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Roundup 4-29-2016

April 29, 2016


Transportation – Go(ing Nowhere Fast) Hillsborough

— Mobility Fees: New Program. Old Mentality?

— Go Hillsborough Plan: Same Old Commission

Transportation – TBX in the “West River”

— Moving Money

Economic Development – Mixed Messages

— One More Thing

Transportation – Something or Nothing?

Downtown/Transportation – Enter the Shuttle, Again

Westshore – Something or Nothing?

Steinbrenner Field – Renovations

Economy – Housing

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

List of the Week


Transportation – Go(ing Nowhere Fast) Hillsborough

There were two major developments regarding Go Hillsborough this week, so we’ll take them in order.

— Mobility Fees: New Program. Old Mentality?

First, the County Commission passed a mobility fee ordinance.

The Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners unanimously passed a mobility fees ordinance to help fund the area’s transportation needs; but not without a few changes.

The mobility fees for new construction won passage Tuesday night at East Bay High School in Gibsonton, setting the stage for a vote on the controversial Go Hillsborough half-cent sales tax initiative tomorrow night.

* * *

Under the ordinance, the mobility fees will be collected from five districts in the county. The majority of the fee money will be spent in the district from which it is collected. The ordinance also includes a hearing officer and appeals process for those seeking to request an adjustment of the fee level.

It is amusing that the mobility fee hearing was at East Bay High School at 6pm.  That is not really near the majority of the population.  And, given what the Commissioners acknowledge is a poor transportation system, it is not particularly convenient or easy to get to.  Moreover, it shows where they are really focused.  Nevertheless, they passed an ordinance.  That is the good part.  As for the changes:

If commissioners — and then the county’s voters — approve a sales tax hike, the amount of money developers would be required to pay decreases. The idea behind that fee range is that those developers would also be paying for transportation through the new sales tax.

“There is a benefit to having a sales tax in place to identify lower fees,” said Deputy County Administrator Lucia Garsys, who oversees infrastructure and development. “That doesn’t mean someone’s not paying their full share. They’re paying it through a different revenue, and that would be the sales tax.”

Interesting approach.

The percentage of the mobility fee assessed based on the date of initial assessment will be:

40 percent (January 1, 2017)

50 percent (January 1, 2018)

70 percent (January 1, 2019)

80 percent (January 1, 2020)

90 percent (January 1, 2021)

From the article, it is not clear if the 90 percent amount is the max fee (which makes no sense) or if it is a discount contingent on the Go Hillsborough referendum passing.

Though following the stated logic, does the ordinance provide for the non-developer taxpayers getting discounts on their gas taxes or HART taxes on the off-chance there is a sales tax increase?  If not, why not?

And, if the top amount is 90%, why is that?  In any event, the old ideas are still in play:

At the hearing, Commissioner Sandra Murman insisted that the fee levels be reviewed every year for the first five years because she felt they were “exorbitant.” She expressed concern about the effect of the fees on small businesses. “We do not want to hamper small business development in Hillsborough County,” she said.

Why is making the taxpayers subsidize development not exorbitant to them?  Don’t they need money to support those small businesses? If someone chooses to build a sprawling development in a rural area, why should the taxpayers pay for it? But such is the County Commission’s policy making.

And, even more to the point, remember that when the impact fee system was put in place there was the same hype about addressing transportation fairly, but the County Commission, in its various incarnations, let the impact fee system stagnate for decades.  They routinely under-collected and pushed the burden to the taxpayer.

It is good that now there are mobility fees, but the old philosophical tendency is still there.  Past performance may not be an indication of future returns, but past history has proven a pretty good indication of the Commission’s behavior. For the system, even a watered down version, to function properly, there will have to be strict oversight of the Commissioners to make sure they do not backtrack as soon as they can.

— Go Hillsborough Plan: Same Old Commission

Speaking of Commissioners backtracking, there was also news about the Go Hillsborough sales tax referendum.  As regular readers will know, we were distinctly undecided on it.  We thought the plan was not nearly as strong as it should be (in fact, the Commission had been watering it down as they dragged out the process), but it seemed to be the best plan that this group of Commissioners could come up with, especially with their collective lack of will and vision.  We needn’t have been concerned.  They couldn’t even move that plan forward.

A three-hour hearing Wednesday night (ed: which we endured in whole) ended in disappointment for transit advocates as Hillsborough County Commissioners voted 4-3 against putting a half-cent-per-dollar sales tax for transportation before voters on the Nov. 8 General Election ballot.

