Skip to content

Roundup 5-19-2017

May 19, 2017

Contents

Transportation – Bring on the MPOs

Transportation – FDOT, a Case study

Airports – Goings On

— There Is One Thing

— Across the Bay

Transportation – Channelling Billy Gibbons

West Tampa – Coming Down

Economy – Tourism

Economic Development – Money for Building

Sometimes You Just Have to Wonder

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

____________________________________

Transportation – Bring on the MPOs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transportation – FDOT, a Case study

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is what won:

From the Miami Herald – click on picture for article

And this is what the community reps wanted:

From the Miami Herald – click on picture for article

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Airports – Goings On

There was more good news about airport traffic:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is not much to add there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— There Is One Thing

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

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

* * *

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

— Across the Bay

Meanwhile, at St Pete- Clearwater International Airport:

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

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

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

Transportation – Channelling Billy Gibbons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

West Tampa – Coming Down

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

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

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

From tampapix.com – click on map for website

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

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

From 2016 update – click on picture for document

Frpm 2016 update – click on picture for document

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

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

And that is true, as is this:

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

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

Economy – Tourism

Time to check in with tourism.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Economic Development – Money for Building

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

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

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

What explains it:

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

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

And what sectors are feeling a pinch?

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

On the other hand:

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

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

Can’t have too much self-storage.

Sometimes You Just Have to Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another perk? It requires far less law enforcement resources.

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

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

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

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

There was news regarding the Brightline rail project.

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

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

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

You can read the details in the article here.

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

Roundup 5-12-2017

May 12, 2017

Contents

Transportation – Playing Nice, But . . .

Channel District/Economic Development – Incubation

Airport – Building

— Just For Reference

Hyde Park – Update

South Tampa – More Land

Economic Development – Not Like That

Tampa Heights – Addition

Transportation – The Greenway

Meanwhile, In The Rest of Florida

___________________________________

Transportation – Playing Nice, But . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who Knows?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which brings us to an ABCActionNews item:

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

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

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

Solutions that don’t come cheap.

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

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

Channel District/Economic Development – Incubation

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

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

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

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

You can find the Dreamit urban tech website here.

The Vinik-Dreamit partnership has three related goals:

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

Airport – Building

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

In other airport news:

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

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

And it is not just passenger traffic that is up.

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

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

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

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

Which is all good.

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

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

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

Nevertheless, overall, thing are going well.

— Just For Reference

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

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

Downtown – Another Attempt

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

In any event, we shall see.

Hyde Park – Update

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

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

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

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

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

South Tampa – More Land

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

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

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

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

From the Times – click on picture for article

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

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

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

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

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

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

Economic Development – Not Like That

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tampa Heights – Addition

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

From The Heights – click on picture for Facebook page

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

Transportation – The Greenway

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, In The Rest of Florida

We often discuss VC and attracting capital investments.  Well,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roundup 5-5-2017

May 5, 2017

Contents

Transportation – TBARTA Bill

Downtown/Channel District – Maybe

— And About That

Transportation – The Streetcar Study Latest

Transportation – How Did the Ferry Experiment Really Do?

Transportation – Good Riddance

Downtown – Encore Retail

Channel District – Boxing

Economy – How About Housing

Economic Development – How Not to Attract a Headquarters, Education Edition

Port/Latin America – Cuba

Politics – When a Term Limit is not a Term Limit

Rowdies – Still Kicking

Transportation – Those Autonomous, Shared Cars

________________________________

Transportation – TBARTA Bill

The TBARTA bill was passed by the legislature.

The Florida House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill Wednesday that will reshape the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority. The Florida Senate passed its version last week, and the bill awaits Gov. Rick Scott’s signature.

The legislation will do three things:

The final bill requires legislative approval if there is a request or plan for rail that involves state money (rather than just any plan).   And the unanimous approval is a good achievement, and it is unlikely such a bill would be vetoed (or a veto not overridden).  Not surprisingly, the Times had a very positive editorial:

Scott should see the bill that passed unanimously in both chambers as a balanced, responsible approach by the region to be accountable for its own destiny with no predetermined conclusions about a specific plan. The agency’s 13-member governing board would include locally elected officials from the five counties and area business leaders. Scott would make four appointments to the board, including its founding chairman. This new governing structure is fresh and inclusive, and it reflects the strong working relationship of the bill’s major proponents, from the Tampa Bay Partnership to the bill’s main sponsors, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and Rep. Dan Raulerson, R-Plant City, to mayors and county commissioners on both sides of the bay.

* * *

Strengthening the governance of TBARTA is an essential step for the region to work together toward commuting solutions. But the tougher work is yet to come: deciding what transit options and routes are best and how to pay for them. This lays a solid foundation for the region’s political and business leaders to find common ground.

Unfortunately, it is not really inclusive in the sense that it only includes government officials and the poorly defined “business community.” (And, as we have said, as a practical matter, the business community would be well represented on the board, anyway). There are other relevant voices. (For instance, setting aside that TBARTA will now be about transit, who will speak on transit issues for people like those who would be harmed by TBX?) Hopefully, someone will represent them.

And, as we have explained before, the problem in this area has not been that political officials and the business community (in the forms of the Tampa Bay Partnership or Chambers of Commerce) have not worked together.  They have.  But there has not been a plan that sells to the public at large, though hopefully that will change.

Aside from that, we are fine with the change.  (Though anything the TBARTA proposes under the new structure could have been proposed under the old structure.)  Frankly, we are less concerned with the arrangement of the seats or who sits in the them then than with what the rebranded organization actually proposes (if the business community members can get a coordinated, integrated, transportation plan, great). That remains to be seen.

Downtown/Channel District – Maybe

There was an interesting article in the Times regarding the Lightning owner’s project:

The development plan has grown from $1 billion to $3 billion, so the Jeff Vinik-Cascade Investment partnership is talking to local officials about expanding the public’s financial commitment to the project, too.

$3 billion?  When last we can remember, it was $2 billion.

Strategic Property Partners originally envisioned a project with an ambitious 3 million square feet of development. Now it’s looking at building 9 million square feet over the next decade, including:

SPP also plans to demolish and rebuild the 230,000-square-foot Channelside Bay Plaza. And it plans to build two new hotels with a total of 650 rooms, plus renovate the 700-room Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina.

The company has 15 teams of architects and designers working on plans for 16 different blocks. The University of South Florida is scheduled to start construction on its medical school building late this summer. SPP plans to start construction on the first of its buildings next year, with its first big buildings opening in mid- to late 2020.

So it is about 3 times larger, though we are not sure exactly what the specific changes will be.  Back to the public money:

Discussions are in the early stages, say officials and executives with Strategic Property Partners, the Tampa real estate company set up by Vinik and Cascade, a private capital fund launched by Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates. No hard numbers have been mentioned, and no financial request has been made.

