $74,000 to find out what we need. We already know what we need,” said Montelione during Thursday’s meeting.

Indeed, it’s just a question of having the will to do it.

— The Commissioners Support the Commissioners

In another example of silliness at the County, we give you, as usual, the PTC:

Hillsborough County commissioners voted unanimously to support state legislation that would allow ride-share companies to operate legally but with regulations the companies have so far rejected.

The legislation was drawn up by Commissioner Victor Crist, who also is chair of the county’s Public Transportation Commission. The bill will be sponsored by state Rep. Dan Raulerson, a Plant City Republican.

The commission’s action came two days after state Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, filed several bills regarding ride-share companies Uber and Lyft. One of the bills would abolish the PTC, an agency created by the state Legislature. No other county has a similar agency.

Given that the PTC Board features three out of seven County Commissioners, it is not surprising that the Commission basically supports itself.  That does not make the PTC’s activity make any more sense nor justify its existence.  In fact, once again, it provides more reason why it is redundant and should be abolished.

— And One More Thing

Finally, as part of the Go Hillsborough thoughts – they are not really a proposal – is the idea that Hillsborough County would move to mobility fees, an idea of which the County has been aware but done nothing for years.  We and others have said that if the Commission is really serious about the Go Hillsborough process they should just go to mobility fees regardless of the referendum.  This week:

The fees that builders pay to fund road construction in Sarasota County will increase for many new developments and expand in scope to help finance sidewalks, bike lanes and other transportation infrastructure, but growth control advocates argued Tuesday that the revenues will still be inadequate to keep up with needed improvements.

County commissioners voted unanimously to replace the road impact fee system with a new “mobility fee,” touting the move as an effort to limit urban sprawl and boost transportation options. As part of that vote they also rolled back a portion of the fee cuts made to help encourage development during the Great Recession.

* * *

Development in urban areas, and projects that help reduce the need for car trips by incorporating both residential and commercial uses, would receive a discount. That could help reduce sprawl, said Commissioner Charles Hines.

“The carrot that we have in this plan is something we didn’t have before,” Hines said, adding that the flexible nature of the mobility fee could help reduce congestion in urban areas by enhancing other transportation options when roads can’t be improved.

Pasco already has them (though you wouldn’t notice).  Now Sarasota has them.  Hillsborough really needs to show some real urgency.

Downtown/Hyde Park/ West Side – The Altis Grand and Settling

As most of you probably know, there was a long, contentious hearing about the Altis Grand Central project near the Oxford Exchange.  The project had been through a number of tweaks, but the owners of the Oxford Exchange, and, it turns out, a number of other neighbors, opposed the project.  In the event, the City Council rejected the zoning change.

After a marathon — and contentious — six-hour hearing that lasted until midnight Friday, City Council voted 5-1 to deny the zoning change needed to build Altis Grand Central, a large mixed-use development project set to rise across from the Oxford Exchange.

So what did the City Council say was the reason for denying the rezoning?

“I think the issue has to do with the context of the neighborhood,” said council member Harry Cohen.


Suarez made the motion to deny the rezoning request, saying the developer didn’t show that protecting the trees would deny it a reasonable use of the property. Montelione offered additional reasons it was incompatible. The vote was 5-1, with Miranda casting the only no vote. Yvonne Yolie Capin was absent at the vote.

The developer responded:

But representatives of Altman Development indicated Friday they are not ready to give up trying to build the complex of two apartment buildings and 5,000 square feet of storefront commercial and retail space in the block bordered by Grand Central, Cedar and Magnolia avenues, and Cleveland Street.

“We are seriously considering our all of our options,” said Beth Leytham, a consultant representing Altman Development. “We clearly demonstrated we met or exceeded the requirements of code. Unfortunately, several questionable issues occurred before and during the public hearing that we must consider and review more carefully.”

Among the issues that may surface if the company files a legal challenge is whether the city followed Florida laws that govern land-use hearings.


We could get into a lot of detail on this issue, but we have already said what we think: the project is poorly designed, with not enough street retail and the far too prominent garage.  We are not opposed to residential on the block.  We understand the parking needs.  We just think it can be done better, even saving some of the trees and historical structures that mysteriously stopped being historical during this process. (In fact, URBN Tampa Bay has some ideas of a better plan here)  Frankly, we have no problem with something bigger being built on the lot as long as it pays attention to design and has proper street interaction.

But none of that is the bigger issue.  Anyone who watched or attending the hearing heard over and over that this project complied with planning and code because on lots nearby the City had already approved midrise office buildings and parking garages.  This project, it was said, was in line with the size, scale, and character of what the City had already approved and, therefore, should be approved.  Because of that, to say they did not want this project as designed, the City Council had to come up with other reasons, like trees, structures or “character of the neighborhood” (we won’t get into the generic Dunkin Donuts being built a few blocks away on Kennedy.)   All those reasons will limit what can be built on this lot and how.

We have complained about the City settling many times.  Some readers have contacted us in response saying that sometimes it is ok to settle.  Yes, on very rare occasions it is ok to settle if there is a very good reason.  But the reality is that every time the City settles, you not only get a bad project, but you set a precedent that compels more settling and more bad governance/planning/etc.  This neighborhood is no exception.  If you do not get a quality project on this lot, to some degree you can blame the persistent settling that lowers standards and compels the acceptance of lower quality.  Settling is not a one-time event.  It has lasting effects.  And they all arise from a combination of a bad code and pad precedents based on settling and a lack of political will at all levels.

We hope the developer fixes what we do not like (obviously) and builds a really nice project on this lot.  We are all for that.  We also hope that people realize that what they do now will linger, not just in the one project, but in all manners of surrounding projects. By settling and lowering expectations, we lower the quality of our city.  It is fine to have this one event, but this story is not over.  And things like this will keep happening.

Now, fix the code and stop settling.  Tampa really does deserve better – and not just here.

Downtown – Grant Block Moves Forward

It seems that the Grant Block apartment building is getting closer to getting built.

An Atlanta developer is moving forward with plans for a 23-story apartment tower on downtown Tampa’s Grant block.

Carter closed on the three parcels at 910, 911 and 915 N. Franklin St. on Sept. 9, paying $6.4 million for the one-acre site, according to a Hillsborough County deed filed Friday.

* * *

Carter is working through environmental issues on the site, McNally said. It will then seek demolition permits for the strip of abandoned storefronts on the property, and McNally anticipates vertical construction beginning by the end of the year.

The first residents will be able to move in 2017.

While we are not huge fans of this design – it could easily have been made much better – but it will be good to have construction in the heart of downtown on something other than a midrise, stick construction building and it will be good to have more residents.  Hopefully, if the streetcar extension goes up Florida, the City will not rue not trying to get a better, more lively design rather than settling for a dead streetscape.

USF – Med School Moves Forward

There was news that the Med School relocation process is moving forward.

USF is getting in on the development action set to begin in downtown Tampa. On Friday, the Board of Governors (BOG) approved the plan to move the Morsani College of Medicine downtown.

* * *

This effort has been a long time coming. The push to get the relocation effort approved and started began as far back as October of 2014, when a USF Board of Trustee’s (BOT) work group gave a unanimous yes for the project to move forward. In December of 2014, the full USF BOT voted unanimously in favor of the new Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Health Institute, and in February of 2015, the BOG approved USF’s request for the project.  

Setting aside that less than a year to decide move the med school is not a long time (though maybe the “pre-planning” took a while), so be it.  When will the new school open?

With new BOG approval, USF expects to open the new facility in August 2019.

In other words, unless something odd happens, those who applied to the USF med school this year will not be in med school when the downtown campus opens, which kind of proves our point when we said that the improvement of candidates for the med school this year has little to nothing to do with the med school move. (See “USF – Med School Achievement and the Hype” )  Regardless of the overblown rhetoric and misleading hype, if it is going to happen, we hope it is very successful and does not hurt the main campus. And USF should be proud that it is drawing better applicants.

West Tampa/Built Environment – On Transformations

This week the Mayor suggested that some of the BP oil spill money should be used to redo Riverfront Park.  While some of the proposed changes are good, we are not supportive of flattening the whole park.  Though leave the big mound – and note that once again the Times used this picture of the main mound for an article, this time on the budget.

From the Times – click on picture for the article

Why? Because they are unusual, have merit – at least in creating a vertical element – and people like them.

Setting that aside, what is the reasoning for using that money?

This week, Mayor Bob Buckhorn said at least some of the BP money should go toward a planned makeover of Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park.

“That project is transformative enough that it warrants a significant chunk of that money,” Buckhorn said. The revamped park would be an anchor for redevelopment in West Tampa, he said.

While fixing the park would be nice (if it were really to be fixed and made truly unique in the area), is that really the most transformative thing for the neighborhood?  We suggest there is something that would be much more transformative – changing the code.  For instance, per URBN Tampa Bay:

On Thursday, October 8th at 6pm, the project currently known as 707 Rome is scheduled to have its rezoning hearing in front of the Tampa City Council. The project is a 4 story, 86 unit apartment building at the address it’s named after.

The primary issue we have with the project is its total lack of any mixed use, be it retail, office or otherwise, in spite of various plans calling for it at this location. Moreover, the site is at a prominent corner within the neighborhood, and offers zero street interaction. (NE corner of N Rome and Cass). Currently as pictured above, the entire ground floor is parking with three floors of units on top.

This is just another example of not creating an urban corridor where one should exist.  It is obvious that Rome (and Cass) should be a walkable, mixed use, urban street with commercial. (Even the InVision planning makes reference to commercial on Rome and Cass. )  Yet, here we have another project that completely ignores that.  In fact, as far as we can tell, there is only one proposal for Rome that has any retail. (Not to mention Cass)  Having a nice park is good.  Having proper development that really creates an urban neighborhood would be even better.

If the City wants to spend money fixing up the park, fine. But fix the code to actually fix the neighborhood.  And do not settle.  Even north of Kennedy deserves better.

Economy – Housing Market

Going back to the theme of improving but not as much as other areas, we look at the housing market:

The Tampa Bay area posted the highest foreclosure rate among the nation’s 20 largest metro areas in August, although local foreclosure activity continues to decline.

According to RealtyTrac, one in every 527 bay area homes was in some stage of foreclosure — more than twice the national average. However, that was down 23 percent from a year earlier, the third-biggest decrease of any major metro area.

While yes, the market is getting better and prices are going up, the fact that we can have the third largest decrease in foreclosures and still have the worst rate shows how badly our previous economic model worked and how far we have to work to really catch up.  It is better, but it is not nearly good enough.  And it is an interesting comparison to other areas.

Economic Development – Start-Ups

There was a column in the Times about the start-up scene in the Tampa Bay area.  Actually, to be more exact, it was about the resources for start-ups in the area.  The first thing one notices reading the column is that those resources are fragmented.  However, at least there is a recognition that maybe they should cooperate a little better.

On Friday, a regional group known as the Entrepreneurial Pow Wow met at the Poynter Institute. The downtown St. Petersburg journalism school (and owner of the Tampa Bay Times) has set aside portions of its building to house the Innovation Lab, where startups can lease space. The Pow Wow gathers key bay area people who are affiliated with incubators, university programs, business support groups and other startup interests to discuss ways to boost the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

At the top of Friday’s agenda: the unveiling of a website that aims to offer a visual map of (hopefully) all the major startup assets — from incubators and accelerators to co-working space, university-college entrepreneurship programs and more — that the Tampa Bay area has to offer.

You would think that after all these years, such an online resource would already exist. Nope. There are resource lists and sites that explain portions of the area’s resources. But this one, says Danielle Weitlauf, a veteran incubator manager and now a startup consultant, aims to be comprehensive and constantly updated.

That’s the dream, at least. Others helping to drive this online site — it will be called — include Monica Stynchula and James Slusser, both of the startup Reunion Care, and Bevan Gray-Rogel, founder of Encore Tampa Bay.

The idea for the online visual map goes to Stuart Rogel, former Tampa Bay Partnership CEO and now a consultant helping startups. He noticed Seattle had a version of a map indicating startup assets, which inspired the Tampa Bay project.

Attending the Pow Wow was Randy Berridge, longtime president of the Florida High Tech Corridor Council, the influential coalition of Central Florida economic development groups and major area universities. He volunteered on the spot his group’s resources to help support Tampa Bay’s startup map, which he characterized as a strong step forward among Florida metro areas.

And all that is good, though, as noted:

Will it work? The website will only be as useful and timely as the information it receives about area startup resources.

Still, kudos to somebody finally taking the initiative to try to get such a fundamental website up and running. It has been a sorely lacking resource for new and serial entrepreneurs, investors and anyone — like me — who blinked and missed the latest leaps forward by our startup community.

It is a step forward, and we are all for the website.  It is a good idea.  Whether it is a leap will be decided by this:

This is an important step in this area’s startup evolution. One of the great prizes sought by Tampa Bay is to see one of its own startups break out and become a substantial business. That business can provide bay area jobs but also serve as an icon beyond this metro area to entrepreneurs and investors that says Tampa Bay’s startup community is building a track record of success.

Right.  Except for that misses one unstated – but very major – point. Not only do we need startups to become substantial businesses.  We need them to stay and grow here.  This area has had businesses start here and grow.  However, too often they either move or sell themselves to companies from other areas.  One of the big problems is lack of money.  Of course, money will come with success, but that is a chicken and egg problem.

So, we are moving forward, and it appears to be more regional.  All of which is good.  How fast and whether we are keeping pace with other areas is still an open question.  We look forward to the day we write about actual companies that are successful and growing rather than the process of running incubators.

Rocky Point – It Deserves Better, Too

This week there was more news on a project proposed for Rocky Point.

An Orlando developer is moving forward with plans to knock down the Chart House Restaurant and build apartments in its place.

ZOM USA has filed plans with the city to rezone the Chart House site for multifamily development. Its project would include 272 apartments (166 one-bedroom units; 80 two-bedroom units; and 26 three-bedroom units), 372 parking spaces and 33 marina boat slips.

That is all theoretically fine, provided the development is good.  Rocky Point has long been a lost opportunity.  It could have been turned into a real live, work, play (stay) area. (Yes, there are ways to deal with the Causeway.)  It has hotels, offices, restaurants, apartments.  All of it.  But it is a mess.

So what will this project be like?

From public records – click on picture for bigger version

That will not do anything to make Rocky Point nicer.  Yes, this fits with what Rocky Point is now, but Rocky Point could have been a cool, mixed use neighborhood.  However, after all the settling, it is just a car-focused blob.