Commissioners Sandy Murman, Victor Crist, Stacy White and Al Higginbotham, all Republicans, voted against both a 30-year and a 20-year tax, leaving the county’s transportation future in limbo. Democrats Les Miller and Kevin Beckner were joined by Republican Ken Hagan in voting for the referendum.

In other words, the Commissioners could not even agree on their own plan, created by a process they created to solve an issue they all acknowledges, and, it has to be said, they have had a part in creating.

We feel bad for the one republican Commissioner who voted “yes.” He gave a long, coherent, and accurate assessment of the problem the plan was supposed to solve and why the shorter time periods proposed for the tax would not get the job done. It was by far the best comment of the night by an elected official (and we were not even decidedly for the plan). To no avail. And we feel bad for the staff that did a significant amount of work. Too bad it was irrelevant.

We could go on and on about various things, but, we’ll keep it (relatively) brief.  Of the Commissioners who voted against their own plan, one Commissioner said he opposed a plan to fix transportation (really, any plan), then said he would support it during the election, then went back to his opposition – that’s all you need to know about that. (see “Transportation – The Wacky Hijinks of Hillsborough County”)  Another Commissioner talked about solving problems, did everything possible to promote outreach, consultants, creating a plan, dragging out the process and making it more expensive, then decided not to vote for it. (“Transportation – A Surfeit of Plans”)  Yet, another Commissioner has been opposed from the beginning (at least he was honest), though he made some good comments about fixing planning, which still needs to be done, but is unlikely.  Then there was the swing vote:

As expected, Crist was the swing vote, saying he made his decision during the three-hour meeting.

“Frankly, the decision I made tonight was not based on data, it was not based on one thing I heard,” Crist said. “It was just old-fashioned intuition.”

He said he counted 31 speakers for the tax, 31 against it.

Maybe, or it could have been made by placing his perception of his political self-interest in the form of fear of a primary challenge over the needs of the area and basic principle that, if at all practicable, people should get to decide whether they want to tax themselves for a specific purpose. You can decide for yourselves.

“Sadly tonight a majority of the County Commission has refused to give the citizens of Hillsborough County an opportunity to decide for themselves whether their future includes a better transportation system,” said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn in an email to the Tampa Bay Times after the vote. ” For over a million of our neighbors and businesses the chance to vote for a better future was denied.

“Rather than a profile in courage this vote was a profile in cowardice.”

That’s about right.  We may or may not have voted for it, but we should have been allowed to vote.  And if you are happy because you think it should have been a stronger plan, remember that is not  why they killed it. Quite the opposite.  They thought it was too much.

That leaves the issue of what to do going forward:

“We should not be rejoicing because we need to go back and keep working on this,” Murman said. “Back to the drawing board.”

Yes, the transportation problem still remains to be fixed.  But, at this point, who can trust this Commission to actually do anything to really fix it? They already dragged out the process every way possible, watered down the proposal, ran from real transit, added pork for the South County (there is no way the ferry should happen before ALL the transportation studies are done to see if it has a place on this new drawing board), and still didn’t vote for their own plan.  What exactly can they draw up that will be more palatable to both those who will never accept anything as well as the people who actually want to improve the area and make it competitive?

Sure, one can still hope for a fix, one can hope that alternative funding is identified; one can hope that real transit is part of a plan; but the history of this Commission does not feed that hope.  They could surprise us, but we will not hold our breath.  And, frankly, there are already rumblings of the Commission getting to work on a plan, but how is that different than everything that has gone on the last few years?

Which brings us to another issue. While we still think the City Tax idea is problematic and are not ready to support it, given the epic uselessness of the County Commission collectively (remember, some Commissioners were making a good faith effort) has displayed to this point in addressing transportation (and economic development, planning, and pretty much anything else other than subsidizing sprawl), we may have to reconsider.  The County Commission as presently formulated has proven itself simply incapable of dealing with our main challenges.  They appear to be just riding a national economic recovery while ignoring the structural weakness of their own creation.  It is not inevitable that they do that, but it is the Hillsborough County way.

Transportation – TBX in the “West River”

That leads to what will likely be the “solution” the Commissioners settle upon: TBX. There was an article in the Tribune regarding some pre-TBX demolitions.

Tampa Presbyterian Village, the angular public housing development that formed a pink stucco mountain range between Blake High School and Interstate 275, is gone.