The city of Tampa and Hillsborough County have already committed a total of up to $100 million in downtown property tax revenues to reimburse SPP for realigning streets, putting in new water, sewer and drainage pipes, and making other public improvements on its 40 acres near Amalie Arena.

So far, there’s about $34 million worth of work under way on a first phase of infrastructure. No reimbursements have been made since the work is not yet done.

So what are they considering?

A list that SPP gave Merrill suggests the “public realm” projects could include roads, sidewalks, landscaping along streets, a bigger Riverwalk, other new public plazas or parks, public art, community meeting space, public parking or enhancements to the TECO Line Streetcar, the arena’s Thunder Plaza or Cotanchobee Park.

The list, first disclosed by the Tampa Bay Guardian blog, also mentions “educational, arts (and) cultural uses.” Nozar said that could include moving the county-supported Museum of Science and Industry to SPP’s project, but it would include many other cultural amenities, too. MOSI did not come up during Merrill’s meeting with SPP, he said.

Strategic Property Partners also is thinking about asking the Legislature to consider next year authorizing the creation of a special district for the project. Inside the district, tenants and property owners would pay an assessment to help maintain and manage public spaces, similar to the way businesses contribute to the Westshore business district.

We are glad to hear that they include streetcar money in that list, as it could be a relatively big chunk in the requested money. (And, from what we can tell, the MOSI move is already a done deal.)  As for the general concept of adding more money:

So while $100 million might sound like a lot for infrastructure, SPP chief executive officer James Nozar expects the costs of those public elements will be “far in excess” of that.

The company says that if it builds a lot more than originally planned, its new construction will generate more in property taxes and it would help to receive a larger share of that new tax revenue to pay for public improvements inside the project’s footprint.

“To be clear,” SPP spokeswoman Ali Glisson said, “we would not expect our partners to extend their commitment until after we spend $1 billion.”

That is a decent argument, generally, for public investments that support private investment.  It is also logical to not add more public investment until the initial investment is made by the private entity.  So we have no theoretical argument with the idea.

The redevelopment money in question comes from Tampa’s 870-acre downtown community redevelopment area, or CRA.

When local officials created the CRA in 1983, they added up all the property values in the area. In the years since, taxes generated by that original value have been split up among the city, county, school district and other local taxing authorities.

But since 1983, the value of all downtown real estate has more than quadrupled, generating millions of new tax dollars to support further development downtown. For most of its life, downtown CRA taxes repaid the bonds for the Tampa Convention Center, but that debt is now paid off, so the revenues are available for SPP’s project.

Using money from downtown taxes to help revitalize downtown is logical enough, too, especially to support a project that, if built, will considerably raise tax revenues from the target area.

The real issues we have are about specifics.  The articles say the discussions are in the early stages.  Fine.  But exactly how much money are we talking about, and what specifically do they want to public money to go to (we are not too excited about paying for parking garages, as there are a lot of those in the Lightning owner’s plan already)?  We are also not for making any additional commitments specifically tied to the project until there is progress on the private part of the project.

It’s not that we lack the Lightning owner’s intentions or good will, but to make a further public investment, we think we need to see some results from the existing investment (which we think will be forthcoming).  We also think that any public investment should serve the community as a whole, not be targeted just for this project (like the streetcar, extending the Riverwalk, and other such ideas). And we would like a list of other options for the money to determine if this is the best use of the money.

The bottom line is we are open to the idea, but would need to see a lot more specifics before forming an opinion about the merits (or lack thereof) of any further proposal.  We would also need to see progress on the project.

That all being said, we hope the Lightning owner’s project will get going on schedule.  We like it, and we want it to succeed.  We just want to protect public money, too.

— And About That

Speaking of starting on schedule:

The final budget offered by the Florida Legislature provides the University of South Florida with $12 million for its new downtown Tampa medical education and research center which is expected to begin construction this fall.

That’s less than the $14 million that was listed on Monday, and $5 million less than USF officials had requested from the Legislature.

* * *

The building is expected to cost $152.6-million. To date, the Legislature has provided nearly $79 million to its construction.

We assume it will be fully funded eventually.

Transportation – The Streetcar Study Latest

In the latest installment of the streetcar study, there was a public workshop about possible alignments.

The city of Tampa has identified seven potential transit corridors to better connect its streetcar service in and around downtown including North Hyde Park, the Channel district and Ybor City as well as neighborhoods to the north.

The city announced the corridors during a progress report on the city’s InVision Streetcar study and outreach effort Tuesday night, after several public meetings.

What was the reaction?

The $1.6 million study has looked at seven possible expansions. On Tuesday, the crowd favored three in an instant poll using their cellphones to vote:

Four other options won less support:

Here are the maps (the top 3 choices listed above are A, B, and G):

From the City Website – click on picture for pdf

From the City Website – click on picture for pdf

You can see a more elaborate presentation here.

First, as long as we have to keep paying the recurring cost of the exorbitant insurance fees to cross the CSX tracks, there will be a built-in issue for the streetcar. (And we get the no-recurring cost of crossing the river, though we have no idea why it would be an issue to go under 275.  The streetcar already goes under the Selmon without issue) But setting that aside, we are not super enthusiastic about the options. F and G are just loops that don’t really add much (though F adds much less than G).  Option A just ends near The Heights, but not really there.  Given how large that development could be at build out, not actually going to it does not make much sense.   B is basically the same issue, but more so.

C, D, and E are interesting in expanding the useful reach of the streetcar, but, to be honest, they are very odd. C and D are just involve seemingly random spurs rather than really making a smooth integration into the existing system.  E is interesting but basically ignores most of downtown (and we are not sure that Hyde Park really is the best place for, or even wants, a streetcar, though connecting Howard and downtown would be nice).  So the most theoretically interesting plans are quite clunky.

It would be nice to work out connecting both “North Hyde Park” (aka West River aka West Tampa) and Tampa Heights to the system (though the cost of crossing the river might be quite high).  If that is not possible in one line, we would pick one (whichever opens up the most present and future riders) to integrate smoothly, but bring it into the heart of that area to really maximize utility. And a lot of the utility of any system is contingent on frequency of service, speed, and fare cost.  If it takes too long (including time-consuming line changes on such a short system), costs too much (like a day pass on streetcar car costing more than a day pass on Phoenix’s much longer, faster and most useful light rail), it will be a barrier to use.

Aside from the weaknesses of the plans, our lack of enthusiasm for any of those options stems from our bigger concern: how any streetcar extension would fit into (or form part of) a larger transportation system.

The reimagined streetcar service would complement transit enhancements currently being identified in a Regional Transit Feasibility Plan that has already revealed five important regional corridors where transit improvements would be most effective. Those corridors would connect areas like Westshore, downtown Tampa, Brandon, the University of South Florida and St. Petersburg.