TIA – When You Stop Going Along to Get Along

In the run-up to the start of Lufthansa service, there was a nice column in the Tribune regarding the airport, incentives, and the airport director’s efforts to bring international flights.

On Sept. 25, Lufthansa begins nonstop service between Tampa and Frankfurt, Germany. That goes with Copa Airlines service to Panama City, Panama, daily service to London on British Airways, plus flights to the Bahamas and three cities in Cuba. Oh, and Edelweiss now flies to Zurich from Tampa three times a week instead of one.

The flights mean a doubling of international passengers to TIA in just the past six years, to an estimated 396,000 in the 2016 fiscal year. It’s not just about enhancing tourism, either. Tampa has been aggressively pursuing Fortune 500 corporate relocations, and the airport and ease of travel is one of the first things CEOs will study. There are 42 companies from Germany operating in the Tampa Bay area.

“It has not been easy,” Lopano said. “It goes back to when I first interviewed for the (Tampa) job. The board asked if I could get more international flights here, and I said of course we could. There are 5 million people here.

“They said no, there wasn’t 5 million, but I told them this is the airport for the whole west coast of Florida, and that’s where you get the 5 million.”

Which is the proper attitude, though an attitude not shared by most people in the area at the time. (check out the articles linked below for some of the influential people who just went along with the failed strategy.)  Luckily, some shared it.

It goes back to 2010, when longtime and highly regarded executive director Louis Miller resigned amid friction with the aviation authority over the direction the airport should go. Board members, particularly the late Steve Burton, wanted to build up the airport’s international footprint. Miller resisted that.

The argument was that Tampa could never compete with Miami as a jumping off point for South America, nor could it compete with Orlando for tourists. The critics had a point. Both airports handle significantly more passengers than Tampa.

Except for, as the article shows, the critics were actually wrong.  Orlando and Miami may handle more international passengers (Orlando to some degree because the previous director stopped competing), but we can get flights – and we are getting flights. It is also interesting that, under the previous director, it was policy that Tampa should not use incentives:

Incentives can help bolster a new route, but “you have to have demand for the market first,” Miller says. Tampa International is often handicapped by its proximity to Orlando, a world-class tourist destination with connecting flights to cities across the United States, he says.

A critic of the airport’s efforts to recruit international carriers says more needs to be done.

“The role of incentives is to prove the routes,” says Jason Busto, owner of a Tampa plumbing company who sits on the airport’s committee on developing international air service. “They’re critical to economic development.” 

And we did not get international flights. (The previous director also argued that Orlando did not use incentives.)

Now, we use incentives and are successfully getting, retaining, and expanding service.  And, interestingly, Orlando now uses incentives, too.   Yes, you have to have demand, but you need to get the flight to show you have the demand.  Thankfully, the airport director and his staff get it.

The really interesting thing is that the whole international flights idea required going against much of the local political culture and consensus.  It required people who were not content with the local hype and local politics and saw something better could be done.  And it involved getting people would create and execute a plan soberly and without more silly hype.  Luckily, that was done. That was a real change in our DNA.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

— What Can a Billion Buy These Days

As regular readers know, since the announcement of the Lightning owner’s project (which, once again, we like), we have been looking at various billion dollar projects around the country just to keep a bit of realism in the hype filled coverage. This week, someone posted a reference to another project on URBN Tampa Bay, so we decided to check it out.  This specific project is in Milwaukee.

Envisioning an entertainment hub that would transform downtown, the Milwaukee Bucks plan to build a $500 million arena just north of the BMO Harris Bradley Center and use that as a springboard for an additional $500 million in development, much of it in the largely vacant Park East corridor.

The arena site itself is not surprising — it has been the worst-kept secret in the city for weeks — but the conceptual development plans for the Park East are striking in their breadth.

The development would include a 700,000-square-foot, 17,000-seat arena; a 60,000-square-foot public plaza, anticipated as a sort of live entertainment space on what is largely a city-owned parking ramp at the corner of N. 4th St. and W. Highland Ave.; and arena parking across the street in the Park East area. Total amount of space just for that portion of the development: 1 million square feet.

* * *

The entire development — phased in over 10 to 12 years — could potentially take up 30 acres, with 3 million square feet of office, entertainment, retail, residential, hotel, commercial and parking structures.

It also comes as other parts of downtown are poised for a transformation, particularly the Northwestern Mutual tower near Lake Michigan.

The first thing to note is that this plan requires some public funding for the arena, which is not an issue in Tampa.  Other than that, it sounds very familiar to this:

The Tampa Bay Lighting owner on Wednesday rolled out his long-awaited $1 billion “vision plan” to build nearly 3 million square feet of development along the city’s waterfront.

* * *

“We are creating a true 18-7, live, work, play and stay area,” said Vinik, who often jokes that he doesn’t say 24-7 because people need to sleep. “We want people to stay in an area with vibrancy, with energy, with fun.”

Which is fine, but does provide context.  As does this about Milwaukee’s downtown:

“We need to continue to look at where the streetcar gets expanded to. Now that we have a connectivity piece with the streetcar we need to be smarter about where we place our parking assets and make sure that we are getting the best bang for the buck. Being able to move people around an integrated intermodal transportation system no longer ties us to having to have site-specific parking. We can have much more general parking assets that are bigger, that are more efficient and that are easier to get to from the other modalities, whether it is the freeway, the city street system or getting off the train at the Intermodal Station. Being smarter about the disposition and placement of those assets is huge to us.

And basically everything else in this article on Milwaukee’s downtown vision.

Like we said, we very much hope the Lightning owner’s plan is successful – and even denser.  Our point is more to the hype surrounding it – which, it should be noted, does not really emanate from the Lightning owner. (Yes, he is marketing his project like any good businessman, but he is quite restrained.) We would not trade Tampa for Milwaukee.  We think we have much better natural assets.  However, it always has to be remembered that the project has competition and, as good as it may be, keep it in perspective.

— Desert Rail

Arizona (hardly a left wing stronghold) is considering building intercity rail.

The Arizona Department of Transportation has completed the first draft of an environmental assessment examining the proposed route of a passenger rail line between Tucson and Phoenix.

The document is an early step in a process that could take years to complete even before construction is to start.

The proposed rail line would run from Tucson International Airport to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, with extensions to Goodyear and Surprise in the Phoenix area.

The ADOT report looks at the potential environmental impact, the need for passenger rail, the effects on transportation, and analyzes cost and other aspects of building the railway.

The study notes the potential costs of construction for the rail line range from $4.5 billion to $7.5 billion.

Annual operations and maintenance costs also vary from $66.8 million to $85.9 million.

The per-mile operating costs varied from $557,668 to $669,240.

ADOT notes the need for transportation alternatives between Tucson and Phoenix continues to increase as the population grows.

Both Phoenix and Tucson have rail.  Now they are considering (just considering, it has to be said) rail to connect them.  (It also needs to be noted that the map in the article seems to indicate that while the route may be between airports, it runs through downtowns.)  We could have already been riding such rail to Orlando.  As it stands, if All Aboard Florida is actually built (and, as has been reported, the first expansion is to Jacksonville), we are likely to be the only major area of Florida without a rail connection to other cities.  We are still waiting for an actual plan to expand the streetcar and/or connect downtown to the airport.

— Google Town

Getting back to startup scenes (discussed above), there was an interesting article on Google Fiber in Kansas City. (You can read it here).  It talks about how the startup scene has been helped.  However, it is not Pollyannaish at all.  It discusses social issues, problems with business, and a host of other things. We are not going to get into the details, including the social disruptions, you can read it.

For the purposes of start-up culture, one thing that was interesting was this:

For all his positivity, there are clearly things about being in Kansas City that rankle. Entrepreneurs here struggle to raise money: he identifies two competitors in New York who have secured $36m between them, while Leap2 has raised $3m. The dearth of cash is exacerbated by a cultural problem: the same Kansas City hospitality that made the start-up village possible in the first place. Everyone from clients to partners finds it difficult to criticise and complain. “New York is no bullshit. People will just say no,” says Farmer. “But here it’s a slow no-go. It’s a cultural Midwestern thing. Overly polite. Never calling it like it is.”

Sounds familiar.

List of the Week I

Our first list this week is’s Best Cities for Millennials.   The methodology can be found here.

We will list the top 25.  Coming in first is Cambridge (MA), followed by Manhattan, Alexandria (VA), San Francisco, Jersey City, Seattle, DC, Berkeley (CA), Boston, NYC, Denver, Minneapolis, Ann Arbor, Brooklyn, Sunnyvale (CA), Austin, Madison, Portland (OR), Bellevue (WA), Santa Clara (CA), Pittsburgh, Rochester (MN), Queens, Chicago, and Tempe. We are not sure why they feel the need to list all the boroughs of NYC as well as NYC overall, but whatever.

Florida does not do so well. Orlando is 44th, Ft. Lauderdale is 52nd, Tampa is 61st (just above Lexington, KY and Buffalo and just below Dallas and Grand Rapids), and Gainesville is 66th.

List of the Week II

Our second list this week is wallethub’s list of Least & Most Recession-Recovered Cities.  It was featured in the Times, which noted:

A new report from WalletHub finds Tampa and St. Petersburg sitting squarely in the middle of a ranking of economic recovery of 150 major U.S. cities.

Overall, Tampa ranked 85th and St. Petersburg came in a bit better at 73rd in the ranking of “2015’s Most and Least Recession-Recovered Cities.” WalletHub compared the 150 largest U.S. cities across 17 key economic indicators ranging from the inflow of college-educated workers and the number of new businesses to home-price appreciation.

Tampa’s ranking was based in part on the city’s No. 73 standing in “employment and earning opportunities” and the lower No. 103 ranking in “economic environment.” St. Petersburg ranked No. 72 and No. 83 in the same two categories. St. Petersburg also stood out by ranking fourth among the 150 cities for the greatest decrease in its violent crime rate. Orlando ranked first.

So who was at the top of the list? Lubbock, followed by Denver, Corpus Christi, Anchorage, Houston, Oklahoma City, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Fayetteville (NC), El Paso Pittsburgh Sioux Falls San Jose Austin, Oxnard (CA), Jersey City, Boston, Nashville, Durham, Seattle, Fort Worth, Raleigh, Madison, St. Paul, and Miami.

So a lot of Texas and the usual suspects.  No surprise there. As we often say, lists are not the be-all and end-all of how you are doing, but it would be good if we were consistently among the usual suspects (rather than average).

Roundup 9-11-2015

September 11, 2015


Economic Development/Transportation – The Big Picture

Economic Development – So Long TECO

Transportation – The PTC Explains Why It Should Be Abolished

USF – Money

Transportation/Walkability – So Long Friendship Trail

Meanwhile, In The Rest of Florida

–Tourism – Growing

–Going International

–Height Limits and the FAA

How To Name Your Project



Economic Development/Transportation – The Big Picture

This week there was one of those space-filler articles in the Tribune on how great the economy is (it is better, but it is better pretty much everywhere).

The Tampa Hillsborough EDC says its recruitment, retention and other assistance projects completed in the past year will bring 3,270 targeted high-paying jobs to the area. The figure was 4,500 the year before that and 4,100 the year before that.

The operative word being “will.”  We hope all the jobs come, but, as pointed out later in the same article, that is not always the case, and we don’t mean just like this. (And for an oddity in job numbers see this column from the Times.)  In any event,

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, backed by Microsoft founder Bill Gates’ Cascade Investment LLC, has announced plans for a $1 billion 10-year remake of the 40 acres he owns or controls around Amalie Arena. That could add 6,700 jobs to the area with an average wage of $78,000.

Port Tampa Bay has unveiled a long-range $1.7 billion plan in the area north of The Florida Aquarium that would include 9 million square feet of mixed-use development.

Same thing.  (At some point in the future, hopefully, this will pan out – and then we will celebrate it, but in terms of accomplishments we are concerned with what has actually happened.)

“Economic development efforts last fiscal year alone will create more than 33,000 total jobs and generate more than $2.74 billion in capital investment,” said Enterprise Florida spokesman Stephen Lawson. “Enterprise Florida, in conjunction with our local partners, has been instrumental in bringing a number of great companies to the Tampa Bay area over the last few years. … Florida’s great business climate, robust infrastructure and advanced workforce all contribute to Tampa’s success.”

* * *

Local boosters tout the cost of real estate, the availability of a skilled workforce, infrastructure, the education system, Florida’s business-friendly climate and the lack of a state income tax.

While there is definitely talent in the area (and a nice setting), there are still the issues of the low percentage of the population with bachelor’s degrees and, for the future, the lack of nationally ranked high schools.  As for infrastructure, we’ll get back to that.  (And we assume that investment does not include spending $6-9 billion to bring a few limited capacity toll roads rather than using the money to fund everything needed in the Go Hillsborough one cent plan.  Really, which is more important as far as infrastructure goes?)

Maybe they are referring to our great transit system, comprehensive road system, elaborate systems of park-like trails, protected bike paths and walkable neighborhoods. Or maybe – very likely – they are selling cheap land, cheap labor (note this Times column on how most workers nationwide have actually lost ground in terms of income – and not just low wage workers – so how much worse is it in a low wage area like the Tampa Bay area?), and low taxes (though as we noted recently, the cost of living is really not that low).  And don’t forget

And then there is the money.

Enterprise Florida and local governments have millions at their disposal to sweeten the pot to get companies to come to the state or their city. Economic incentives are standard tactics in the recruiter’s toolkit, although the strategy has drawn fire.

Florida incentives come in various forms, including tax credits, tax refunds, tax exemptions, infrastructure funding and cash grants paid directly to a qualified business.

We are not opposed to incentives (at all) as long as they are properly targeted and structured to only come into play when we get the jobs promised – and are not given for sprawl that only will cost the taxpayers and would be built anyway.  And, yet, the Tribune editorial board made a very good point:

But there remains a glaring shortcoming that must be addressed for Tampa to become the high-functioning metropolis so many believe it has the potential to become.

A transportation system that serves the workforce, the tourists and the general population of the Tampa Bay area is essential. Months before the Money Magazine plaudits there was another ranking, by the car navigation company TomTom, that listed Tampa as having the 11th worst traffic congestion in the nation. Few who live here would argue with that ranking.