The complex, vacant since Dec. 30, was reduced to a dirt plot late last week to make way for the first phase of the planned Tampa Bay Express project, adding express toll lanes through downtown and rebuilding the Interstate 4/275 interchange.

The Florida Department of Transportation bought the 42-year-old housing complex for $8.4 million in October 2014, and will maintain the grounds until the interchange project begins. The Metropolitan Planning Organization board will hold a public hearing in June to give final approval.

If the project is approved, Tampa Presbyterian Village will provide space for a roadway expansion, which may include the most southern end of a ramp from downtown to I-275 South, and a stormwater pond.

Transportation department officials didn’t have a strict timeline to relocate residents, said Zenia Gallo, project manager and senior right of way agent.

In other words, rather than replace the “mountain range” (hardly) with a park connected to a Riverwalk or an urban development that can help make the West River more attached to the actual river, it will be replaced with paving (plus a nice new retention pond) that makes the interstate divide the neighborhood and separate it even more from UT and downtown.  Oh, and the highway will abut a high school. Excellent urban planning.

Just so you get it, this is the complex:

From the Tribune – click on picture for article

And another, really nice, angle (at least downtown looks good):

From the Tribune – click on picture for article

That is not a small piece of land for a couple of lanes (something we could understand). That is basically doubling the width of the interstate through the heart of the city, right near downtown and in an area the City says it wants to totally redevelop into an urban neighborhood.  It is also right next to where the City wants to spend $35 million on a park that will be even more cut off from the area north of it.  And a good chunk of the Riverwalk going to Tampa Heights being built right now will be under that highway (because what is more inviting than walking under a superwide highway on your daily stroll? Though we guess some might welcome some shade).

We have said many times that we think that the highway system in this area needs to be fully developed, but TBX is a mess and its reality needs to be fully understood.  We still have a hard time reconciling the rhetoric (and spending) by the City on the area in and around downtown with the archaic plan that is TBX.  So when you hear discussions about it, just understand the massive barrier that TBX will create right through the middle of the “InTown Tampa.”

— Moving Money

Which brings us to an interesting development, maybe.

The Florida Department of Transportation is putting the brakes on buying up land around the Tampa downtown interchange, but the state said its plan to expand the highway is still going forward.

FDOT reduced the money budgeted for voluntary property acquisition downtown in fiscal year 2017 from nearly $25 million to about $500,000,  Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization executive director Beth Alden told an MPO committee Tuesday morning.

Those opposed to Tampa Bay Express — the state’s plan to widen the areas interstates and add toll lanes — celebrated the news on social media. Tampa City Councilmember Lisa Montelione called it a “huge win.”

“The Community Redevelopment Agency had been pushing for the acquisition phase to be delayed until all the impact studies could be completed,” Montelione wrote on Facebook. “Thank you to our citizens and to my fellow board members for your perseverance.”

But Debbie Hunt, the director of transportation development for the local FDOT district, said “nothing about TBX has changed” and the project is still going forward as planned.

The money that was originally budgeted for the downtown interchange for 2017 will instead be used to buy the land where Charley’s Steakhouse and the Doubletree by Hilton Tampa Airport currently stand. That’s where FDOT plans to build a future transit hub for buses and trains.

And that is fine because the Westshore transit concept is, theoretically (though, in reality, it probably is not relevant in the near to middle future), much more useful an idea than TBX.

But, if you don’t like TBX, don’t get too excited.

The change in the budget — moving millions of dollars planned for the downtown interchange to the [W]estshore area — is a shift in the timing of when the department will buy up land, not a nixing of that part of the project.

“It doesn’t change the total that will go toward right of way acquisition,” Hunt said, “It just changes what got purchased when. We always said right of way will occur over many years.”

But Alden said the shift in the timeline does buy more time before the state can purchase the land it needs downtown. Many opposed to TBX have asked that the state hold off on buying that land until the project can be further evaluated.

“I think that will help give some extra time to wrap up that (project development and environment) reevaluation, so that’s all for the good,” Alden said.

Of course, that does not mean the actual TBX project will be reevaluated. Probably, that just means that they will look at putting some more precast images on the side of the overpass to gussy it up. And, even if the delay did allow for a reconsideration of the project, that only matters if the MPO is open to discussing anything (doubtful) and if FDOT is open to discussing anything (more doubtful).  Remember, FDOT has said that TBX is all or nothing because you do not have a choice, other than rubber stamping what you are told you should have.