Engineering firm HDR is leading the InVision Streetcar planning and is working with Jacobs Engineering (NYSE: JEC) to align the two plans.

Which is fine in theory.  The question is what it mean in practice, more specifically what is the streetcar’s purpose to be? It does not exist in a vacuum. Is it just a local circulator? Is it going to form the spine of some system and, if so, how can it be extended to Westshore/airport or what would the connection be?  If you can’t get North Hyde Park and Tampa Heights both into the extension, how would you serve the one left out and what are the different costs and catchment areas?  We get there may not be money to push it farther now, but what would the expansion plan be if there is money in the future?  Is one of those spurs to North Hyde Park intended to go farther (which would make a separate line more sensible) or is North Hyde Park going to be connected by another system? You really can’t judge the relative merits of any of the proposed routes, or decide anything, without knowing how it fits into the bigger picture.

So what is the next step?

The city’s consultants expect to develop cost estimates over the next three to four weeks and gather more public reaction at the city’s website: tampagov.net/capital_projects/studies/streetcar_extension_study.

That should be interesting. We’ll see if the information provided will address our real questions.

Transportation – How Did the Ferry Experiment Really Do?

There has been a lot of news coverage about the Cross Bay Ferry experiment.  While we have been all for the test, we thought it was of limited utility because of the schedule, the fares, and because a limited test does not really give a true measure of what people might do with a firm, full-time service.  Well, the Times dug into the numbers:

The ferry saw most of its success on Friday, Saturday and Sunday as a weekend entertainment option. Far fewer chose to use at as a commuter option, and weekday ticket sales reflected that.

The ferry sold 37,242 tickets from Nov. 4 through April 24. About 25,000 of them, or 67 percent, rode it on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The other third, or 12,000 people, used it the rest of the week.

The ferry grew more popular as more people learned about it. The 16,397 tickets bought in March and first three weeks of April was 44 percent of all tickets sold. Organizers also tinkered with timetables and ticket costs to make the ferry more attractive.

And the tinkering did bring some better results, but was it good enough?

The ferry holds up to 149 people and traveled between the downtowns of St. Petersburg and Tampa. It typically made three round-trips on Saturdays and two round-trips on other days. Tickets cost $10 each way, though Frontier Communications paid for everyone’s tickets during certain promotional days.

Ticket data was provided by ferry operator HMS Ferries up to April 24. The data used here included about 2,800 tickets paid for by Frontier, because those riders set out to use the ferry. It does not include the 1,751 passengers — politicians, the media, local groups, even generals at MacDill Air Force Base — invited by the operator to try out the ferry when the service started.

There were some surprises within those numbers: In about 700 ferry trips, it sailed virtually empty a quarter of the time, with just 15 passengers or less. That’s 10 percent or less capacity, most commonly on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. A handful of times, it sailed with just one passenger onboard, or no one at all.

The ferry carried 100 or more passengers about 130 times, or about 19 percent of the total trips, mostly on weekends. It exceeded 90 percent capacity, or carried more than 134 people, just 6 percent of the time.

The data showed that after a fast start in November, when 5,855 people used the ferry, ridership dropped 34 percent in January (3,857.) A ferry spokesman attributed that to colder weather and the loss of key weekends: The ferry did not operate on holidays, Gasparilla or the national college football championship game in Tampa.

But ticket sales shot up 57 percent to 6,070 in February and haven’t stopped climbing. The first three weeks of April has already seen a record 8,407 tickets sold and could surpass 10,000 once the final tally is in.

But what’s driving those numbers are weekend, not weekday, ticket sales. In April alone, 60 percent of the tickets (5,040) were sold on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

And those numbers are not surprising because:

“That’s not surprising,” Kriseman said. “We knew the commuter piece was going to be really challenging … You’re asking a lot of people, to take a chance and change their schedules for something that was only here six months.”

A ferry feasibility by the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization showed that the 50-minute cruise isn’t very competitive compared to driving across the bay. Instead, the ferry seems geared more toward tourism and entertainment.

Which is quite relevant when considering future investment (or the amount thereof).

And a last point that should be considered in other planning – like the transit study:

There also aren’t a ton of people who live in south Pinellas and work in downtown Tampa, Hillsborough MPO executive director Beth Alden said. The commuter market just isn’t there.

“Maybe if you ran a ferry on a regular basis and it had multiple trips, it might change where people eventually buy their homes,” Alden said. “But right now, you don’t have a huge amount of folks making that commute trip. It’s going to be a lot easier to drive at this point.”

That is not to say that there is no one going back and forth.  There are.  (There are also people going to various spots in between, meaning a transit service that goes between the two with various stops would be better.) But the purpose of a transportation system should not be just point to point unless there is a strong density of ride producing uses at the points and/or better transit at either end to connect to such a density.

In other words, the ferry can be part of a system, but it definitely is not a system unto itself.  It is not even the core of a system.

Transportation – Good Riddance

It is not quite done yet, but the PTC seems to definitely be on its way to oblivion.

Decried by opponents as unnecessary and out-of-date, the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission has been at the center of controversy over ridesharing companies such as Uber and Lyft. It approved a ban on their operation within county boundaries and tried to regulate them like taxicab companies.

The House voted unanimously on Friday to end the PTC with no debate. Senators plan to pass the bill (HB 647), by Tampa Republican Rep. Jamie Grant, next week. Every member of the Hillsborough County delegation supports it.

“Nobody would ever say, ‘Follow the Hillsborough model,’ ” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, an outspoken opponent of the commission who represented part of Tampa until redistricting last year. “The PTC is an abomination. Getting rid of the PTC and passing ridesharing might be the best thing to happen this session.”

Now that it is going away, let’s review the history, per the legislature:

The commission has its origins in the Taxicab Commission of the City of Tampa, created by special act in 1947 (Ch. 24921, Laws of Florida). Until 1976, Hillsborough County and the municipalities of Tampa, Plant City, and Temple Terrace had their own separate taxicab ordinances, resulting in duplication and jurisdictional problems. To resolve these problems and create a more centralized system of taxicab regulation, in 1976 the Florida Legislature authorized the establishment of a countywide taxicab regulatory agency, the Hillsborough County Consolidated Taxicab Commission. In 1982, the Legislature added vans, handicabs, and limousines to the commission’s regulatory scope. To reflect this change, the name of the commission was changed in 1983 to the Hillsborough

County Public Transportation Commission (Ch. 83-423, Laws of Florida). In 1987-88, the Legislature added basic life support ambulances and government wreckers to the commission’s regulatory scope. In 1994, the Department of Community Affairs designated the commission as an independent special district.

(pdf pg 8).  Over time, the PTC worked to stifle new transportation ideas and messed with basically everything within (and some outside) their purview.