* * *

The money would be spent on targeted road and intersection improvements across Hillsborough County and on a bus rapid transit system. Portions of the funding will be distributed to the municipalities in the county for projects in those cities. Among those projects in Tampa might be a light rail line connecting the airport to downtown and the University of South Florida.

There is no question about our transportation needs, but the public also needs to be assured any tax increase will be spent wisely and that transportation investments will be coupled with smart growth policies that prevent ever more sprawl and gridlock.

The recent illustration in the paper showcased the region’s dynamic prospects, and why it is drawing national attention.

But if local traffic remains a mess it’s doubtful we’ll continue to be seen as a community on the rise.

Be happy there is progress, but stay grounded in reality.  We hope all those jobs (and many more) come.  However, we also know that announcements are not accomplishments.  And there are issues holding us back.  They are the same issues that have held us back for decades – transportation, sprawl, poor planning, settling (in development and economic development) and, to a large degree, the tendency to overly hype what is going on.  Remember, as far as we have come from where we were, our competitors are still ahead of us – some far ahead.  Fluffy articles are nice.  Real accomplishments are much, much nicer.  And if all the articles over the decades about how we were booming verified, no one would be talking about this now.

Economic Development – So Long TECO

One of the stated major efforts of economic development is to recruit a major corporate HQ to Tampa, especially downtown. This week, it was announced that TECO was being bought by a Canadian company.

The headquarters of TECO Energy, Tampa Electric Co. and Peoples Gas will remain in Tampa. Emera said operating boards with local representation will be established here and in Albuquerque, N.M., where TECO operates New Mexico Gas Co.

Which is nice, though not as good as having the full company based here. So what does this all mean?

Discussions on jobs and community involvement were part of negotiations on the $10.4 billion deal, Ramil said Tuesday, but “it didn’t take a whole lot of addressing because of their style and the way they do business. They have committed to maintain the charitable and other activities that we do, at least as much as we have been doing it.”

Hillsborough County Commission chairwoman Sandy Murman met with the Canadian executive team on Tuesday. “I was very impressed with them,” she said. “They want to be a part of this community. I feel very positive, a lot of good energy came from them.”

There are a couple of reasons for the lack of angst among Tampa leaders. Emera had no operations in Florida and will need the TECO personnel who produce power here. In a conference call with utility analysts Tuesday, Huskilson said Emera is making “a deep commitment to TECO’s existing employees, and we will be seeking to retain the entire management team and employees in this organization.”

He said a local operating board will be established with TECO and Emera representation.

* * *

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said he learned of the acquisition while on a trade mission in Dublin, Ireland.

“While we’re obviously sad to lose a home-grown company, I think TECO’s presence and TECO’s footprint will be here for a long time to come,” he said. “We all knew that TECO was a smaller fish in a much larger pool and was going to be bought out. But everything I’ve heard from the new owners is that they care, they are committed to Tampa, and I don’t think any of that will change.”

The reality is that it is a net loss, but it is not clear how much of a net loss.  The sale of Florida Progress has created a number of issues, but the sale of TECO does not have to.  Hopefully, Emera will be a good corporate citizen and do what they say.  Really, only time will tell.

Transportation – The PTC Explains Why It Should Be Abolished

This week there was a lot of news regarding ridesharing.  First,

Speaking to dozens of Uber drivers Wednesday, Public Transportation Commission Chairman Victor Crist assured the black-shirted assembly he was not their enemy.

Then Crist tried to prove it by casting the tie-breaking vote that temporarily halted the ticketing of Uber and Lyft drivers by transportation commission officers. The move was applauded by the dozen or so Uber operators still in the audience after the two-hour-plus meeting.

Which makes sense because the PTC is not doing so well in its court cases – or in the court of public opinion.  At the same time, the PTC has decided it has the best idea for the state:

Hillsborough County regulators are asking local legislators to support a potential bill that would legalize rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft — but on its terms, not the rideshare companies’ terms.

The proposed legislation would create a new category for transportation network companies (TNCs) that would allow the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission to start regulating Uber and Lyft. It’s an alternative approach to the PTC’s previous efforts to rework its own rules and definitions for for-hire vehicles.

In order to operate legally, the companies would have to require drivers to undergo a Level II background check including fingerprinting, carry proper insurance, meet ADA requirements and pass annual vehicle inspections.

In other words, the PTC has not been able to work out a way to deal with ridesharing on its own, so it wants the legislature to do the PTC’s job.  As the State Senator trying to abolish the PTC said:

“I think if you asked the cab companies to draft a bill to keep out competition, this is the bill they would’ve come up with,” Brandes said. “I look forward to seeing if they can find a sponsor for their bill.”


Christine Mitchell, general manager for Uber in Tampa Bay, said in an e-mail Tuesday that the company has submitted a “modern regulatory framework for ride-sharing in line with the laws in more than 20 U.S. states and dozens of other jurisdictions across the country, including the cities of Tallahassee and Gainesville.”

Cockream, however, said Uber’s offer was basically no offer at all.

“They’re giving us the same thing they did a year and a half ago,” Cockream said. “They’re saying, ‘Here’s our business model. What we want you to do is to change everything in your market in Tampa to match our business model.’”

Given that the PTC is trying to get the legislature to impose its view, we find the claim that Uber is just sticking with its business model amusing.  Regardless, we are not going to get into the legislation specifically.  The one thing that this effort points out is that regardless of the outcome of the legislation, if even the PTC thinks that the legislature can do the job, the PTC is redundant.  Just another reason to abolish it.

Meanwhile, Sarasota did something interesting:

In a surprise move on Tuesday night, Sarasota City Commission decided if it can’t regulate ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft, it will stop regulating the taxi industry, too.

The city was planning to debate a new ordinance that would regulate rideshare drivers like cab drivers with a $35 license and upgraded insurance. Uber officials said if the city passed those ordinances, the company would simply stop offering service in Sarasota.

And even further afield:

Tallahassee and Ft. Lauderdale taxicab companies have sued the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in a latest attempt to curb the growth of tech companies like Uber and Lyft.


* * *

By not enforcing the same regulations on Uber and Lyft that it does on cab companies, the lawsuit says, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has created a competitive disadvantage.

That sounds more like a question of policy, but that will have to run through the courts.  The real point is that this whole issue really goes back to the conflict between the desire of the consumer and the legacy cab companies.  Frankly, we would love for there to be some uniformity in state regulation – assuming it is reasonable.  Then we can get rid of a vestigial local bureaucracy that has ignored the consumer and interfered in the market (like with the electric vehicles downtown) for years.

USF – Money

USF has been doing a good job of bringing in donations, and, apparently, grant money:

The University of South Florida garnered a record $441 million in research dollars during the 2014-15 academic year, president Judy Genshaft announced Wednesday during her 15th annual fall address.

That’s an increase of $12 million, or 3 percent, from the previous year. Genshaft also highlighted USF’s ranking in terms of U.S. patents earned: The university was ranked first in Florida, 10th in the U.S. and 13th worldwide. USF has been ranked in the top 15 in worldwide patents for five straight years.

The patent number is interesting, but we are more interested in the research money.  That is money directly coming into the area.  (It would be interesting to know what exactly the research money is going to.)  Good job, USF.

Transportation/Walkability – So Long Friendship Trail

This week, workers started dismantling the old Gandy Bridge/Friendship Trail.  Ironically, the Go Hillsborough process is supposed to be working on how to provide people with more transportation alternatives including trails and sidewalks.  Yet, the Friendship Trail was drawing 500,000 people a year.  Yes, it needed repairs. On the other hand, 500,000 people is quite a popular draw. If the County was actually concerned with trails, sidewalks, alternative transportation, and enhancing lifestyles in the area, why did they do so little for an amenity that had such a draw?

Meanwhile, In The Rest of Florida

In all honesty, other than that, not much of interest occurred locally this week.  Yes, there were articles about various subjects (like a USF stadium  and the Mayor’s trip to Ireland), but they added little or nothing to previous discussions.  So, let’s just look around the state.

–Tourism – Growing

There are routinely reports about how this area is reaching new records in tourism (like this), which is great.  Those articles tend to talk about what great things we are doing to promote tourism and whatnot.  Given that, it was interesting to note this:

Orange County’s tourism taxes are strong enough that Orlando could pay off existing debt for the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts and the Orlando Citrus Bowl in a fraction of the time.

County officials collected almost $19.2 million in July, well ahead of the budgeted collection rate of $16.7 million and about $3 million more than in July 2014.

If tourism continues to boom, “there’s a good chance we could have these bonds paid off in 10 years instead of 30,” said Chris McCullion, Orlando’s deputy chief financial officer.

Would that we could pay off bonds 20 years early.  In contrast to much of the commentary in this area, the Orlando coverage also has some realism:

George Aguel, president and chief executive officer of Visit Orlando, the region’s tourism authority, said tourism leaders appreciate when the tax-collection rate is higher than expected but understand its fickle nature.

“The sustainability is hard to predict,” he said.

Refreshing.  In any event, it seems that tourism is booming statewide, so it is not clear whether we are doing something special or just getting our piece of the pie. (See here) Even more evidence of that:

Orlando International Airport continued its record-setting pace in passengers served during July, with nearly 3.5 million travelers moving through the main terminal.

If the trend holds, the airport would handle more than 37.3 million people during 2015, eclipsing the 36.5 million travelers who flew in and out of Orlando in 2007, before the recession took hold.

Orlando International saw overall traffic up 8.2 percent over last year, including a 19.5 percent in people coming outside the United States, according to Orlando International statistics released Friday. Domestic travelers went up 6.5 percent.

Airport officials believe the increased passenger numbers will continue because two new international carriers will start service in September: Emirates Airlines, based in Dubai, and Icelandair, which will fly to Keflavik.

The point is not that there is anything wrong with our performance – there isn’t.  As we said, it is great that our numbers are way up.  However, everything needs to be kept in context. It is not necessarily as much what we are doing as that there is a boom underway basically across the board and we are riding with it, which is fine.  But remember, sustainability is hard to predict.

–Going International

There was an interesting item on Pompano Beach:

Fifty companies from Brazil are starting up in Pompano Beach, and more may be coming.

A Pompano Beach consulting firm is assisting the 50 Brazilian companies to launch U.S. operations, creating jobs in Florida and strengthening ties with the state’s largest trade partner.

Duvekot, which specializes in helping Brazilian companies navigate the U.S. market, won a three-year contract from Brazil’s small business administration Sebrae for the expansion project. It now is working with the businesses it helped choose from 2,409 applicants in Brazil’s southeast Santa Catarina state.

“Basically, it’s a university. By the end of the program, we’ll be graduating these companies, and they’ll be on their own,” said Duvekot president Amilcar Gazaniga Jr. “And if this works out, we hope to do the program with other groups from Santa Catarina, other Brazilian states and other countries too.”

Duvekot has pledged its “business accelerator” program will create at least 60 jobs and raise at least $9 million for the first 50 companies in five years, Gazaniga said.

To reach those goals, it is teaming up with local groups, including Nova Southeastern University and the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, Broward County’s economic development group.

The numbers are not very large, but it is an interesting idea.  Because this area says it truly wants to be international and that Latin America is a major target, this effort should be studied.

–Height Limits and the FAA

When the Port came out with its master plan with drawings of two quite tall towers, there was an article in the Times that briefly mentioned the FAA and height limits.  This week, there was an article in the Miami Herald about the FAA and buildings in Miami. Read it here.  It is not fully informative, but is interesting in terms of discussing part of the process of getting FAA approval.  IT also mentions how many quite tall buildings are being proposed in Miami.

How To Name Your Project

This week, in lieu of a list, we provide this helpful advice for all those developers trying to bring in big money buyers.  It is an article in the Independent (UK) regarding how to name/brand your project.

The man from Abu Dhabi went with One Kensington Gardens, and joined an exclusive club. Because in an age in which buildings have become brands, a new language has evolved. And no word appears to match the power of “One”. One Blackfriars, One Nine Elms, One The Elephant, One Tower Bridge. All luxury developments under construction, with expensive websites and slick logos on the glossiest brochures.

“Ten years ago all the schemes were called ‘The’ something,” Dorman says. “The Lancasters, The Bromptons, The Phillimores…. People still aspired to live in Victorian or Georgian housing stock – a lateral flat on Onslow Square, a mansion block in Knightsbridge, or a nice house on Egerton Crescent. The new-build stock wasn’t at all glamorous.”

That sounds about right.  Encouragingly, this trend has already reached the Tampa Bay area with the proposed ONE condo in St. Pete.  The Lightning owner has not named his project yet.  Maybe he will get in on the act.  Though he may want to try to anticipate the next trend.


Please take some time to remember that it is 9-11.

Roundup 9-4-2015

September 4, 2015


Transportation – Staying Still

Downtown/Hyde Park/West Side – What Should It Be

Downtown/Hyde Park/West Side – What Should It Be II

HART/PSTA – Something

Economic Development – Trade Missions

USF – More Money

What We Say about Ourselves – City Flags

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

List of the Week I

List of the Week II


Transportation – Staying Still

There was a column in the Times regarding the latest traffic congestion ratings.

Traffic congestion in the Tampa Bay area cost commuters who travel at peak hours an average of $907 in lost time and wasted gas in 2014, roughly in line with the cost and stress of commuting in Tampa Bay in the past several years. That amounts to 41 hours stuck in traffic while burning 18 gallons of gas for an auto driver and more for those driving trucks.

So say the findings of the 2015 “Urban Mobility Scorecard” — the annual analysis of traffic congestion in America conducted by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. The local findings indicate Tampa Bay commuters are only holding their own, neither gaining nor losing much time or money in the still stressful exercise of traveling to and from work at peak hours.

It could be worse. A lot worse. Commuters in the Washington, D.C., area, suffered more than those in any other metro area with more than twice the congestion costs — $1,834 — of time and money that Tampa Bay drivers endured. Within Florida, Tampa Bay’s congestion costs ranked third, less than larger Miami and tourist-choked Orlando, but more than Jacksonville.

It could be worse (and it probably will be unless real changes are made), though it could (and should) also be better.

The scorecard results come at a time when Tampa Bay is still struggling to figure out a way to improve commuting options that are both more efficient and considered affordable by voters. Two major efforts to seek public funding for mass transit upgrades that include limited light rail, improved bus service and road improvements have failed in both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. Now Hillsborough is rethinking a second try at a mass transit deal that would involve less tax money.