Economic Development – Mixed Messages

There were two columns in the Times that seem to us to encapsulate the confused approach our region takes to economic development recruiting efforts.  We’ll take them chronologically.

The aging images and outdated perceptions of St. Petersburg are so pathetically passe that they are practically banned in conversation among economic development and business leaders in the city.

After all, this is 21st century downtown St. Pete, a vibrant and hip melange of waterfront living and public parks, creative artists and innovative museums, rising entrepreneurial activity, university learning and Johns Hopkins-branded medical research. This is a city energized by diverse nighttime entertainment, foodie fare and craft beer, multiple sports teams, high-end condos and frenzied apartment building, and the fresh possibilities of an 80-plus-acre swath around Tropicana Field about to get an urban redo with a big emphasis on urban innovation.

Such is the buzz driving city and business leaders about to launch St. Petersburg’s own Economic Development Corp. The EDC’s mission:

First, to sell St. Pete’s current mojo beyond the city and Florida borders.

Second, to recruit talented folks who city leaders think can be persuaded to live here — once they sample it.

And third, to pitch — selectively — companies with specific skills such as marine science, specialized manufacturing and data analytics on expanding or relocating here, and adding their capabilities to the city’s business core and key neighborhoods.

The column goes into some details, but we will stick with the macro view.  Ok, St. Pete wants to do economic development on its own.  We can understand that, to some degree.  They want to bring in talent and use their mojo (almost as overused a term as “game changer” and “swagger,” but what would mojo be without being trendy).  As for the selective recruitment, we get having some target industries, but it is clear that the modern innovative economy requires multidisciplinary cross-pollination. You really have no idea from where innovation might spring. It really makes no sense to limit yourself.  Why would they do that?

I sat down recently to discuss the soon-to-launch EDC with Steinocher and Mike Vivio, president of St. Petersburg-based Cox Target Media/Valpak. Vivio currently heads the chamber group focused on honing the EDC’s goals.

The two executives used the analogy of the Tampa Bay area as a huge shopping mall full of stores of all kinds.

Vivio points out St. Pete is a specialty store. The new EDC can’t go shopping for a big corporate relocation that wants a big campus setting on lots of land.

“We’re not Macy’s,” Vivio says, a store more fitting of Tampa’s way of pitching its many assets to a broader base of business.

“We’re the Apple Store in the mall,” Steinocher chimes in. “We’re the store that draws people to the mall and lifts the anchor stores, just as the other stores lift Apple.”

* * *

Vivio, former publisher of the Austin American-Statesman newspaper, sees in St. Petersburg’s bones many of the qualities that made Austin a vibrant go-to town. Both cities attract creative talent, which in turn and with the EDC’s marketing help, should help draw the kind and scale of companies that can prosper in St. Petersburg.

Um, ok.  Setting aside the whole mall thing, considering yourself the Apple store may be a bit of an overestimation, but being ambitious is ok. We even get going after small companies because there is less land.  (We won’t even get into the “having the same bones as Austin” thing.)

Will it work?

An EDC certainly can’t hurt. St. Petersburg’s far behind in actively recruiting specific businesses. An EDC run by the right person may change that. Major momentum is palpable in St. Pete. It would be disastrous to waste that energy by doing nothing.

Just remember. If Tampa Bay is one great shopping mall with many different shops, even the much-touted Apple Store must keep reinventing itself to keep the crowds flocking to its doors.

So, having a number of EDC’s is good.

That was one column.  But then came this:

Two major Florida chambers of commerce said Monday they may merge, explaining they can solve more regional issues at lower costs if they operate as one organization.

Not to worry, Tampa Bay. That level of cooperation and strategic thinking? It’s not happening here.

The two chambers talking merger are the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce. Both chambers issued releases Monday explaining their reasons to explore combining their resources.

“There are many issues that are more effectively addressed with a regional approach,” stated Christine Barney, chair of Miami’s chamber and CEO of Rbb Communications.

“By consolidating our power bases we increase our ability to shape key issues regionally while continuing to address the matters that impact our local businesses and economy,” added Heiko Dobrikow, chair of Fort Lauderdale’s chamber and general manager of the Riverside Hotel.

Could Tampa Bay ever seriously consider a single chamber of commerce for the entire metro area? After 25 years of watching this issue grow and shrink with interest, I see little on the horizon to change this area’s entrenched and balkanized behavior. Separate chambers of commerce exist for each of Tampa Bay’s major cities (Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater). Another dozen or more represent everything from the beaches to Pasco and Hernando counties to South Tampa and Temple Terrace, to name only a few.