One final note from the former chairman of the PTC:

Hillsborough County commissioner and former PTC chairman Victor Crist told the Times/Herald that the state’s legislation overseeing Uber didn’t go far enough to protect consumers with higher insurance requirements, vehicle inspections and tougher background checks.

“I think the Legislature sold out the public ridesharing consumers by putting them needlessly at risk by not requiring the basic safeguards that we have here in Hillsborough County,” Crist, a former Republican state senator said.

Ok.  There is an argument for tweaking standards.  He should feel free to contact his legislator.  Hopefully, they will be more responsive to the needs of the consumer than the PTC has been.

Downtown – Encore Retail

Encore has had residents for a while.  Now, it is finally getting some retail, per 83 Degrees Media:

Encore, a $425 million redevelopment of the former Central Park Village public housing area, will give a home to local foodie Michelle Faedo’s Tampanian Cuisine as the first of three retail operations in the project’s immediate future.

“We’re really happy,” says Leroy Moore of the Tampa Housing Authority. “It’s a major milestone for this site because Encore is all residential now and we have space on the ground floor of all those buildings for retail.”

The residential facilities at Encore now have a strong enough population to support development of retail facilities, Moore says. In addition to Faedo’s eatery, a barbershop and new Westshore Pizza location are under contract.

It’s about time.  We also assume there will be a decent amount of turnover in the retail while the proper mix gets worked out, which is fine as well.  At least now it will become more like a real urban neighborhood.

Channel District – Boxing

URBN Tampa Bay posted some renderings of a proposed hotel at Kennedy and Meridian

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

There is not much to say about it.  It is pretty much a box with some stuff slapped on the side, with a garage on the end.  While the main building has awnings, which is good, the parking garage with some screen on Meridian will just add to the less than pleasant streetscape on that road (see Pier House parking garage).  And aside from the garage, it basically looks like any hotel you can find at a mildly busy highway exit, not a hotel in an up-and-coming urban neighborhood.

We are all for adding hotel rooms to the Channel District and we get that this is filler, but it could still be better.

Economy – How About Housing

There has been a lot of talk about the boom in housing prices.  And they are rising, but there is one thing to keep in mind:

Despite a robust real estate market, only 10 percent of Tampa Bay homes have rebounded to their pre-recession peak value, a new report says.

Trulia, an online real estate database, found that while Tampa Bay home sellers are enjoying the largest price gains in 10 years, the gains are less than half of what they were in the bubble days of the mid 2000s.

The bay area isn’t alone in it’s slow recovery among the nation’s 100 largest metro areas. According to the Trulia analysis released today, only about a third of all homes nationally have seen their values rebound to what they were before the housing crash. 

What’s more:

Trulia found the greatest correlation between home values and income growth. San Francisco and other areas with the strongest growth in incomes since the recession have seen the biggest growth in values. That’s one of the areas where Tampa Bay falls short, the study found.

From July 2009 to July 2016, the bay area registered a 25 percent increase in jobs, among the highest rates in the country. But incomes grew by only 11 percent, outpaced by 40 of the top 100 metro areas including such Sun Belt competitors as Nashville, Austin and Raleigh.

(And remember how low our incomes are to start with.) Setting aside that the three Sun Belt cities listed are significantly smaller in population (though not influence) than us, none of that is surprising.  But, it is just a reminder that, while it may be that when you are standing in this area, it looks booming, if you look at it relative to other areas, that is not so clear.

Economic Development – How Not to Attract a Headquarters, Education Edition

As anyone who looks at economic development knows, one of the biggest issues for drawing talent is having good schools.  And, as we have noted before, ours have some issues.

In three separate sessions Tuesday, the School Board tossed around ways to manage a $3 billion operation while wrestling with population growth, aging buildings and a political climate that increasingly favors alternatives to government-run public schools.

Chief business officer Gretchen Saunders showed the board more than two dozen areas where expenses are climbing above current levels, in some cases by tens of millions of dollars — from employee health insurance to money gobbled up by charter schools.

Funding amounts from Tallahassee are still unknown. And Hillsborough’s cost-cutting efforts so far do not appear to be sufficient.

Florida’s per-student funding is at 2007 levels, said board member April Griffin, “and it is 2017.” She later proclaimed that “our situation is dire. It is very dire.”

Yes, there is a funding issue (and tax revenues are still not back to pre-recession levels in many cases).  But there are other issues as well – including management over time.

In any event, after all the talk, they reached this final outcome:

Although the board members spent the entire day together, they left agreeing they need another workshop. Board member Susan Valdes said it should be just about the budget — and all day.

Let’s review from a little over 2 years ago:

In political and business circles, the reaction to the board’s 4-3 vote to terminate Elia’s contract has been overwhelmingly negative. The prevailing wisdom is that Elia is a good school leader with the title of state Superintendent of the Year to prove it, that a board majority was being petty, and that the move was rash, costing taxpayers more than $1 million to break her contract.

Soon after that, it was discovered that:

In the last four years of superintendent MaryEllen Elia’s administration, the Hillsborough County School District went on a spending jag, tearing through more than half of its $361 million reserve fund, officials revealed this week.

Left unchecked, the pattern would have resulted in another operating deficit this year — a $75 million hit that would bring the fund down near its legal minimum threshhold.

* * *

While some board members say they were in the dark about the spending imbalance, chief business officer Gretchen Saunders said there were no secrets. The administration shared financial statements with the board regularly and posted them on the meeting agendas. “Was it highlighted? No,” she said, referring to the fund balance. Board members did not ask for a public discussion, she said. 

That left unmet needs like fixing air conditioning in existing so students would swelter in class and getting kids to school on time (not to mention the need for more schools as population grows).  And, it seems, as yet, no one has managed to work this out.

We are not going to get into the nitty-gritty of education spending, as that is a bit outside what we cover, except to the extent that the failure to fix these issues (or spot them coming) while praising and supporting leadership that brought them on is very similar to how so many other issues are dealt with in this area – lack of investment, not paying our way, covering up deficiencies, and not really planning ahead.

That does not mean there aren’t some good public schools or good programs (like IB), as well as some very good private schools, but it is just another example of a problem that, regardless of the hype from time to time, seems to linger and impede our development.

Port/Latin America – Cuba

This week there was cruise news:

The first Cuba-bound cruise ship to call Port Tampa Bay home in recent years is ready to set sail. Royal Caribbean International’s Empress of the Seas will launch Sunday for its seven-night cruise to Cozumel, Mexico, Belize City, Belize and Havana, Cuba. Port Tampa Bay and Royal Caribbean will hold a plaque and key ceremony for the launch Sunday on board the ship. 

Carnival will also have cruises to Cuba this year. And we are happy about that, though we still don’t get why it is to have people cruise to Cuba (and fly to Cuba) from Florida and spend money there, but there are issues with agreements to trade goods through the same ports.