In other words, it is the result of choices.  Not only in transportation directly, but also in planning, or lack thereof.

But other efforts are also afoot to influence commuting congestion. Last month, the Metropolitan Planning Organization approved a $3 billion plan to add express toll lanes to I-275 and I-4 and rebuild the northbound lanes of the Howard Frankland Bridge. Construction on the new span of the bridge, about a five-year project, would probably start in 2020.

State transportation officials insist the only way to keep Tampa Bay commuters moving involves a combination of better mass transit, more roads and smarter traffic management in the form of tolls priced to encourage more drivers to avoid major roads at peak hours.

Setting aside the lack of real mass transit in the plans (aside from vague express bus plans that the state is not providing), you have the choice between driving, and all the cost that entails, or driving with even more costs.  Or you could just not leave your house.  That clearly is the planned way to relieve the roads, especially when you consider that the express lanes are expressly designed to have a limited capacity.

“Businesses can give their employees more flexibility in where, when and how they work, individual workers can adjust their commuting patterns, and we can have better thinking when it comes to long-term land use planning,” scorecard co-author Tim Lomax said. “This problem calls for a classic ‘all-hands-on-deck’ approach.”

Right. Planning and how we build is part of it.  (And how will having everything road-centric help with planning?) So is providing alternatives to driving, which is not really in the FDOT plan and is only mildly in the Go Hillsborough proposal (yes, there is a vague rail component to go with some more buses, but buses are in traffic and right now the rail component is, as we said, vague – and limited).  The only alternative to congestion cannot be giving a few people who can pay extra a fast lane and leaving the rest to be stuck in traffic or just staying home. (Not to mention forcing people to pay the cost of having a car or two or three depending on the family.  Not much of a choice.)  There needs to be more. (And, no, we are not blaming FDOT for all our mess.  The main problem is local.)

The message for Tampa Bay? The metropolitan area’s population will keep growing. Do not be discouraged by recent setbacks in mass transit campaigns. Keep pushing for a broad set of transportation improvements.

Indeed, as long as they are designed to form a coordinated system with a number of alternatives.

Downtown/Hyde Park/West Side – What Should It Be

Despite some changes to the Altis Grand Central Project that added some (not much) retail, there is still opposition to it.

The owners of Oxford Exchange are launching an online movement to stop a South Florida developer from building an apartment-and-retail complex across Grand Central Avenue from their building.

Oxford Exchange — a rehabilitated historic building that houses a restaurant, boutique, book store and coworking space — on Thursday announced the launch of Tampa Deserves Better, a website and social media campaign protesting Altman Development Corp.’s plans.

Blake Casper, who owns Oxford Exchange with his sister Allison Adams, publicly opposed the development in July, telling the Tampa Bay Business Journal that the plans would quash the potential of Grand Central to become a walkable shopping district.

That is a good website name. (You can go to the website here)  In any event, what is their concern?

“While they have added a token 5,000 square feet of retail, the project’s overwhelming use will be apartments anchored around a parking garage. This is the most telling aspect of the project: a massive garage,” Casper wrote on the Oxford Exchange blog, West and Grand, Thursday.

Kind of hard to argue with that (in fact, we have already said basically the same thing, not to mention that the design makes it obvious).

“Token retail spaces do not make a project mixed use, and they do not survive when the rest of the project is oriented towards driving,” Casper wrote. “A better design would be in keeping with the current zoning. A better design would be truly street facing and not car-centric. Great pedestrian-oriented streetscapes are what great cities are building. Just look at what is happening in downtown St. Petersburg — streets that are alive with people and activity.”

And that is true as well.  What did the developer have to say?

We respect Mr. Casper’s thoughts and opinions, but do not believe they represent the point of view of the majority of those who have an interest in the area nor those with urban planning expertise.

We have an interest in the area, so this is what we think. We have no problem with apartments but would like more lively street interaction and a less dominant parking garage. We think most people who think about it would be good with that.

As for urban planning expertise – people live in cities and know what they like in their lives.  That is their expertise.  (And we won’t even get into the fact that Tampa’s expert planning is hardly a shining beacon or the fact that elected officials have almost uniformly ignored what little there is and settled for even less.)

Casper says his main qualm isn’t with residential development, but that Altman’s proposal is an almost entirely residential development with only “token” retail space. He wants “more retail, more restaurants, more activity.”

“Those are the things that it’s commercially zoned for, so that is what would add to what we already have started,” he said. “We’re just asking the city to uphold the current zoning.”

The Tampa Deserves Better campaign, Casper said, is about fostering a conversation within the city about what kinds of development it wants to see.

“We need to think, as a city, about how things are getting built so we do create a city where as [Buckhorn] talks about, we attract and really drive talent,” Casper said, “If Altman’s project gets built the way it’s proposed, it’s just a huge mess, and we can do better than this.

“We can do better than this project, and that’s something I feel passionate about.”

In other words, actual mixed use. And we are all for that as well.

The fact is that we do deserve better.  (And, frankly, fixing this project’s design would just not be that hard.)  We deserve a government that does not settle.  We deserve better planning and better development – and better transportation. We are all for people getting into the conversation – that is a major reason this blog was started.  And we are for an honest conversation devoid of silly hype.  Hype does not create quality.

The one thing we will say, though, is that the conversation needs to be about the whole city, not just about Grand Central or downtown.  The entire city can do (and should already be doing) better.

Downtown/Hyde Park/West Side – What Should It Be II

Speaking of that neighborhood, the City’s Development Review Committee came out with its initial review of the Related project for the Tribune site. See “Downtown/West Side/Hyde Park – More on the Tribune Site”   (Thanks to URBN Tampa Bay for posting the information.)  Here are some of the more relevant findings:

-The Comprehensive Plan encourages developments within Mixed Use Corridors to actively engage and to be oriented toward adjacent public rightsof-way. It is unclear where the main pedestrian entrance will be located. Planning Commission staff would recommend that the pedestrian oriented lobby feature be clearly identified on any future submitted site plan. (Policies
16.1.2, 16.1.5, 16.1.9, 18.2.1, 18.3.6, 18.6.10)

-The Comprehensive Plan encourages that parking structures be designed to resemble adjacent buildings, especially at ground level. The provided elevation for the parking structure seems to not resemble the attached structure. Planning Commission staff would encourage a redesign of the parking structure so the
project can provide consistency with the stated policy. (Policies 18.7.1, 18.7.3)

-Public open space is encouraged along the water’s edge. Planning Commission staff would encourage the applicant to provide for and clearly delineate public access on the site plan. (Policies 20.5.1, 32.3.6, 38.16.3)

Pretty much. As we have noted, this project’s major feature on the street is the parking garage.  There is little to no design for pedestrians.  Moreover, the riverfront appears to be used as private land, which is really not good.  Frankly, while it will put people in the area, as designed, it will not enhance the neighborhood at all.  And remember with all the projects, they will likely be with us for decades.  Is that what we really want?

Just like with the Altis Grand Central project, this project can be much better (without that much tweaking), and Tampa deserves better. (We are not going to go on about height because we doubt Related will do that). Hopefully, it will get fixed.

HART/PSTA – Something

Per a Times article, it seems that failure breeds new attitudes.

The bay area’s leading transit agencies are taking a second swing at scoring state dollars to help fund a regional bus ticket system — and they hope teaming up will bolster their chances.

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority held a joint meeting Monday to discuss their funding priorities for the 2016 legislative session. Both agencies agreed they needed to present a united front and make the regional fare box their top priority if they hope to win over state lawmakers.

The Regional Revenue Collection and Interjurisdictional Mobility Project — known more simply as a regional fare box system and smart card system — would provide a uniform bus payment system for Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Manatee, Citrus and Hernando counties.

Smart cards would streamline the ticket process, speed up boarding time and cut back on time spent counting coins and bills coming out of the bus fare boxes. Riders could buy a card in one county and use it to catch a bus in any of the other six counties.

Well, that is good because:

The renewed interest in a unified front comes two years after the HART board balked at a mandate from the Florida Legislature to study consolidating the two agencies to save money. Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, sponsored the original legislation that brought HART and PSTA together to discuss the idea.

But after Hillsborough rebelled, both groups instead advocated for increased partnerships, instead of an official merger.

“It didn’t work when you tried to force it,” said PSTA Commissioner Janet Long, who sits on the Pinellas County Commission. “But I think this is a wonderful way to show by example that we can do it voluntarily and make it even more powerful.”

Actually, it was not forced, except to the extent the HART board did not want to do it.  But, of course, the HART board is not the County as a whole.  In any event, maybe their failure to get what they wanted from the legislature standing alone (and the realization that, in the bigger scheme of things, the HART board is not particularly powerful) has caused a partial rethink, which would be good.  This is a region after all – especially in transportation. (It’s just that government does not seem to act that way.)

There was one more thing in the article that deserves note.

HART’s willingness to work with the rideshare companies is unusual in Hillsborough, where the county’s Public Transportation Commission has long been at odds with Uber and Lyft. The Hillsborough PTC has tried repeatedly — and without success — to stop the companies from operating in the county.

In fact, HART’s willingness to deal with ridesharing is not unusual.  Ridesharing is popular in Hillsborough.  It is the PTC’s animosity to ridesharing that is unusual.

Economic Development – Trade Missions

The Mayor of Tampa is leading another trade mission.

As evidenced by the green pants he dons on St. Patrick’s Day, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is mighty proud of his Irish roots.

So no surprise Buckhorn is heading a Tampa trade mission to Ireland’s capital city. 

Small country, but that is fine.  We are for trade missions generally.  What are they going to do?

He will join leaders of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and a handful of local company executives including Chuck Sykes heading to Dublin to get tips on how the western European country has successfully promoted startup businesses and attracted tech firms.

Hopefully, that is not the main point of the trip because we could have answered that without a mission.

A major draw for US firms is Ireland’s low 12.5% corporation tax rate and numerous controversial tax breaks. The government has promised to phase out the latter.

The corporate tax rate, which remains a sacrosanct part of Irish industrial policy, has been so successful in wooing US investment that the country’s neighbours across the border want it too. The Northern Ireland assembly passed legislation this week allowing for corporation tax powers to be devolved, with politicians at Stormont aiming for a similar rate.

See also here.  Unless Tampa can change the federal corporate tax rate, that is not really helpful.  In any event, we hope the mission has success in building trade.

In other trade mission news,

Two weeks after a U.S. Embassy opened in Havana, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman spent last weekend there meeting with a host of government officials, including a leader from the agency that will decide where to put the first Cuban Consulate in the U.S. since relations between the Cold War enemies were severed in 1961.

He is Gustavo Machin, deputy director for American affairs at the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the two met for about 90 minutes.

Kriseman would not comment on the trip until a news conference scheduled for 1 p.m. today at St. Petersburg City Hall.

But David Straz Jr., part of the mayor’s delegation, told The Tampa Tribune on Monday he considers the trip to be an “absolute success,” noting specifically the discussion with Machin — one of the Cuban leaders who took part in the secret negotiations with the U.S. that led to the December announcement about normalizing relations.

“Cuba could have had a lower level person do the talking,” said Straz, a Tampa philanthropist and namesake of the downtown performing arts center. “They sent a top guy because they thought a lot of Mayor Kriseman’s trip.”

As noted by a Tampa City Councilwoman,

Tampa Councilwoman Yvonne Capin applauded Kriseman’s initiative but expressed concern it could cost her city the Cuban Consulate. “Tampa has a welcome mat out but St. Pete’s mayor brought the welcome mat to Cuba,” said Capin, who has been at the forefront of Tampa’s efforts to land the consulate.

She contrasted Kriseman’s approach to a refusal to travel to Cuba by Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, saying this could make St. Petersburg the better choice for a consulate because it “doesn’t have the same issues as Tampa” — a population opposed to normalization of relations.

“They are wrong. It is not a population but only a few people,” Capin said. “Unfortunately, one of those people is our mayor and that speaks loudly. Unfortunately, he is not in line with the president and the majority of Tampa.”

As we said before, at least St. Pete is close by.  On the other hand, Tampa is really where a consulate belongs.  In any event, maybe the effort can foster some regionalism.

USF – More Money

USF College of Business got another shot in the arm in the form of a big donation last week.

The University of South Florida’s Muma College of Business got a $10.9 million shot in the arm that will put the names of Barry and Dana Collier atop the college’s student success program.

The newly renamed Collier Student Success Center, dean Moez Limayem hopes, will bring the business school closer to its goal of 100 percent employment or continuing education for students after graduation.

“That’s a lofty goal,” Barron “Barry” Collier III said. “It piqued our interest.”

The center teaches students out-of-the-classroom skills — dining etiquette, how to write a resume, even how to chat in an elevator.

A thank you to the donors and well done to USF.  The College of Business is truly on a roll.

What We Say about Ourselves – City Flags

There was a really interesting TED talk about city flags.  The flag of a city seems like a completely frivolous thing, and in a way it is.  On the other hand, it can be a strong symbol of the city and a sign of how you present yourself to others.  The talk is not long, it is entertaining, and you can watch it here.  One thing you will hear are five rules for a city flag:

  1. keep it simple. The flag should be so simple that a child can draw it from memory.
  2. use meaningful symbolism
  3. use two to three basic colors
  4. no lettering or seals.Never use writing of any kind.
  5. be distinctive

So here is the flag of Tampa:


From Wikipedia – click on picture for article

And here is the flag of St. Pete:

From Wikipedia – click on picture for article

Neither follows the rules.  First, St. Pete.  We get the color – sun, land, and water.  We get the Pelican.  But we do not get the appeal of putting them together like that.

On to Tampa:  We get the colors – trying to represent America, and our Italian, Cuban, and Spanish immigrants (Isn’t that forgetting at least one major population group?  Maybe, because it was apparently adopted in 1930, though rarely used while we have been around.).  We get the seal.  We get the subtle T and H (Tampa and Hillsborough) that no one will see unless told.  We are not quite sure why there is a stealth bomber silhouette or what all those stars are for (and why one of them is a different size than all the others).  We also don’t get why the shape is a vague imitation of Ohio’s flag, but we can ignore that.  And when you put them together, it is just . . . well, not much.

The real problem with the flag is it tries too hard to say too much.  A flag does not need to have a statement by every group to be all-inclusive (and, as noted, Tampa’s isn’t all inclusive anyway.  Sometimes by doing to much, you emphasize who you exclude). The best flags are a symbol that people can unify (as the TED discusses with Chicago’s flag or the Washington, DC flag). They are easy to understand and clear.