Lately even the economic development corporation, or EDCs, have begun multiplying with St. Petersburg and Plant City adding their own job recruiting organizations to the EDCs already operating for Pinellas County, Tampa/Hillsborough and Pasco.

Note that they “may” merge. It is not definite, but if you are a regular reader, you get where this is going.

Sure, there’s been plenty of talk of greater cooperation — if not consolidation — of economic development groups in the Tampa Bay market. Relations between counties, chambers and even mayors are better now than they have been in decades. But they remain separately driven organizations, separately funded with their own economic and political agendas.

The climate between Hillsborough and Pinellas business groups wavers between cooperation and testy competition depending on topic and time of day.

Here’s a recent example. This month, six prominent national corporate site selectors toured the Tampa and Hillsborough market on a multiday visit, then gathered in downtown Tampa to discuss what they saw. They praised much of the economic progress. But several expressed some frustration that they did not see what Tampa Bay has to offer but only what Tampa and Hillsborough County could deliver. Companies — site selectors’ customers who want to know the best places for expansion — could care less about city limits and county borders.

“Frankly, you are diminished when you limit the tour to Tampa and Hillsborough,” said one site selector, Andrew Shapiro of Biggins Lacy Shapiro & Co. “What about Pasco, Polk and Pinellas and,” he added, “spectacular St. Petersburg?”

St. Petersburg Area chamber CEO Chris Steinocher, in a recent interview, acknowledged that St. Pete had missed an opportunity to coordinate with the visiting site selectors and hopes to make it happen next time. At the same time, St. Petersburg is about to launch its own EDC.

Right about there. So, St. Pete’s EDC is good, but having separate EDC’s is bad?

Is there a lesson in the making here for Tampa Bay? You know how the old saying goes.

When Florida’s economy is growing, everybody starts to prosper and feels little inclination to change the status quo. It’s only in the economic downturns that the need to share resources gains brief credibility.

If the Miami and Fort Lauderdale chambers do merge and their combined economy starts pulling away, we may learn the hard way how more cooperation can go a long way.

Actually, the fact is that in this area, when things are good, people do not feel the need to cooperate.  When they are bad, they bring up excuses, like funding or separate needs, to not cooperate.  There is a lot of talk of cooperation, but the cooperation is definitely limited.  (Maybe, St. Pete should have been pushing to get in on the site selection game with Tampa more rather than trying to create an EDC.  Maybe, Tampa should have been more open to it.)

The reality is that there is still a self-destructive rivalry between Tampa and St. Pete (despite Mayoral rhetoric).  People not from here don’t care at all whether something is Tampa or St. Pete, Hillsborough or Pinellas.  And, frankly, for most people here, it doesn’t really matter.

Going back to the mall analogy, why don’t you market the whole mall and let the prospective tenant choose the space that’s right for them? (A specific location could close the deal after a decision is made.) We suppose that is where the Tampa Bay Partnership is supposed to fit in.

Just know this: when you have numerous bureaucracies that have to justify their budgets, salaries, and existence, the likelihood they will actually work at cross purposes is pretty high.

And, probably more importantly, both Hillsborough and Pinellas are still decades behind our competitors in terms of transportation, with no sign of an ability to deal with it.

And we’ll ask again the threshold question for all those trying to attract all those high paying jobs: why should someone who can go anywhere come here with the faint hope that someday we will be a real urban area (not just a neighborhood) when they can go to places that provide the lifestyle they want already?  If you want to succeed, you better have a very good answer.

— One More Thing

The second column noted this little fact:

The GDP of the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach metro area stood at $300 billion in 2014, ranking 12th among metro areas in the country. The Tampa Bay metro market generated a GDP in that same year of $128 billion, ranked 25th nationwide.

It is noteworthy that the figures mean that both areas underperform based on their population.  Times may be “good,” but they are not that good.

Transportation – Something or Nothing?

The PTC/ridesharing story just keeps going.

The chairman of Hillsborough County’s Public Transportation Commission said he’s ready to make concessions that will allow ride-share companies Uber and Lyft to operate here much like they do in other U.S. metro areas.

Commission Chairman Victor Crist, who is also a county commissioner, said only a few safety issues have to be resolved before Uber and Lyft can operate in the county legally.