Politics – When a Term Limit is not a Term Limit

There was some utterly unsurprising news about the County Commission this week:

County Commissioner Sandy Murman now says she is “probably” going to leave her district seat to run for a countywide seat in 2018, which is setting off a flurry of jockeying and maneuvering in what promises to be a wild 2018 county election season. 

Which sets up an interesting election.

But the 2018 campaign could also bring to the fore an unpleasant issue for the commission members: Three of the seven commissioners — Victor Crist, Ken Hagan and Murman — could be seeking new seats that would enable them to avoid term limits. That could draw backlash from term limits advocates, or provide an angle of attack for their political opponents.

Murman faces a 2020 term limit. Jumping to a countywide seat would restart her term limit clock, and 2018 will be a good year to do so because two of the three countywide seats will be available and she could avoid running against an incumbent commissioner.

Countywide Commissioner Al Higginbotham is retiring, and Hagan, facing a 2018 term limit in his countywide seat, has filed to run for Victor Crist’s District 2 seat.

In 2020, newly elected Pat Kemp will be eligible to run for re-election to her countywide seat.

Meanwhile Crist, also term-limited, has said he plans to run for one of the two countywide seats next year.

Under the county’s term limits charter provision, a term-limited commissioner can continue to serve by moving from a district seat to a countywide seat or vice versa. 

We get the idea behind that.  We also get the idea behind term limits – and they are contradictory.

We are not going to take a position on term limits.  They have an upside and a downside.  Right now, in Hillsborough they basically have no upside because the Commissioners just exchange seats.  The term limits are accomplishing nothing. If we are going to have term limits, we suggest that we either get rid of that Charter provision so they are real.  And if we are not going to really have term limits, just get rid of them.

Rowdies – Still Kicking

The Rowdies referendum passed easily.

A jubilant Rick Baker, a former mayor widely expected to challenge incumbent Rick Kriseman, told a green-and-yellow-clad crowd that the 87 to 13 percentage-point victory was a sign the city deserves an expansion franchise.

* * *

The referendum will allow city officials to begin negotiating a 25-year lease with Edwards, who wants to spend up to $80 million to expand the stadium’s capacity to 18,000 seats.

Despite the landslide vote, nothing will happen unless MLS decides to grant one of four expansion teams to St. Petersburg. A dozen cities are vying for those franchises over the next two years, including Phoenix, San Diego and Nashville.

This is only step one in the process of (maybe) getting into the MLS, but having a stadium plan (which still requires a lease with St. Pete) is a major step.

Transportation – Those Autonomous, Shared Cars

For those who think that congestion will be solved by autonomous, shared cars, we have this from the founder of Tesla:

Musk’s calculus: Most people, he said, think that once all or most of us are zipping around in robot cars, everyone will be able to drive faster with much less road congestion. But that is almost certainly wrong, he said. With shared driving, “the affordability of going by car will be better than that of a bus. It will cost less than a bus ticket. So the amount of driving that occur will be much greater with shared autonomy, and traffic actually will get far worse.”

Which leads to some interesting questions.  First, his solution is to tunnel under cities, which is very expensive and cannot really be done in Florida (at least not extensively).  It is also unlikely that we will have vast elevated roads.  Also, who will pay for the buildings and maintenance of all those congested roads and, if the cost is added to the use of the car, will it still be cheaper than transit or will we have to continue to subsidize roads?  And, since we can’t go under and will likely not go over all those congested roads, if Florida just relies on automated, shared cars, getting around will be that much harder – not easier.

Once again, we are sure automated cars, and shared cars, will form part of our transportation in the future (though it is not clear when), there is ample reason, including from the Tesla founder’s own opinions, to be dubious. we still will need other options.

Roundup 4-28-2017

April 28, 2017

Contents

Transportation

– These Were/Are the Corridors

— About That Legislation

— A Little Something

— One More Thing

Port – All Things Are Relative

Channel District – Live, Work, Play

Built Environment – And Also the Trees, Cont

Built Environment – The Perils of Height Limits

Transportation – More On Those Self-Driving Cars

Throw the Flag

______________________________

Transportation

What would be a week without more transportation news?

– These Were/Are the Corridors

The results of the first stage of the premium transit study came out last week. You can see the PowerPoint pdf here plus this scintillating video presentation:

Before we get into them, let’s review what this phase of the study actually was: a study of 60 or so previous studies to determine which would be in the best position for getting federal funding.  It was not an actually study of the present and future needs of the area or what would be best for us.  It was basically dusting off the old work (kind of like how TBX was built on plans from the 1990s).

This is the first big update in the regional premium transit feasibility plan, a cumbersome term for a process that will identify whether rail, express bus or other types of transit will best serve the region.

A team from Jacobs Engineering expects to narrow that list and recommend three specific projects — including the exact routes and the type of transit that will operate on them — by November, said Jacobs executive Scott Pringle.

Politicians and transit advocates alike have placed a lot of weight on this 2½-year study, which the Florida Department of Transportation paid $1.5 million for and the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority is overseeing. They hope it can provide some sort of blueprint for one day solving the bay area’s transportation woes.

“I am depending on this study a lot to be a real, unbiased analysis of what this region needs to solve its transportation challenges,” said Tampa City Council member Harry Cohen. “My hope is that they’re evaluating every conceivable option.”

That may be his hope, but it is not even the stated purpose/methodology of the study.  So what corridors did they pick?

The five corridors Jacobs selected are a mix of routes between Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties, connecting the area’s densest regions and busiest road corridors:

First, they selected from other studies.  (And why are they looking at only road corridors, if, in fact, that was what they did, which is not actually clear?  Transit is not constrained by road corridors and any study of transit that is constrained to road corridors is instantly prejudiced.)

Second, their selections should surprise no one since they were just pulling ideas from ideas that have already been discussed.  Instead of describing what they found (or subjecting you to the video really does not spend much time on the actual numbers), we just took screen shots of the pdf for the five corridors.

Given that this part of the study is just a rehash of old studies, there is nothing really surprising there (though some of the projections seem a little odd to us).  Our issue with just rehashing what has gone before is not that the previous plans were necessarily bad or that they may not apply to the present.  Some do.  Some don’t.  Our issue is that if you are going to spend the time, do an updated regional assessment.  If you come up with the same thing (which you very well might), fine.  You may find you need to make some tweaks or major changes (see TBX).

For instance, if you look at the charts above of projected population and job concentration overlaid with all five routes (which is very unlikely), you note there are still big gaps of dense population that are completely unaddressed in Central Pinellas and Northwest Hillsborough (where there really is a big traffic bottleneck).  The reason for that is the past studies have ignored those areas, so this study ignores those areas, even though getting people through bottlenecks is one of the things transit is very good for and getting people from where they live to where they work and do other things is basically the purpose of transit.  Notably, the CSX tracks connect most densely populated areas and business centers, with the notable exception of not connecting downtown Tampa to Westshore/Airport (or crossing from Westshore to the Gateway).  We are not saying the CSX tracks are a panacea.  However, using them is worth studying, but it is not going to happen now.