One the other hand, Tampa’s flag is indicative of the area as a whole in the sense that 1) despite being all put under one umbrella, there is still too much disunity and muddle – especially politically – and 2) the planning, design, and presentation are not very strong.  We would like to have a better flag, but maybe the present flag is a better representation of who we still are.  Hopefully, they both will change for the better.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

SunRail’s expansion is a step closer.

Congress on Friday received the full funding grant agreement from the Federal Transit Administration that will move forward completion of SunRail Phase 2 South.

By law, Congress now has 30 days to review the agreement, paving the way for a ratified document between the U.S. Department of Transportation and local partners by the end of September. The FTA said it will provide up to $93 million for SunRail Phase 2 South.

The $189.6 million south extension, which will run from the Sand Lake Road station to the Poinciana Boulevard station, will add 17 miles of commuter rail service to the currently operating 32 miles.

And note that Orlando’s effort is bi-partisan and multi county. While we are talking, others are building, or coming closer to building.

List of the Week I

Our first list of the week goes to attracting Millennials.  It is a list of the cost of living of single person in 24 US cities  based on the Economic Policy Institutes cost of living calculator. You can read the methodology here.  Because it was presented as a graphic, here it is:

From Yahoo! Finance – click on chart for article

Given all the talk about affordability, Tampa’s cost of living is actually a bit higher than we thought it would be.  Especially notable is that most Texas cities have a lower cost of living.  Moreover, many of the usual suspects are pretty close, and some that are a bit more expensive, like Denver, also have higher incomes.  Clearly, we cannot just rely on being a cheap place to live to attract talent.

List of the Week II

Our second list this week is also about cost of living.  It is Mercer’s 2015 City rankings for Cost of Living.   It compares the cost of living for expatriates. We are not going to actually provide the list.  You can see it here.

Obviously, dealing with expats, it has all the “international” cities like NYC, London, Paris, etc.  It also has some other cities, including Winston-Salem, Portland (OR), Cleveland, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Detroit, Minneapolis, Seattle, Atlanta, Houston, Morristown (NJ), Dallas, Boston, Miami, LA, San Francisco, and Honolulu.  It does not include Tampa (nor does it have Charlotte or Austin).  We do not expect that we would have the same number of expats as Miami or Boston or LA.  However, we think we should compare to Pittsburgh, St. Louis or Cleveland (not to mention Winston-Salem.  Really, Winston-Salem?). Just one indication on where we are in our question to raise our international profile.

Roundup 8-28-2015

August 28, 2015


Downtown – We’ve Seen This Before

Channel District/Ybor – Stifling Development, Just Because

Economic Development – Well, That Is Something

Transportation/Planning – Past As Prologue and Possibly Present

PTC – They Reiterate They Do Not Care What the Community Wants

International Trade/Latin America/Economic Development – A Mayor Goes to Cuba

TIA – The Director Speaks

Downtown – Art Is Good, Usually

Port –Maritime Business

Transportation/Built Environment – Road Diets & Bike Lanes

List of the Week


Downtown – We’ve Seen This Before

The Tribune ran one of the articles that appear from time to time hyping downtown development. (The Times also had one about the Port master plan – here – though, because there are no actual proposals involved in that, we do not find it worth really discussing).  To the Tribune:

It’s a well-worn chestnut that Mayor Bob Buckhorn has trotted out on the campaign trail, in front of civic boosters and, well, anyone who will listen.

When he left the city council in 2003, only 600 people lived in downtown Tampa. “And 300 of those were in the Morgan Street jail,” he quips.

Now, more than 8,000 people live in the heart of the city. Lightning owner Jeff Vinik is planning $1 billion in mixed-use construction. Port Tampa Bay has an even more ambitious $1.7 billion proposal.

This is true.  Notably, the vast majority of residences and the groundwork for what is being built now came before the recession.

And there are plans for as many as 16 more high-rise or mid-rise residential complexes in the downtown vicinity, which could more than double the number of housing units to nearly 12,000.

And that would be cool.  We are all for it provided the projects are actually quality projects devoid of settling.

The Tribune provided a helpful visual.

From the Tribune – click on picture for article

Setting aside that some of the buildings listed (like Skyhouse) are already built and that the graphic is completely out of scale, fine.  However, what is not pointed out is that some of the “projects” do not even have developers attached to them (like the Port).  They are just thoughts.  Others – most – are just proposals.  Anyway,

“The demand is there,” Buckhorn insists. “It’s all building off each other. All the pieces are connected and linked. It’s a different world now. Tampa’s become the place to be in the state of Florida, particularly for young college graduates.”

Buckhorn and revitalization advocates have been focused on building a residential base in what had been the land of banks and law firms, where the sidewalks were once deserted by 5:30 p.m.

A planning team was brought in by the city to develop the InVision Tampa Center City Plan, which was approved as a blueprint for the downtown area in 2013. It called for liveable places, connected people and the proverbial live-work-play community.

The city reconfigured its permitting processes to make it more welcoming to developers.

We are not sure about that “place to be” claim, but we do believe there is (and has been for a while) demand. As we have noted before, the InVision Tampa plan basically reiterated old ideas and really had nothing to do with the previous growth (See “InVision Tampa – Of Will, DNA, and Familiar Pictures”) nor the rebirth of old proposals (housing on the Trump Tower site, Kress & Grant blocks, anything in the Channel District really, etc.).  Nevertheless, there is demand for urban living – just how much demand for apartments with the relatively high rents that are planned, we are not sure. Thus, despite the drawings and announcements, when discussing all the proposals, this is the key:

But a noted Florida real estate observer isn’t as enthusiastic about the residential construction boom as the Tampa home team.

“It hasn’t worked out well in the past. All we have to do is look back seven to 10 years to see how devastating an oversaturation of product, along with a change in the economy, can affect construction,” said Jack McCabe, chief executive of McCabe Research & Consulting of Deerfield Beach and an independent housing analyst.

McCabe is among those who expect a 2017 recession — maybe sooner — and said developments recently completed or coming out of the ground stand a chance to succeed. But he predicted that just a third of the myriad Tampa residential projects on the drawing board actually will get built.

“I would just be very cautionary about the timing right now,” McCabe said. “In real estate, ‘location, location, location’ is always the big thing. Here in Florida in this decade, I would argue it’s ‘timing, timing, timing.’ It’s really a crucial and important factor in the success of these developments.”

Anyone who follows these things knows there have been a multitude of proposals for downtown over the years, including just before the recession. (For a discussion of unbuilt projects, have a gander here.)   What usually happens is that there is a boom elsewhere.  Then it eventually reaches here.  Because of our economy and the lower value a developer can get for a project, we are usually late to the game. When it gets here, there is an amazing amount of hype. Old ideas are repackaged as innovations. Some projects get built, and there is a rush of other proposals.  Then a downturn comes to the economy.  Because of our lack of a solid, diversified economic base and reliance on real estate, it hits us quite hard and many, if not most, of the projects go away.  Then, when the economy improves, the whole thing repeats.  That is likely to happen again, because little has changed.

The article mentions that the quest for corporate HQ’s is important, and it is.  It would strengthen the economy and add to demand, but one HQ would not insulate us from what has been created over decades.

So, enjoy the pretty pictures.  Enjoy what actually gets built even more – it will add to the improvement that has been happening (though far too slowly) over the decades.  Hope that most of it comes out of the ground (we do) – hopefully, even better than initially advertised.  But don’t get carried away.  All this hype has happened here for decades.  We are making, and have made, progress, but if everything that had been proposed and hyped had already been built, none of this would even be a discussion – and other areas would not have passed us.

Just understand that this is the typical Tampa cycle.

Channel District/Ybor – Stifling Development, Just Because

As noted by URBN Tampa Bay, the very ambitious Gas Worx proposal for two 29 story residential towers between the Channel District and Ybor   has apparently been downsized.   This is a new rendering:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click for Facebook page

The new proposal is for two 11 story buildings with a corresponding decrease in the number of units.  That is better than nothing, but why the City was so cool to the original proposal is unclear.  (And see here) This is a downtown area.  Large development is good and will bring more of those residents the Mayor wants.  And Ybor did not really care:

But that’s okay, said Tony LaColla, president of the Historic Ybor Neighborhood Civic Association. Cities like Boston and Chicago and those in Europe often have taller buildings near their historic neighborhoods, he said.

One thing that makes this project intriguing, LaColla said, is that it would fill in what is essentially “dead space.” There’s not much there to hold your attention, he said, and a less-than-reassuring landscape for anyone trying to walk from Ybor City to downtown.

“It’ll be a great way to connect the two neighborhoods together,” LaColla said. “At this point in time, most of our board members are supportive of the project, basically because of the amount of people it could bring to Ybor City to shop and to eat and to use the services there.”

Which makes sense because the best thing for Ybor would be to have dense development around it within walking distance or a short streetcar or bike ride.  That does not mean Ybor itself is overrun, but there is no reason the historic district cannot be preserved but surrounded by dense, walkable development.

The bottom line is that if the developer could make it work, why not?  Getting in their way really makes no sense, but that is how Tampa rolls.

Economic Development – Well, That Is Something

It seems that Johnson & Johnson will bring its North American shared service center to Tampa.

Johnson & Johnson will locate its North American shared services headquarters in Tampa.

The Tampa-Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. on Thursday said the company (NYSE: JNJ) will create 500 jobs over the next three years and invest $23.5 million in the facility.

The jobs will pay a minimum average annual salary of $75,000.

The facility will handle work for Johnson & Johnson’s operating companies in the areas of finance, human resources, information technology and procurement, according to a news release.

First, this is not an HQ.  It is a shared services center.  Now that we have gotten that out of the way, great.  That is a good number of jobs and good salaries. (We just see no reason to say it is something it isn’t.) So, of course, they will be going to Westshore or downtown.

The company has signed a lease for 111,000 square feet of space on the first five floors of 100 Hidden River Corporate Center One in Tampa. 

Nope.  And frankly, it was always unlikely that they would choose an “urban” area for support services.

That location would be good for USF but Hidden River is not really part of the university area – it is a sprawled office park.  In any event, it is good that we have graduated from call centers to “shared services.” And it is overall good news to get the jobs, but it is not the HQ, which is still in New Jersey (right next to a train station).

Transportation/Planning – Past As Prologue and Possibly Present

Going to the nexus of transportation, planning, development, and hype/vision, it is good to occasionally have a little history lesson to see how we got where we are, whether people saw it coming, and what they did.  This helps see through the hype and understand what is going on today.

In that vein, URBN Tampa Bay pointed to an article on about the quest to bring mobility fees in Florida, specifically Hillsborough County.   (You can read the whole thing here.)  One key point is this:

In facing a massive infrastructure crisis, America is learning the hard way that the cost of highways doesn’t end with their construction. Roads must be maintained for years and years—a ceaseless strain on local budgets. As chief of development and infrastructure for Florida’s Hillsborough County, home to metro Tampa, Lucia Garsys knows this lesson all too well.

“As we add more roads and don’t have the money to keep the roads resurfaced, I know what the impact of that is,” she says. 

We all know what the impact of that is because we are all forced to drive on those roads, and it is constantly mentioned in the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough process.

That also leads to how none of this is new, and it is mostly the responsibility of bad government decisions.  We start with this from the Citylab article:

Hillsborough and Tampa have struggled with sprawl for years. “There is no limit to how far our area can sprawl,” one county planning official said back in 1998. That forecast has held painfully true. Tampa ranked 124 out of 221 U.S. metros on a recent sprawl index, with residents spending more than half their income on transportation and housing combined. Writing in Salon in 2012, Will Doig summed up the bleak situation best:

In 2010, Forbes ranked Tampa dead last out of 60 metro areas for commuting. Transportation for America declared it the second-most-dangerous city for pedestrians. And a 2007 survey of 30 metropolitan areas found exactly one with no walkable destinations: Tampa, Fla. “Tampa is not a particularly pedestrian-friendly city,” Mayor Bob Buckhorn recently admitted.

Despite some improvement in very isolated areas (namely parts of downtown Tampa – and downtown St Pete, of course – though apparently density is a no-no for Gas Worx and other central areas), this really has not changed much, especially outside of the immediate vicinity of downtown Tampa.  Most of the rest of Tampa and Hillsborough County is still being built in a car-centric way, a few bike lanes notwithstanding.

In any event, this gave us a nice pointer back to a 1998 article from the Business Journal.

The main debate in the Bay area is whether sprawl has gotten out of control, or whether there is a proper balance between meeting market demand for suburban housing and reinvesting in our cities. Different local experts offer varying views.

For years, developers and urban planners, struggling to meet the demand for city expansion, have gone head to head with environmentalists desperate to protect the country’s dwindling natural resources. Planning and green space advocates have long lamented the sprawling development that transforms tracts of prime farmland and forests into dawn-to-dusk traffic congestion.

* * *

Are the Bay area’s cities destined to follow in the footsteps of our nation’s crumbling urban cores? According to Bob Hunter, executive director of the Hillsborough County-City County Planning Commission, the answer is yes.

“There is no limit to how far our area can sprawl,” said Hunter, a staunch proponent of the curbing of urban sprawl. “Hillsborough County is 1,000 square miles in size, and we can certainly sprawl to 2,000 or 3,000 square miles, just like Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago, or any other city that has really lost its character.”

The Tampa Bay area is certainly not alone in its battle to curb urban sprawl. Cities across the nation are trying bold and creative strategies for transforming their downtowns into renewed, vibrant centers of community life. Among the strategies: private and public partnerships; cooperation between suburban and city governments; and construction projects that mix urban entertainment with innovative housing.

Post Properties’ new mixed-use “urban waterfront village,” on Harbour Island, is one example. Combine such developments with “downtown playgrounds” like sports stadiums and arenas, and you end up with the type of critical mass that attracts new restaurants and other businesses to the downtown, while also providing support to existing retail complexes. 

So, anyone who wanted to look could see the problem back in 1998 (and much earlier). And the whole idea of “live-work-play” was pretty much clear 20 years ago – it has just taken 20 years to get anywhere in this area. So what are the causes of the problem?

According to Hunter, the factors perpetuating the continued sprawl in the Tampa Bay area include the abundance of inexpensive land on the outskirts of the urban areas; the lack of adequate government control to manage growth; and a general lack of adequate guiding ordinances. The solution? Curb the sprawl and revitalize urban cores by sticking to an ultimate goal of keeping business and industry close together, in the center of a metropolitan area.

In other words, it comes down to government choices.  (And note that the chief planner is basically saying that his elected bosses are messing up.)  And, while the article does not address this, bad choices apply to not just suburban sprawl but also in how urban areas are built, including downtown, Westshore, and the areas in between. Back to the 1998 article:

To do this, some areas have instituted “urban growth boundaries,” designed to do just that. For example, Portland, Ore., has become a model for managing growth by allowing land to be developed for housing, businesses or industry only inside a 362-square-mile area. Outside the boundary, land must remain farms and woodland.

Right here in the Bay area, officials have also recently adopted an urban service area, which allows for 3 1/2 times the amount of growth that is expected in Hillsborough County in the next 20 years.

“The ordinance is very generous about where growth can occur, but it’s a first step in the right direction,” said Hunter. “We also need the ordinances that will cause growth to be phased and tiered inward toward the inner cities. All of the applications we’re seeing go out to the edge of the urban service boundary.” 

Of course, our urban service area, much like our impact fee schemes, has to a large degree been meaningless.  Once again, blame bad government choices.  Even more interesting was this little nugget:

Local housing market tracking expert Marvin Rose, president of Tarpon Springs-based Rose Residential Reports, takes the position that the much-maligned trend of urban sprawl may actually be beneficial, and that the Bay area’s sprawl has definitive boundaries: Bradenton to the south, Lakeland on the east, the Gulf of Mexico to the west and Hernando County to the north.

“Urban sprawl has both positive and negative effects on cities,” Rose said. “I think we’d have a lot more crime and problems if people lived on top of each other; spreading out and getting elbow room is not necessarily a bad thing.”

“I don’t think we’re turning into another Los Angeles or Atlanta, unless (you’re looking at) those cities 20 years ago,” Rose continued. “We’re not nearly the size of those cities, and I don’t think our state or local governments will ever build the roads that can handle that type of growth.”

Setting aside the odd crime argument, neither the state nor local government did build roads that can handle the growth.  They just allowed the growth (and often subsidized it) without building proper infrastructure or alternative transportation.  And what they did build is inadequate and needs to be expanded because of poor planning.  Hence, Go Hillsborough.

The point of all this is simple: there is nothing new under the Florida sun.  Redevelopment efforts have long been the goal of a number of people in this area.  The transportation problems have been known and obvious for decades – and have been ignored.  The sprawl issue has been there for decades – and has been made worse.  And, as we have noted numerous times, there have been super hyped plans for urban redevelopment for decades.  What the 1998 article makes clear is that, even with all the talk of fixing things over the decades, the reality is that the problems have not gotten fixed.  The reason is that the much-touted plans were not really followed and decisions were dominated by settling and short-term thinking.

It is good that people are now more concerned and looking for some solutions, but it needs to be noted that many of the present decision makers were in government when good advice was ignored and the problems were created (or were made worse) in the first place.   The past does not need to be the future (in fact, it shouldn’t be) and we are all for people changing when they see they were mistaken, but the history needs to be acknowledged (our situation did not just magically appear) to understand the what needs to be done to fix it and to avoid past mistakes. (And it should be remembered when positive rhetoric is followed up with more of the same or plans that obviously will not fix the problems.)

Once again, we may be making progress but we have let things fester for so long and settled so much that even, with some progress, we are well behind many other areas.  None of this happened in a vacuum or without knowing what was going on.  And it is still going on.

PTC – They Reiterate They Do Not Care What the Community Wants

There was an article this week in the Times about what we had previously noted – how Uber is partnering in the community despite the PTC’s insistence on protectionism.

A government agency is still trying to shut down Uber. But that hasn’t prevented the rideshare company from extending its tentacles into the community and forging partnerships with hotels and bars — and, potentially, another government agency.

Uber has clashed with the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission, which regulates for-hire vehicles, since launching in Tampa Bay in April 2014. But while the PTC maintains Uber is unresponsive, uncooperative and a “bully,” other local businesses and community events have ignored the regulatory battle.

Instead, they’ve agreed to partner with — and promote — the rideshare company.

And what does the chair of the PTC – who is an elected County Commissioner – think of the fact that the people want ridesharing?

PTC Chairman Victor Crist said he isn’t worried about the partnerships Uber is creating in the community because he is confident the regulatory agency will win its appeal to have a judge issue an injunction to shut down the company.

That’s right.  Even if the community wants ridesharing, the government will protect us from ourselves, which conveniently also protects cab companies and fixes prices to eliminate their competition. (As opposed to LA, which is coming closer to dealing with ridesharing rationally.)

Speaking of the PTC, there was an interesting development downtown.

You know that trip that is too short for a taxi ride but too far to walk?

The Tampa Downtown Partnership thinks it has just what you need.

The agency is considering launching a small pool of electric cars to ferry residents and visitors on short hops around downtown Tampa. Rides on the cars would be free with passengers “hailing” one via a smart phone app or a dispatcher.

The six-seat electric cars, known as Neighborhood Electric Vehicles, are legal on streets where the posted speed limit is below 40 mph. Orlando and Key West are among communities that already use them.

“The vehicles are cool; they’re nimble, kind of unique and fun to ride,” said Christine Burdick, partnership president. 

You can read the whole article here.

The interesting thing is that these type of vehicles were cool, nimble, and fun to ride when they were first introduced to downtown by a private company, from a 2009 article:

“It improves the experience of downtown,” said Christine Burdick, president of the Tampa Downtown Partnership.

So, why didn’t they last?

But cabdrivers have grown irritated, saying the “neighborhood electric vehicles” are taking away business.

“The only big thing I have is the unfairness of how they operate. If an Americab is sitting first out at the Marriott and all of a sudden one of these cars whips in front of him to take that fare, it isn’t right,” said Lou Minardi, owner of Yellow Cab. “My drivers get a little bit frustrated.”

Some cabbies don’t like short trips, so the vehicles — operated by companies called Hop Tampa, Green-Go, Mulligan Shuttle and Joy Ride — are no problem in a confined area.

But Minardi said the cars are venturing outside downtown to South Howard Avenue and as far away as International Plaza.

“They’re starting to stretch out all over the place,” he said.

The cabdrivers have asked Hillsborough County’s Public Transportation Commission, which oversees cabs, limousines, towing companies and some ambulances, to step in and regulate the cars.

Which the PTC did, though it did not limit the business to short trips.  It basically eliminated the innovative services, giving over the business to existing cab companies, which promptly did away with it.

Given all that, what does the PTC think of the new proposal?

Kyle Cockream, the commission’s executive director, is working with the downtown partnership on its plan. Cockream said it would have the support of most taxi drivers because they prefer longer fares.

“It frees up a lot of the real short two to three block rides that are much easier to do with these vehicles,” he said. “Everyone is in concert; they’re trying to make it happen.”

That’s fine but it raises a couple of questions. 1) Why did the PTC kill business for private companies, kill innovation, and leave Tampa without the (popular) service for years; and 2) why does what the cab companies think matter?  Whether a service competes with the cab companies or whether they like it or not is irrelevant.  And none of that involves public safety, it is all business manipulation by a government agency. And can the PTC be trusted to not interfere in the future?

That, in a nutshell, is why the PTC has to go.

International Trade/Latin America/Economic Development – A Mayor Goes to Cuba

This week, an area mayor travelled to Cuba, looking to land a consulate for his city.  Of course, the logical location for a consulate is Tampa, where the Cuban-American population is centered.  So,

Mayor Rick Kriseman heads to Cuba this morning in hopes of establishing economic and cultural ties with the island nation.

The three-day trip comes nearly two months after President Barack Obama announced the United States was re-establishing diplomatic ties with Cuba after 54 years. Kriseman said he will make a pitch that Cuba should pass over rival Florida cities Tampa and Miami and open a consulate office in St. Petersburg.

Oops.  At least if there is a consulate in St. Pete, it will be in the Tampa Bay area, though it would be odd.

As we have said before, everyone wants freedom in Cuba, but, as it stands, the rest of the world is already investing there and areas from all of the US are looking at it.   Miami is sure to jump in on any opening.  As will New Orleans, Houston, New York, etc.  The fact is that there is an opening, there will be a consulate, and there will be business.  If the goal is to promote the area and show that we are open to Latin America (which dislikes the embargo), it makes no sense to sit back while everyone else rushes in.

But Kriseman said the benefits outweigh the negatives.

“I think this is the right thing for the city of St. Petersburg,” he said.


TIA – The Director Speaks

There was a good interview of the airport director on WUSF. (You can, and should, hear it here.)  There is much good stuff on customer service, where they are looking for flights, and the master plan.  It just reinforces why we like the airport director, especially where he discussed how, before he got here, TIA ceded any competition for international flights to Orlando, which really hurt us unnecessarily.

Also of note is the amount of money being spent to fix up the airport ($900 million), which is about as much as the Lightning owner’s project, give or take 100 million, but is already underway.

One thing that was missing was, while the flight development efforts have been really good, there was no discussion of domestic targets.  We know that a major target is San Francisco, but, for whatever, reason, we have not gotten it yet.  Interestingly, we did notice that United just announced a nonstop between San Francisco and Fayetteville, AR.  Yes, the distances are different and can be covered by smaller planes.  But still, we need that SFO flight.

Downtown – Art Is Good, Usually

There was an announcement this week about some public art in downtown.

Starting in October, Leon “Tes One” Bedore of Tampa and Ales “Bask” Hostomsky of St. Petersburg will spend eight weeks covering the outside of the 932-space garage with murals — some fluid with motion, some child-like in their whimsy, all in colors that pop and all with the theme “Stay Curious.”

* * *

The city had needed to seal and paint the garage anyway, Buckhorn said, and as officials got into the plans, he thought, “that is a canvas that needs to represent what’s going on in Tampa.”

The paintings will be big enough to be seen by drivers coming into downtown from Interstate 275. Each is meant to nod to the culture and recreation nearby: Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, the Riverwalk, John F. Germany Public Library, the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, Florida Museum for Photographic Arts, Glazer Children’s Museum, and Tampa Museum of Art.

Here is one:

From the Times – click on picture for article

You can see the rest of the art here.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn said the idea emerged after he learned that the garage was in need of being resealed and repainted.

“This is an opportunity to really change and liven up what is a boring, unattractive parking garage and really create a point of entry into downtown,” Buckhorn said. “Public art in all its forms is part of a great downtown.”

We are all for public art (and we’re fine with this piece going on Bayshore – especially because it is not a memorial, like the WTC steel, which is not art and should not be treated as such.  This piece is just a flash of color that really does not need that much contemplation.)  The only thing about art is that it is subjective.  In other words, not all art is great to everyone.  These murals are not really our style, which is not to say we necessarily oppose them, just that they do not really do anything for us.  Nevertheless, some people will like them and they are not messing anything else up, so that is good enough, as long as they are well maintained and do not just fade and get dirty.

Port –Maritime Business

Yes, there is actually Port business going on at the Port.

A $14.6 million refrigerated warehouse designed to draw more ships to Port Tampa Bay and build more business locally should be operational within 16 months.

The 130,000 square-foot storage area for bananas, grapes, chicken and other fresh fruits, vegetables and meats will likely be under construction before the end of this year. For now, the port marketing staff is working to sell this new alternative to foreign growers, ships heading this way and to U.S. brokers looking to reduce shipping costs and move fresh goods to end users at a faster pace.

The Tampa Port Authority Board on Tuesday approved a 27-year lease with Port Logistics Tampa Bay to develop the warehouse near the port’s container berth on Hookers Point. The port received a matching grant from the Florida Department of Transportation and is also using money from private investors to build the warehouse.

* * *

Adding a refrigerated warehouse to the port’s offerings could actually be a game changer for Port Tampa Bay, said Raul Alfonso, port executive vice president and chief commercial officer. Right now, the port has no facilities for refrigerating goods and most fresh products bypass Florida altogether. They are shipped to more northern ports, then trucked back to this state.

This is the building that was connected to the argument with Port Manatee about getting fruit imports.  In any event, if it increases business, great.

Transportation/Built Environment – Road Diets & Bike Lanes

There was an article in about a presentation by the Lighting owner’s urban planner regarding road diets, which is an idea we have mixed feelings about.  In some places, road diets are fine, but the idea of having road diets without providing real alternatives is a serious problem.  Nevertheless, you can read the article here.

One thing of note that goes to how Tampa is doing bike lanes on roads like Platt and Cleveland – which appear to be more about just putting in lanes to say they are put in rather than really thinking it through.

First, a drawing of bike lanes, which is much more like the lanes on Platt and Cleveland:

From Citylaw – click on picture for article

Now, what the urban planner thinks:

“Bike lanes are good; a cycle track is better, and requires no more roadway,” says Speck in the road diet’s voiceover. Take the road that we ended up with after the 4-to-3 diet, for instance. In this design, bike lanes run beside car traffic on either side of the street, increasing the potential for collision. But by sliding one parking lane off the curb, this diet makes room for a two-way cycle track protected from moving traffic by a buffer strip as well as a lane of street parking.

Like this:

From Citylab – click on picture for article

We get that on many roads, there is no room for a two-way bike track, but what really makes sense is having the parking serve to buffer bike riders from traffic, with bike lanes outside the parking and away from the road.  We really wish Tampa and Hillsborough County would really think about doing that.  Simply restriping a road to say some part of the road right next to traffic or with cars weaving in and out of the bike lane to park and/or turn is asking for trouble, and for the lanes not to get nearly as much use as they could (and should) otherwise get.

List of the Week

Following a week where Tampa was named the best big city in the southeast (now that is has stopped bragging about Ben T. Davis beach), this week it got another good ranking. Wallethub named it as the best place to retire (to be fair, it seems like Wallethub really just likes retiring all over Florida).

Tampa is the best place in the United States to retire, according to a recent study by WalletHub, which found the city to be affordable for seniors while also offering a lot to do.

St. Petersburg came in at No. 11 in the study, which looked at 24 metrics across four categories: health care, affordability, recreational activities and quality of life. Tampa outranked 150 of the largest U.S. cities, the personal finance website found.

Other Florida cities in the Top 10 are Cape Coral, Orlando and Port St. Lucie. Scottsdale, Ariz., was No. 2 on the list.