We want this study to be truly useful and come up with some creative solutions to help us have an effective, coordinated transportation system, but the first results point to really just seeing more of the same we have seen before.  We shall have to see what happens.  The future stage of the analysis, where actual choices are proposed, will be more interesting.

— About That Legislation

When last we left the TBARTA legislation, it had just been amended to include:

. . . a feasibility study before any light rail system can move forward, that at least three of the five affected counties must agree with the strategy, and that any rail project must be approved by the Legislature, which would be putting up some of the money anyway.

All of which is unnecessary because, as noted (and we noted before) if there is a request for state money, the legislature would have to approve and, if there isn’t, why should we ask the rep from Lake City?  Not to mention you need a feasibility study for Federal money. And if one county wants to do something and not burden other counties, why does it need their approval?  But anyway, this is what happened this week:

More than a dozen top business local executives went to Tallahassee with an appeal in the days following last week’s political showdown between three GOP senators from Tampa Bay over a regional transit bill.

Keep talking. Please.

The nonprofit Tampa Bay Partnership had planned the lobbying trip anyway.

But the delegation arrived just a day after Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, watched in frustration as fellow Republican senators Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg and Tom Lee of Thonotosassa amended his bill to overhaul the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA) during a tense meeting of the Senate Community Affairs Committee.

As approved on April 17 by the committee, which Lee chairs, the amendment would require legislative approval for any local spending on a light rail system and would prohibit the authority from spending money to push for light rail in a voter referendum. The changes are seen as a serious blow to the independence of the authority.

“The timing could not have been better for this trip because the bill was at a critical point,” said Tampa Bay Partnership president Rick Homans. 

Well, the trip could have come before the machinations and before having to ask people to keep talking (which they should be doing anyway), but it is what it is.

The group’s original agenda was to support a four-part policy agenda, which included Latvala’s transit bill as well as ridesharing legislation, the creation of a regional Metropolitan Planning Organization and money for the Tampa Bay Express interstate expansion project. The group still covered all four topics, but put special emphasis on the TBARTA bill.

Setting aside that TBX is on hold and will probably change because it was plainly a bad plan (even if you like express lanes and 18 lanes cutting through the middle of town),

What emerges may be a hybrid of the original bill. Several partnership members said they felt the legislators were open to collaborating to fix the region’s transportation problems.

“It’s not dead,” Homans said of the proposal. “It’s very much alive.”

The Times article then includes a number of innocuous quotes, which is fine.  So the bill is still around.  And, of course, everyone wants to “fix” the transportation problem.  The real issue is the differing views on what that actually means (does it mean just paving more or does it mean really creating a coordinates, interconnected transportation system built to be expanded and provide real options to roads?)  Per the Business Journal:

Backers of the original bill worry the changes water down the bill’s intent by limiting a new TBARTA’s ability to serve as a regional transit planning arm.

“While there’s still work to be done to ensure the recent amendments to the bill won’t make it more difficult to move forward with new transit projects, we believe that with some key modifications, there’s still room for agreement among all parties,” said Tampa Bay Partnership President Rick Homans. “We’re encouraged by the progress this legislation has made in both the Senate and the House, and look forward to the entire Bay Area Legislative Delegation coming together on the floor to support the future of transportation in Tampa Bay.”

Look, the amendments were intended to make it harder, not impossible but harder, to move forward, especially any rail.  (see here)  To change it to not make it harder would mean getting rid of the amendments.  But that’s not the biggest issue, it’s just an indication of the biggest problem.

As we keep saying, the problem with solving our transportation issues lies far more in the attitudes of those charged with solving them than with the arrangement of the chairs at the table.  Passing this bill will not change that.  We would be much more enthusiastic if the Partnership were focused more on the attitudes than the arrangements, because otherwise, even if the chairs get rearranged, those who want to maintain the road-centric status quo will just do what they have always done.

– A Little Something

Now that the ferry trial run is winding down, there is talk about next year:

Hillsborough County Commissioners sounded impressed by the relative success of the Cross-Bay Ferry pilot project between Tampa and St. Petersburg that concludes at the end of this month, but whether they are prepared to spend another $350,000 to fund a repeat performance later this year remains uncertain.

After hearing a presentation from St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, whose leadership led to the project happening, the board passed a motion to have County Administrator Mike Merrill review whether the board can find the funds to subsidize its portion of the four-government pilot project later this year.

The St. Petersburg mayor, who is running for re-election this year, unveiled a PowerPoint presentation filled with statistics to measure who has actually taken the ferry over the past five-and-a-half months. At the end of March, more than 31,000 people had ridden on the ferry, with organizers hoping the total number could hit 40,000 before it ends in 12 days.

Kriseman said that expectations were low for people to commute to work on the ferry, especially with the project using only one boat. During weekdays the service offers only two full round trips, with three on the weekends.

Looking to fund it next year is fine, though we have to note that, as long as it runs on a limited schedule only half the year, it is not a viable replacement for owning a car or around which one can truly plan: in other words it is not truly useful transit.  Moreover, even its biggest proponent knows it is only a potentially small part of a transportation solution:

Curbing his enthusiasm somewhat, Kriseman began his address to the Board by acknowledging that the ferry is hardly the solution to the Tampa Bay area’s vexing transportation issues. “It is simply an additional tool in our toolbox that works toward those solutions that I think all of us seek and know that we’ve got those challenges that we’ve got to address if we’re going to grow out counties and our region,” he said.

Which is true.  Moreover, there is this:

The survey shows that 90 percent of passengers were Tampa Bay residents, but Board Chairman Stacy White said he wanted those numbers broken down further by zip code, questioning how many people living in the outlying parts of both counties were using the service, vs. those living in Tampa and St. Petersburg. 

Which is crucial, and we suspect that its catchment is quite limited.

So, by all means, look at funding it (and here is another interesting blog post about relative effectiveness of transit funding), but there is way more work to do.

— One More Thing

HART rolled out its flashy Tesla experiment this week:

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit authority on Monday launched an expanded program around the University of South Florida campus to get riders to and from bus stops using Tesla Model X vehicles.

The agency is expanding its HyperLINK program to the university area. Riders can use the service to hail a ride similar to the way they would use Uber to pick them up for a ride to or from a bus station. The subsidized rides are $3 each way.

The service is intended to solve first mile/last mile problems often affiliated with public transportation in areas where bus routes don’t run close enough to the places where people live or work.