* * *

“Affordability is what really pushed Tampa to the No. 1 slot,” said Jill Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for WalletHub.

Finances, however, aren’t all that matter during retirement. Tampa also has a lot of things to do, ranking No. 4 for “recreational activities,” WalletHub found.

Tampa also ranked No. 26 for health care and No. 21 for quality of life, which included metrics such as crime rates, weather and number of retirees, the study found.

St. Petersburg, while ranked as just as affordable as Tampa, was far lower on the list in terms of activities, quality of life and health care.

We are not much interested in this list, but it is good to be ranked highly.

More interesting to us is a list of America’s best high schools (and yes, it is just one list), where only two Pinellas schools placed in the top 300+,  and Hillsborough failed to show.  Sure, retirees provide income and everyone is welcome, but our focus is much more on moving the economy by increasing talent – including for people to serve the retiree community.  Without excellent schools, that is going to be hard.

Roundup 8-21-2015

August 21, 2015


Economic Development – It’s Not Horseshoes

Transportation – More Muddle

USF – Med School Achievement and the Hype

Downtown – Goings On

Downtown/West River/Hyde Park – Moving Forward

Channel District – A New Building

PTC – If At First You Don’t Succeed

West Tampa – CRA

Cue St. Pete

Port Master Plan – Adventures in Silliness

List of the Week


Economic Development – It’s Not Horseshoes

There was news, sort of, from the Hillsborough EDC this week:

Five brand-name companies are potential candidates to relocate their corporate headquarters to Tampa or Hillsborough County.

Setting aside that we have no idea what a “brand name” company is, great. (And, of course, any HQ jobs we get are good.) So where are we in the process?

These kind of relocation decisions are almost always cloaked in secrecy, and Homans declined to give specifics, including whether any of the five companies in the EDC’s pipeline also are working with Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, who has said he is recruiting a corporate headquarters to his $1 billion project on land he owns between Amalie Arena and downtown Tampa.

Homans did say there are “an abundance of sites” each with its own character. “The waterfront district may be right for one, Westshore for another, Plant City right for yet another,” he said. That offers lots of opportunities for companies to create their own strong identity.

That is true, but there is no telling whether anything will come of any of these prospects. We just care about result. In any event,

“To me, the most significant thing is we are beginning to show up on the radar for these kind of headquarters locations,” Homans told Tampa Bay Business Journal after his quarterly update to the county commission. “The word is getting out about Tampa and Hillsborough County and the Tampa Bay area. We’re seeing with greater frequency that companies are taking a look at our community, especially at this higher level of a corporate headquarters, which indicates a great deal of confidence in this market to produce talent.”

And having companies look is good – you have to start somewhere (were they not looking before, and, if so, why not?). But close does not really count. What really counts is if they choose us. And note that it was reported that GE is seriously looking at Atlanta for its corporate HQ (see here)  and maybe Dallas.

“We don’t comment on specific recruitment projects, but I can guarantee you that if a company comes right out and says it wants to move its headquarters, we’re in touch with them,” Rick Homans, said in a previous statement.

Which is fine, but not important if they are not seriously considering us.  It is good to have prospects, but we are about actual results.  Being consistently close but not making the deal does not amount to anything. And that is not necessarily the fault of economic development officials.  We have consistent and persistent deficiencies – transportation (especially transit), planning, walkable neighborhoods, etc. – that are not within their ambit. They are much more the responsibility of elected officials.  If we really these stories to be about true accomplishments, not just how many secret prospects we might have,  we (especially elected officials) have to get truly serious about fixing those deficiencies.

Transportation – More Muddle

Speaking of transportation, first the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough group considered a referendum for a one cent sales tax increase.  Then, after wasting years and then hiring consultants to do public outreach, the elected officials rolled that back to a half cent.  Now, after deciding that the public outreach they paid for was not enough and paying some more, there will be a consideration of both a half cent and a full cent.  How did this new twist come about?

Hillsborough County leaders are taking a fresh look at asking voters to approve a full penny-per-dollar sales tax increase instead of a half-cent to finance transportation projects.

The idea came out of weekend meetings that included County Administrator Mike Merrill, other county officials and public relations contractor Beth Leytham. Managers with the county’s transportation consultant, Parsons Brinckerhoff, also were consulted by phone during the meetings, Leytham said.

Merrill said he and the others were compiling a list of projects that could be funded by a half-cent sales tax increase, which was approved last month by the county’s Transportation Policy Leadership Group. During the weekend discussions, Merrill said they realized many projects the public says it wants won’t be possible without the higher, 1-cent-per-dollar tax hike.

That is odd.  What happened to the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough group? Where were the elected officials?

Some county commissioners, caught off-guard by the staff and consultant’s decision, were not happy. Commissioner Al Higginbotham for one, called the move a “public relations disaster,” and said it confirmed Americans’ distrust of government at all levels.

Another commissioner, Victor Crist, said he wanted to know why Leytham sent out a press release Monday announcing the change without commission approval.

“It’s causing confusion among our constituents,” Crist said. “We’re getting phone calls asking why I’m embracing a 1 cent sales tax and I’m not.”

Apparently, the Policy Leadership Committee is not actually leading, though they haven’t really been leading for a while.  In any event, why the change?

Merrill took full responsibility Tuesday for the news release.

He said the release did not change the recommendation from the county staff and Parsons Brinckerhoff last month to go for a half-cent tax increase.

He also acknowledged that the change in direction was driven in part by criticism from pro-transit forces and some newspaper editorials who argued a half-cent was a weak response to the county’s transportation needs.

“There have been some voices in the community that said we should be bolder, we should have done more for transit, and we should have done a better job, in their opinion, of assessing support for 1 cent,” Merrill said.

We are all for a more global transportation solution, though, based on all that has gone before, it is not at all clear that even a one cent increase would include that. That is more a function of the political will to build a proper plan.  In any event, there is an argument that once cent is better than a half cent, namely,

The move to re-examine the 1 cent proposal was welcomed by pro-transit forces, including Kevin Thurman, executive director of Connect Tampa Bay. Thurman noted that in polling conducted by Go Hillsborough, a one-cent sales tax was the second most popular option for funding transportation improvements after a half-cent increase. Other options included a gas tax increase.

“What they didn’t realize was there are a significant number of people who support the one cent but they don’t want to settle for a half cent,” Thurman said. “That’s the feedback they’re getting. If we’re going to do this, let’s solve our problems as opposed to doing this halfway.”

Thurman said that a half-cent sales tax would raise $504 million for mass transit, or 43 percent of the $1.17 billion the tax would generate over 10 years. Bike and walking trails would get $3.9 million, bringing the total amount of money not designated for roads to 47 percent. 

Discussion of the one cent is generally fine, though, in the present circumstances, it is a very late in the game (that should have happened before they decided to go with a half cent) and creates even more confusion in an already confused process.

And there is an argument that a half cent is preferable because it is actually doable.

Others, however, doubted that a one cent increase would stand a chance with tax-averse voters. Commissioner Ken Hagan, while supporting a discussion of what the full cent increase would pay for, predicted it would be “DOA,” or dead on arrival, at the ballot box.

“I could be wrong, but I think a half cent, while needed, is going to be a challenge and I believe passage of a full cent is a long shot,” Hagan said. 


Commissioner Stacy White, the only member of the transportation leadership group to vote against sending a half-penny tax to voters, said he doesn’t oppose holding the conversation.

“But I think the proponents of the half-cent sales tax have their hands full at this point,” White said. “I don’t really see where a one-cent sales tax will get any traction.”

In our opinion, it would be better to have a full cent and really make the needed changes (though, as we said, whether that would happen even with a cent is unclear).  On the other hand, if a full cent cannot pass, a half cent is better, provided that it does not go to a big mess of unrelated projects that do not actually fix anything.

The real problem is not talking about a full cent versus a half cent.  That is fine.  The problem is that the entire process is (and has been for while) a muddle and is apparently led by consultants rather than the elected officials who are going to have to make the decisions on spending the money.

The fact is that, at some point, real decisions are going to have to be made, and the elected officials are going to have to make them.  The persistent lack of clarity and apparent lack of leadership in no way helps the cause of fixing transportation.  It fuels suspicion among those who already skeptical of local government.  It creates confusion among the people (probably the majority) who are not fully engaged in the process.  It harms the ability to sell anything that comes from the process.  And it makes one wonder if there will be proper implementation if the referendum were to pass.

We cannot have another referendum where there is confusion about where the money is going.  And we cannot have another referendum where the Commission is running away from the proposal they put on the ballot.  That is just a recipe for another failure.

USF – Med School Achievement and the Hype

There was an article about the USF Med School this week that was very interesting.  First the good:

More students are clamoring to enroll in the University of South Florida’s Morsani College of Medicine, lured by the promise of its move to a state-of-the-art campus in downtown Tampa, USF officials say.

The students applying are smarter, too.

USF students’ MCAT scores — the equivalent of the SAT for medical students — averaged about 32.59 out of 45 possible points for the 2014-15 school year, meaning their scores were in the 90th percentile. In the 2013-14 school year, the average score was 31, and the previous school year the average score was 30.

In a presentation to the university’s board of trustees Thursday, USF President Judy Genshaft said the MCAT scores placed USF above all other Florida colleges for the category in the closely watched annual rankings of U.S. News and World Report. The state school closest to USF’s scores was the University of Florida, with an average MCAT score of 32.2.

The rising test scores were attributed to a growing applicant pool, allowing the university to be more selective last school year, said Charles Lockwood, senior vice president of USF Health and dean of the Morsani college.

Plans for relocating downtown the Morsani college, as well as the USF Health Heart Institute, helped the university draw medical school applicants who did undergraduate work at top schools nationwide, Lockwood said.

Among last year’s applicants, 16 percent are from top 30 schools, he said.

Setting aside the downtown campus for a minute, that is great. It is quite an achievement that USF is drawing from such a good pool of applicants.  USF (and the area) should be proud of this development. It is also good that over the years, the applicant pool has been getting stronger and stronger.  It should be celebrated and trumpeted.

But now, the problem with how such things are treated in this area.  The article’s emphasis is on the move downtown as the reason for the surge.  This emphasis is encouraged by USF comments.

In the 2013-14 school year, the number of applications only grew by 5 percent and in the 2012-13 school year they grew by 10 percent. The surge in application exceeded national trends for the period.

“I don’t have any real explanation for it, but I’m sure happy to have it,” Lockwood said. “I have suspicions that the downtown project may have created a big lunge, and these students applied from across the country.”

Huh? The applicant pool has been improving for years and USF is not sure why.  Therefore, they say it was the downtown campus?  That does not make sense.  First, as we said, the applicant pool was already improving and just kept improving at about the same rate.

Second, if last year was anything like this year, applications were due sometime in November.  The USF Board of Trustees did not even endorse the downtown idea until December. See here and here.  The Board of Governors did not approve the first funding until February.  The building design is not done, the move is not fully funded, and there is no clear timeline for the downtown building yet.  In other words, the downtown plan was not approved when applications were due and there is no way to know whether entering first year students will even have a downtown campus to go to. (It is supposed to be finished in 2017, but who knows.)  And:

Over the next year, USF Health will determine exactly what programs and student services will go in the new $157 million, 11-story Morsani college in the heart of downtown Tampa, which will replace its 40-year-old complex on the USF’s main campus in Tampa.

So no one knows exactly what will be going on there.

And the downtown school does not explain why applicants were improving when they thought they were just going to the on campus location. (Apparently, the school is doing fine where it is.)

In other words, the downtown campus likely had nothing to do with the applicant pool.  It is a disservice to the actual achievements of the school to say that it does.  To bring the downtown campus into the discussion is just part of the usual hype of this area.

As noted by the Tribune in an editorial:

The relocation of the medical school downtown is going to give USF Health an even higher profile, but it is useful to recognize that, regardless of location, the university’s health care colleges are an invaluable asset to our region.

The downtown campus may or may not be a draw in the future, but, for the numbers discussed, it is not relevant.  What is relevant I that the med school is making its mark and helping this area.  And that is great.

Downtown – Goings On

There was news this week about a few projects in the main part of downtown.  First, the on again, now off Kress block:

Brokers in Tampa and Miami will join forces to market downtown’s historic Kress building.

Jeannette Jason, who owns the building with her father, Miami-based Doran Jason, said she and her father signed a co-listing agreement for the Kress on Monday.

Jeannette Jason, who joined Cushman & Wakefield of Florida Inc.’s Tampa office in June, will market the property with John Crotty and Michael Fay, principals in Avison Young’s Miami office.

* * *

“There are quite a few groups that are looking at it and in various stages of performing due diligence,” Jeannette Jason said.

The last proposal was actually quite intriguing – one of the few truly elegant looking (we never got real details) proposals for Tampa.  Sadly, it stalled.  Hopefully, if there is new interest, it can be similarly elegant.   We have enough clunky, ordinary projects.

Speaking of which, the Grant block (and a rendering that downplays clunkiness)

From Business Journal – click on picture for article

Plans to build a 23-story residential apartment tower on downtown Tampa’s Grant block are behind schedule, but they are still in the works.

Atlanta-based Carter told Tampa Bay Business Journal earlier this year that it had intended to close and break ground on the tower this summer. The group is under contract to buy the block of North Franklin Street known as the Grant block and demolish a strip of abandoned storefronts to make way for the tower.

“We are still working full steam ahead on this project and fully intend to close and move forward,” Conor McNally, chief development officer, wrote in an email Monday. “Closing should happen in the next 45 days, with demolition and construction start coming shortly thereafter.”

If will be nice to have something going up in the main part of downtown, though this is not a very interesting project, especially how it leaves Florida Avenue an essentially dead space right around the Floridan,  Federal Courthouse, and Kress block.  It could be done much better.


McNally said there were “no concerns or issues” holding up the project. Some developers have expressed concern that the market was becoming too heated, with too many units in the works and land prices getting too expensive. The combination of those forces means more competition for the highest rents the city has ever seen — and no one can be sure of the depth of the pool of high-end renters.

Of course, getting out of the ground first is an advantage.  There is no knowing how many proposals will never get built (as always happens).

Downtown/West River/Hyde Park – Moving Forward

There was more news about the Altis Grand Central project near the Oxford Exchange:

If all goes according to plan, the first residents will move into an apartment building across the street from Oxford Exchange in about two years.

Altman Development Corp., based in Boca Raton, said Tuesday that it is planning to break ground on Altis Grand Central in spring 2016 and deliver the first units in summer 2017.