Setting aside the $3 price even for transit in a Tesla, while the first mile/last mile issue is a major concern for transit, anyone who rides HART or has attempted to plan a reasonable trip on their app knows that is not really the big issue.  A much bigger issue is that, even if you are near a stop, the trips quickly become very long – impractically long if you are a choice rider and really not cool if you need to use HART.

Which brings us to an interesting item in Creative Loafing from the head of the Innovation Alliance.

I intend to discover first hand just how easy or difficult, it is to abandon my own car & rely on the bus or a rideshare each day. I’ll use HART buses, the HyperLINK system, Uber and Lyft and my own two feet to get from my meetings, four to five of which I have per day, and can occur anywhere in the county. This won’t be easy as our system was not created for people trying to get from home to work [] quickly. I feel a bit like Magellan navigating uncharted territory.  But unlike him, I have wifi on the bus—so I promise to keep you in the loop. 

We will be following along.

Port – All Things Are Relative

We are used to hearing things like this from the Port website:

Port Tampa Bay’s longstanding supremacy among Florida ports is based largely on its leadership in handling of bulk and break‐bulk cargos, including phosphate, steel and petroleum, as well as in the shipbuilding industry.  Port Tampa Bay over the past decade has impressively advanced its container‐handling capabilities and seen a rapid growth in regional distribution facilities.

So, given the claim of supremacy or being the “biggest” port in Florida, there was some interesting information on the Business Journal website that showed up in link in an article on growing cruise business in Florida.

Waterborne cargo value, 2015 Waterborne cargo value, 2014 Containerized cargo value, 2015 Total tonnage, 2015 Cruise passengers, 2015
Port Everglades $25.19 billion $27.13 billion $17.29 billion 24 million 3.77 million
PortMiami $25.05 billion $23.71 billion $20.96 billion 8.61 million 4.92 million
Port of Jacksonville (Jaxport) $23.93 billion $23.35 billion $8.03 billion 17.7 million 366,021
Port Tampa Bay $4.57 billion $4.51 billion $666.38 million 37.37 million 867,114
Port Panama City $3.01 billion $3.15 billion $894.25 million 2.03 million 0

 

From the Business Journal, click here for article.

Admittedly, the information is from 2015 but what is really interesting is how Port Tampa Bay is way out ahead on tonnage but that tonnage is about one sixth the value of cargo of Jacksonville, Miami, and Everglades (Ft. Lauderdale), which is not so good or supreme.  The large tonnage (which is a function of a diversity of uses at the Port, which is a good thing) is good and supports jobs, but it would support more and better jobs if the tonnage was high and the value was also high. (And the value discrepancy is a necessary corrective to the usual discussions about the Port.)

Just like with jobs and income in this area, we have quantity but we need much better quality.  And just another reason to focus on port activity instead of real estate development.

Channel District – Live, Work, Play

There was interesting news about the Channel District this week:

Quality Distribution Inc., a trucking business based off Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard near I-75 in Tampa, plans to move its headquarters to the ground floor of Grand Central at Kennedy, the mixed-use development at Kennedy Boulevard and Meridian Avenue that includes condominiums and retail space. That’s a relocation of 250 employees and a new 45,000-square-foot headquarters coming to the Channel District in downtown Tampa.

It is interesting that they chose the Channel District rather than the central business district, which is good for expanding truly downtown.  It is also sign that the Channel District, which already had live and play (at least sort of play), may also truly add a good dose of work.

Built Environment – And Also the Trees, Cont

A few weeks ago we discussed moves to change the Tampa tree code.  This week, the Times had more information:

An update of the city’s tree and landscape code is headed to a City Council workshop Thursday, about a year behind the schedule City Hall set in late 2015.

* * *

City officials use the study, which is updated periodically, to create a management plan for a tree canopy that covers about a third of Tampa.“Now we need to update our regulations,” said Catherine Coyle, the city’s planning and urban design manager. The proposed changes are meant to consolidate rules now spread among many city documents, make regulations easier to read and make processes more streamlined and predictable.

They are also meant to help place trees where they’ll not only be healthy, but won’t interfere with sidewalks, foundations or underground utility lines.

And all that is fine, in theory.  But the devil is in the details:

As proposed:

Currently, appealing a denial goes to the city’s Variance Review Board, which can take 60 to 90 days, and appealing that board’s decision goes to the City Council, which can take 60 to 90 more days.

As proposed, appeals would go straight to the City Council.

So what is the reaction?

Architect Joe Chillura, who worked to develop Tampa’s first comprehensive tree ordinance in 1972 as a member of the City Council, said the latest proposal improves on the current code and has adequate protections for trees and improved requirements on what needs to be planted to mitigate for the loss of trees that have been removed. 

But:

Tampa Homeowners, an Association of Neighborhoods — a citywide civic umbrella group — “has been watching this for a long time,” said THAN president Jerry Frankhouser.

“It’s one of our major concerns,” he said. “I think we would like to leave it alone, because we feel that the ordinance is doing the job that it should be doing.”

But Tampa land-use attorney John B. Grandoff III said the proposed changes are “much worse” than the existing code and, “rather than simplify the process” would make “it even harder to develop real estate.”

“It’s very complicated,” he said. “I don’t know how a lay person could apply this new tree code. It requires a lot of technical expertise.”

What’s more, Grandoff doubted that the city has enough staff to apply some parts of the proposed code, such as considering the development pattern within a quarter-mile of a requested removal.

City officials expect a full range of reactions.

Setting aside that the quarter-mile thing seems to run against the whole idea of the ordinance, when you get a prominent land-use lawyer agreeing with the homeowners association umbrella group that the changes are not good (really not good), it is a sign that you need to go back to the drawing board.

As we said, we are not opposed to refining the ordinance in theory, but change should not be for change’s sake.  Development in Tampa is going fine so any changes need to be clearly better than what was before.  That is simply not the case right now.

Built Environment – The Perils of Height Limits

People who want to limit development often turn to height limits, thinking that by limiting the height of a building, you will limit the overall size – the mass. Height limits have a place, say in an area of single family homes or a historic district. However, what usually happens with projects involving valuable land with relatively dense uses (like, say, a downtown) is that, even if you grant a bit of a waiver, you tend to end up with a hulking mess of a building that cuts off view corridors and is even worse than letting a building be taller and slimmer.

Last week there was the reveal of a proposal for a hotel building on St. Pete Beach, where there is a long-running battle over development, especially of buildings actually along the beach.

ST. PETE BEACH – City commissioners voted unanimously April 11 to approve a request for a conditional use permit for a mixed-use development on the site of the Coral Reef hotel property at 5750 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach.

Owners of the TradeWinds Island Grand Resort plan to build a 217-room hotel on the site with an 811-space multi-story parking garage, which will make up the proposed Sugar Sands at TradeWinds Island Grand Beach Resort. The building will include a timeshare sales center, a spa, fitness center, a marketing office and a reception area.