Ok.  So what is the latest on what the building will be like?

At 504 Grand Central Ave., across the street from Oxford Exchange, Altis Grand Central has evolved significantly since the company first filed plans with the city in April. After feedback from the surrounding neighborhood and City of Tampa, the development will now include 296 units and close to 5,000 square feet of retail space fronting Grand Central.

The building fronting Grand Central will be six stories; the building that abuts Cleveland Avenue will be five stories. Between the two will be an eight-story parking garage.

As long as the garage is not just a big, ugly wall, fine. They included this rendering:

From Business Journal – click on picture for article

This rendering is exactly why we do not put that much stock in renderings.  The immediate façade looks ok.  But if you notice the angle is such that you cannot see the parking garage, which is clearly talker than the rest of the building in the elevations, like this (thanks URBN Tampa Bay):

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

The elevations somehow scrub the parking garage, too.


From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

We are ok with having something of this nature built on this lot and we are all for making this area denser and more walkable.  We also note positively that the developer has worked with its neighbors to improve the original proposal, but it still needs a little work.  We understand the need for parking.  However, like the Related proposal nearby, the garage here is hulking and not dealt with well at all, which is probably why it is scrubbed from elevations and renderings.

We are at the point that there is enough demand that the City has no excuses in allowing hulking garages in what should become a really nice, walkable area – really part of downtown.  There are so many apartments proposed for the downtown area that there is really no excuse.  Remember, these projects will be with us for decades.  Is that really what we want the city to look like?

Channel District – A New Building

This week, the formerly-referred-to-as-Atlantico (it seems that may not be the name after all) broke ground.

On a block south of E Kennedy Boulevard between 11th and 12th streets, FCI Residential is spending $60 million to replace an unused warehouse that once served the shipping industry with an Art Deco-inspired apartment house teeming with young professionals.

* * *


Part of the 2.25-acre site once housed the former Amazon Hose and Rubber Co., which had been at the port since 1951 but has been vacant for nearly a decade.

The new project will have 300 units in eight stories, plus a six-and-a-half story parking garage and ground-floor retail near its entrance on Kennedy. Rent is expected to average just under $2,000 a month.

We are not sure about teeming, but yea, basically.  This is a rendering.

From the Times – click on picture for article

Nothing exciting, but it is fine filler.

(There is a concern, especially with the very narrow streets of the Channel District, that filling the area with lower, squat buildings rather than taller, more slender buildings is not necessarily the best idea when it comes to sunlight on the streets and into people’s windows and views, but so be it.  We see no inclination on the part of the City to consider anything like that.)

In any event, we are happy something is getting built, and it is not PierHouse-like.

PTC – If At First You Don’t Succeed

There may be more efforts to dismantle the PTC:

Jeff Brandes says he’s mad as hell, and doesn’t want to take it anymore.

The St. Petersburg-based Republican state senator wrote on his Facebook page on Thursday that he will propose legislation next year that will attempt to eliminate the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission.

His statement comes a day after the controversial agency announced that despite the fact that a Hillsborough judge had denied its request for a preliminary injunction against Uber last week, it would continue to write tickets citing Uber and Lyft drivers in Hillsborough County.

“This is a perfect example of government run amok,” Brandes wrote. “Enough is enough. I’m drafting sweeping legislation to reform the PTC. It’s time our leaders stood up on behalf of our residents, tourists, and businesses to make sure Tampa Bay has the most robust network of transportation options available.”

He tried last year, but failed.  We applaud his determination to try again (as does this Tribune editorial).

The Chairman of the PTC seemingly had a response, but, from the coverage, it appears very odd. First, from the Tribune:

Victor Crist, chairman of the transportation commission and a Hillsborough County commissioner, said he will propose creating a new regulatory category called ride-share for transportation networking companies. Crist said if Uber and Lyft accept three provisions for the new category, they will be able to operate legally in the county and their drivers won’t be ticketed.

But those provisions are the same requirements that Uber and Lyft have so far refused to abide by: making drivers submit to level 2 background checks, which include fingerprinting; having the drivers’ vehicles inspected annually; and making drivers get insurance that will cover them and their passengers.

“The irony is we’re not asking them to do anything more than they already agreed to do in the markets where they are legal, like New York and Chicago,” Crist said.

But Crist concedes that one of the provisions, mandatory liability and personal injury insurance that will cover passengers and drivers, will require action by the state Legislature. Currently, insurance companies in Florida will not offer commercial insurance to Uber drivers who use their own vehicles.

Crist said state lawmakers would have to force insurance companies to offer the insurance to drivers, most of whom use their own vehicles to transport passengers and usually work part-time.

Given that the plan needs legislative action, it is not a solution now.  Just as simple a solution is for the legislature to abolish the PTC, which leads to the second half of his response, from the Times:

County Commissioner Victor Crist, who also serves as the chairman of Hillsborough’s taxi-regulating Public Transportation Commission, railed against the company during Wednesday’s commission meeting.

“Uber has refused over and over and over again to come to the table and talk to us,” Crist told commissioners.

He also defended the PTC, which regulates the county’s for-hire vehicles.

“Rest assured that the PTC has remained open-minded and objective, and we have been trying to sit down and work with the … ridesharing companies,” Crist said. “To date, the only one that has been willing to sit down and talk with us is Lyft.”

Of course, the PTC is nowhere near open-minded or objective on this issue (see the persistent requirements in the Tribune portion).  And the PTC has not been able (or willing) to reach an agreement with Lyft, either, so that is largely irrelevant.  And then there is the really odd part:

He also lashed out at Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, who has spent years calling for the dissolution of the PTC, and did so once again on Facebook last week.

“(Uber’s) attitude is they’ll just take care of business at the state level,” Crist said, “and it’s quite annoying because every year just before session, some state legislator without thinking with their brain runs their mouth and makes statements that are false and misleading.”

For someone with a plan that depends on legislative action, it is very odd to rip legislators.  It is probably the result of the frustration of supporting an untenable policy.  It also does not help justify the existence of the PTC, which was created by meddling, unthinking legislators in the first place.

The PTC’s failure to serve the area got further emphasis this week:

The board overseeing Hillsborough County’s bus system is preparing to jump into the fray over whether the Public Transportation Commission should be regulating Uber and Lyft.

Those ride-booking companies, they say, are an economical way to connect customers to the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority bus system by getting them to bus stops or from stops to their jobs. And partnering with those companies could save HART money, they said Monday.

Members of HART’s Major Projects and Legislative Committee said they will make PTC reform one of their top legislative priorities for fiscal year 2016, along with funding for a regional fare box. The PTC should not have the authority to push such companies out of town by over-regulating them, HART board members said.

The transit agency is about to launch a pilot project this fall that will address the issue of connecting customers with buses, commonly called First Mile/Last Mile, which could include contracting with ride-booking companies such as Uber and Lyft. But the pilot project is only for its para-transit, or severely disabled riders. The board wants the ability to eventually expand their use to all bus riders who need that short connection.

The bus wants to partner with ridesharing.  The Epicurean wants to partner with ridesharing.  The Young Republicans are for ridesharing. People want to use ridesharing.  We really don’t need the PTC to save us from ourselves.

West Tampa – CRA

The Tampa City Council has designated a West Tampa Community Redevelopment Area.

But with Tampa City Council’s designation of West Tampa as a “community redevelopment area,” the historic enclave may be in for a renaissance, re-energizing Main Street.

* * *

That’s the hope at the heart of the City Council’s move, which dedicates money generated from rising tax values in the area to improving the neighborhood. It opens the way for grants to refurbish storefronts, landscape thoroughfares and even spruce up homes in the specially designated district. 

The Times has a relatively long article on what some would like to see, especially on Main Street.  You can read the article here.  The fact is that Main Street is one of the few streets in Tampa that has a decent number of old buildings in a walkable environment.  It also happens to be right next to an interstate exit (which is good in many ways, but also has some downsides).  It is, and has been, a prime area for redevelopment.  Hopefully, it will reach its potential.

Cue St. Pete

In a week in which St. Pete announced the location for another museum, it also pointed out how Tampa is willing to give away some of the assets it already has.

With Tampa’s famed Bro Bowl now history, St. Petersburg is aiming to become the region’s skating destination by building a 32,000-square-foot skate park across Interstate 175 from Tropicana Field.

The City Council recently approved $1.6 million in Weeki Wachee Fund money, earmarked for parks and recreation uses. Parks officials hope to have a state-of-the-art facility open by winter 2016 in Campbell Park.

* * *

Cue Campbell Park. A large park at 16th Street and Fifth Avenue S, it has restrooms, a large parking lot and easy interstate access.

Most important? A hill that makes Nicks and other skaters shiver in anticipation of the possibilities.

The design of the park is still a work in progress, but Parks and Recreation director Michael Jefferis is confident skaters will be happy.

“I don’t know how many bowls yet or how many jumps, but the topography of that location will just enhance the interest of that location,” Jefferis said.

A skate park (though not historical, which would be much better) and a park with a hill in a thriving downtown. Imagine that.

Port Master Plan – Adventures in Silliness

There was an article this week in the Times that really shows how discussions about plans and proposals can really get out of hand, and, in this area, usually do.  Just to review – the vision plan for the Port property in the Channel District had, for whatever reason (probably because they would look cool in renderings), two 75-story buildings.  No one really knows whether they were apartments or condos because it is not a real plan, it is just a pretty picture that shows what, in theory, could go there.  But let’s set aside the speculative nature for a minute and get to the article.

A rendering of the $1.5 billion project released last week shows two 75-story towers soaring above the waterfront area that the port hopes to redevelop over 15 years.

Towers that tall would vault Tampa into the ranks of such sky-scraping cities as Dubai, Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur. 

That is really exciting, if completely false.  And,

Towers that tall would have more floors than half of the world’s 100 tallest buildings.

Towers that tall would have as many floors as Manhattan’s second tallest residential tower, One57, where a condo sold in January for $100 million — 15 times more than any condo has ever brought in the Tampa Bay area.

* * *

Ranked by the number of floors, the Tampa towers would be taller than eight of the tallest buildings in the United States and 49 of the tallest worldwide. 

Technically true, and wholly irrelevant because no one who knows anything about buildings ranks them by stories.  Equally irrelevant is this:

Is one 75-floor tower, let alone two, realistic for Tampa, population 350,000?

The population listed here is the city population which is completely irrelevant when discussing a real estate market. We are not going to get into whether the market could support such buildings because there is no actual proposal.

Rather, we want to discuss, briefly, a simple rule of thumb – office building are 13 feet per floor and apartment/condo/hotels are 10 feet per floor.  Of course, that can vary based on a number of things, including, but not limited to, height of lobby and other specific use floors, any spire or ornamentation, and some design of the floors themselves.  Nevertheless, one can assume that a flat-topped apartment building with 75 floor in a not big money market will probably come in around 800 feet, give or take a few feet. (For example, see Miami’s 80-story Panorama Tower coming in at 822 feet  and Marquis Residences is 67 floors and 700 feet)   That would make it shorter than buildings built or under construction in Miami, Charlotte, and Atlanta.  Sure, they would be tall, but nothing anywhere near anything in Hong Kong, Dubai, or Kuala Lumpur. (One57 is an outlier and one of the most expensive buildings in the world.  Our market likely would not justify anything like that.)

So, yea, 75 story buildings would be cool, if they were proposed, if the FAA approved them, and if they got built.  But maybe we should wait until something is actually proposed before we toss out all the crazy hyperbole.  It is fine to look at possibilities and get ambitious (frankly, Tampa’s problem is that it is very ambitious on paper but not so much in practice), but let’s keep ourselves in check.  Remember – the Lighting owner hasn’t even built the relatively short office building next to the unbuilt USF med school, yet. (And no one has built a 40 story apartment building in Tampa.)

List of the Week

Our list this week is actually multiple lists and has been well covered – Money Magazines Best Places to Live.    The actual list of best places to live involves only incorporated areas with populations between 10,000 and 50,000.  The only Florida location on that list is Dr. Phillips (26th), the suburb of Orlando.  That did not get much coverage.

What did get a lot of local coverage is the portion of the list that has the 5 best “big” cities.  Tampa (the city) was listed as the best big city in the Southeast. Other regional winners were Pittsburgh, Denver, Omaha, and Mesa (arguably not a big city but rather a suburb of Phoenix).  It is always better to be ranked highly than not.  So, it is fine to be happy that we got a good ranking on this list.

Of course, it is interesting to see how they arrived at this ranking:

That’s why this year, in addition to our list of top towns, MONEY crunched the numbers on urban centers with more than 300,000 residents—63 in all. As with our Best Places list, our city rankings put a premium on a robust job market, affordable housing, and ­factors such as accessibility to health care, culture, and open space. We also gave extra points to places with low crime and strong public schools and selected the top city in the Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, Southwest, and West.

It is important to keep in mind that there are only 3 cities in Florida that have a city population over 300,000 – Jacksonville, Miami, and Tampa.  The cities arguably in the southeast (if you include Texas and Oklahoma, which are both arguably in the Southwest, but the website is unclear) with populations over 300,000 are: Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Austin, Jacksonville, Ft. Worth, Charlotte, El Paso, Memphis, Nashville, OKC, Louisville, Atlanta, Virginia Beach, Raleigh, Miami, Tulsa, New Orleans, Arlington, Tampa, Corpus Christi, and Lexington. (without Texas and Oklahoma, a total of 12 cities).

Also worth noting, but not dwelling upon, are the few oddities in the write up:

Still, there are a few references in the article that will have locals scratching their heads, such as its mention of Tampa bragging about its beaches and how the city attracted 1,000 jobs at Amazon’s new distribution plant. The facility is actually in Ruskin, almost 30 miles south to the south.

So the writers may have never been here.  Nevertheless, we’ll take the ranking.

Now, if only we can fix those things that make our appearance on a list like this notable instead of routine (like Denver, Omaha, and Pittsburgh – yes, Pittsburgh) – like transportation, planning, proper development, etc.  There is still much work to be done.  (For instance, we may be better than Atlanta in this ranking, but they are getting North American Porsche, North American Mercedes, and maybe GE.  We would trade Money magazine rankings for that.)

It is great to rank highly on this list, and good press is always good.  But we will celebrate when it is so common that it is expected. Then we will be where we should be – among the usual suspects.  We are nowhere near there, yet.


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