The proposed height is 116 feet, which is the reason for the conditional use permit.

According to Cynthia Tarapani, a certified planner with Florida Design Consultants, the project falls within the current allowable density for the area, which is 75 units per acre. 

Setting aside having 811 parking spaces for a 217 room hotel, this is what the rendering looks like:

From St Beach Today – click on picture for article

It seems to us that is exactly what people complaining about development in St Pete Beach would like to avoid – a huge box blocking off any sight of the beach. (Clearwater Beach is getting a decent amount of hulking boxes, too.)

St. Pete Beach can do whatever it wants, but, for others, we think that makes the point quite well.  We are not against building guidelines, but we are against ineffective or counter-productive ones.

Transportation – More On Those Self-Driving Cars

As we have noted before, many seem to think that self-driving cars are the future, and they may be.  But there are some issues.  Setting aside the litigation goldmine that awaits, there are technical issues.  Elaborating on the hacking issue we referenced a few weeks ago, there is this:

Whether they’re detecting human faces in Snapchat or helping self-driving cars avoid road hazards, artificial intelligence systems depend on computer vision algorithms to distinguish between different types of objects. But researchers have developed tricks to confuse those algorithms, stopping AI from recognizing the contents of images.

A new method developed by German scientists from the University of Freiberg and the Bosch Center for Artificial Intelligence goes further, showing it’s possible to effectively blind machine vision systems from seeing specific categories of objects in a scene, like pedestrians in a road.

You can read the article here.  The point is not that automated cars will never work, they probably will.  But, at least for a while, they are not going to be the fool-proof systems that they are held out to be.  And, of course, they still will take up space on the roads.

Throw the Flag

Every now and then an article shows up with no apparent prompting that draws our interest.  Last week, the Times ran an article entitled “Did you know Tampa’s flag is a ‘monstrosity’? No one else does, either”  This is Tampa’s flag:

From Wikipedia – click on picture for webpage

Are not going to get into the whole article, but, well, actually, we did that.  We wrote about it back in 2015 (see “What We Say about Ourselves – City Flags” ) where we linked to a Ted talk on city flags (a really good Ted talk you can find here) which listed five criteria for a good 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

And note that Tampa’s flag (as well as St. Pete’s flag – though they are different) has issues:

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[o] much, you emphasize who you exclude). The best flags are a symbol that people can unify [around] (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.

(see “What We Say about Ourselves – City Flags”)

Do we have a clear alternative to propose?  No (though we have some ideas we won’t get into here), but our opinion hasn’t changed.

Roundup 4-21-2017

April 21, 2017

Contents

Transportation – The Show Always Goes On

— An Editorial

– Everywhere But Here

— About Those Taxes

– Meanwhile, in Pinellas

— Conclusion

Transportation – Finally

Airport – Readying for Expansion and Abaci

— An Announcement

— The Audit

Port – Speaking of Odd Spending

Downtown – Riverwalk Tower

Downtown – Micro-affection

Seminole Heights – Moving Forward

Economic Development

— We’ve Seen this Movie Before

– NonSense

_________________________________________________

Transportation – The Show Always Goes On

Yes, there was more transportation news this week.

— An Editorial

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Everywhere But Here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what is the justification?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

— About Those Taxes

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

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

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

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

So what is in the proposal?

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Meanwhile, in Pinellas

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more about that particular argument, see here.

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

— Conclusion

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

But at least it is entertaining.

Transportation – Finally

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

After years of PTC silliness, we note the following:

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

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

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

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

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

Airport – Readying for Expansion and Abaci

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

— An Announcement

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

From the Times – click on picture for article

From Tampa Internation Airport – click on picture for website

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

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

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

— The Audit

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And

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

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

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

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

Port – Speaking of Odd Spending

Then there was an odd report regarding the Port.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Downtown – Riverwalk Tower

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

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

You can see the rest here.

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

As for more renderings and other progress,

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

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

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

Downtown – Micro-affection

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

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

The company, under contract to buy a downtown Tampa office building and convert it into micro apartments, began taking reservations Monday at www.220madisontampa.com. The $50 reservation fee is refundable but the first people to reserve will have their choice of units if they end up renting.

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

Seminole Heights – Moving Forward

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

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

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

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

From the Times – click on picture for article

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

Economic Development

— We’ve Seen this Movie Before

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

– NonSense

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

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

No other bay area locale cracked the top 100.

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

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

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

Roundup 4-14-2017

April 14, 2017

Contents

Transportation – TBX Reset

Transportation – Corridor Study

Downtown – Micro

Channel District – Condos

Hotel – Five Stars

Politics – Saying No to a Penny

Development – A Map

Built Environment – And Also the Trees

Economic Development – Millennials

Good Reads

– The Problem of Parking

An Autonomous Conundrum

________________________________

Transportation – TBX Reset

There was news about the much touted TBX reset:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transportation – Corridor Study

Last week, the Business Journal reported:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Downtown – Micro

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

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

One interesting thing:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Channel District – Condos

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

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

* * *

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

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

From public records – click on picture for a larger version

From public records – click on picture for a larger version

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

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

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

Hotel – Five Stars

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

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

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

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

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

Plus the teaser:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

This is the location.

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

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

Politics – Saying No to a Penny

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Development – A Map

The Business Journal launched a new feature this week.

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

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

Built Environment – And Also the Trees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Economic Development – Millennials

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

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

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

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

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

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

Methodology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is definitely an issue.

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

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

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

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

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

There is still much work to do.

Good Reads

– The Problem of Parking

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

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

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

An Autonomous Conundrum

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roundup 4-7-2017

April 7, 2017

Contents

Transportation – All Over the Place

— What They Said (or Not)

— Dancing With Ferries

— One More Thing

Transportation – TBX-ing

– The Express Lane Bill, Update

– Redo or Just a Smiling Face?

Transportation – Makeover

Economic Development – VC

Channel District – Condos?

Bayshore – Condo Update

Transportation – Trail Blazing

________________________________

Transportation – All Over the Place

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

— What They Said (or Not)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what do we learn from all this?

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

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

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

— Dancing With Ferries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the Commission did more:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In other words, there is a lot to do.

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

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

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

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

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

It is also worth noting that:

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

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

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

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

— One More Thing

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

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

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

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

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

Transportation – TBX-ing

Now on to more state level issues.

– The Express Lane Bill, Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Redo or Just a Smiling Face?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transportation – Makeover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

From the Times – click on picture for article

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Economic Development – VC

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

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

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

Or from the Business Journal:

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

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

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

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

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

Channel District – Condos?

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

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

From the developer website:

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

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

This is what the old design looked like:

From Mercury Advisors – click on picture for website

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

Bayshore – Condo Update

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

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

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

Which is good.

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

We look forward to it.

Transportation – Trail Blazing

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

We look forward to seeing what they come up with.