Up to now, the companies have refused to obtain county permits and operate under regulations meant for taxicabs. As a result, lawsuits have been filed and the county has ticketed Uber and Lyft drivers.

Crist, who has been involved in private negotiations with the companies, said he wants the impasse to end. To do so, he’s willing to agree to more flexibility on issues that have bogged down negotiations in the past, such as insurance and background checks.

“They’ll be responsible for policing themselves,” Crist said. “Basically, what we’re asking them to do is update their safety standards. It will allow them to do things the same way they’re doing it now.”

Like a recently struck deal in Palm Beach County, Hillsborough would not require Uber drivers to get background checks that include fingerprints, Crist said. Uber has been steadfast in its refusal to require fingerprinting and the company agreed to pay Palm Beach County a yearly permit fee to avoid doing so.

Under a vote taken last week by the Palm Beach County Commission, the fee would be reduced by half if Uber agreed to more extensive background checks that include fingerprinting.

“We’re saying if it’s good enough to do down in Palm Beach County, it’s good enough for us,” Crist said.

Exactly, if Palm Beach County does not need a PTC, neither does Hillsborough.  As for the deal,

Hillsborough also would refrain from imposing any additional insurance regulations beyond what the state of Florida requires, said Kyle Cockream, executive director of the Public Transportation Commission.

“Whatever the state mandates, that’s what we’re going to enforce,” Cockream said.

The county will continue to require that vehicles driven by Uber and Lyft contractors undergo yearly mechanical inspections, Cockream said. But the drivers will be allowed to take the cars to their own professionally certified mechanics rather than working through the commission.

On the other hand,

The negotiations have no commission members other than Crist. Cockream said the talks are at a “starting point” and not ready for the commission board as a whole.

We tend to think the other PTC members probably want this issue behind them, though they have made it more of an issue that it needs to be.  The Palm Beach ideas have been floated in various forms for a while.  The problem has been the PTC.  Which makes this interesting:

Crist said he has dealt with mounting threats and bullying from the cab companies, whom he described as [] operating “like a cartel in this market,” for years. On Tuesday, Crist said, the insults and aggression continued. Enough, he decided.

His solution: Help Tallahassee revoke the PTC’s state charter and remake it into a county agency with an appointed board with the power to regulate taxis and rideshare companies, which he hopes would remove legislative gridlock from the equation. 

If he knew it was a cartel, why has he defended the status quo for so long?  Why has he championed the cartel and its policies?

It has been obvious for years that the PTC should go.  As for an appointed board – that does not necessarily change anything.  Though, given its collective inability to solve problems, one wonders if the County Commission as presently constituted can handle the job either.

We’ll see what happens.

Downtown/Transportation – Enter the Shuttle, Again

Speaking of the PTC, years ago, the PTC, acting as the cartel’s enforcer, killed free, private, electric shuttles in downtown Tampa.  Last week:

Free electric shuttles will begin whisking downtown employees from remote parking lots and the Marion Transit Center to businesses throughout the city’s core within a couple of months.

The Tampa City Council, sitting as the Community Redevelopment Area board, voted Thursday to give the Tampa Downtown Partnership $550,000 toward the $1 million it will take to offer rides from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. weekends.

The app-based shuttle program, coupled with another new initiative to bring the car-sharing program Zipcar to the city, should “put a real dent” in the issue of finding a parking space downtown, said Karen Kress, the partnership’s director of transportation and planning. She has been working on this shuttle project for about two years.

The money approved Thursday comes from two different CRA districts — the Channel District and the downtown district. It’s an 80-20 split, since most of the use will be in downtown. The remainder of the funding comes from federal, state and local entities as well as private sector donations.

The on-demand shuttle service will begin operations with 12 vehicles, each able to hold six passengers. Called an on-demand “micro-transit” service, the shuttles will help solve the last-mile puzzle — getting people from transit or parking areas to their final destination and vice versa.

In other words, we used to have a private shuttle service, but government killed it.  Now, we have public shuttle service.  We are all for having the new shuttles, but it is hardly a triumph for conservative, market-based principles (see County Commissioners on the PTC).  And it is hardly a sign of our openness to innovation to kill what was obviously a good idea only to bring it back years later using public money (even if it is CRA money).

It also was announced that Zipcar is coming downtown.  Given that Zipcar has been around for a while, it is about time.

Westshore – Something or Nothing?

There was interesting, though not necessarily important, news about a project in/near Westshore originally proposed long ago:

A New York developer is laying the groundwork to be ready to move forward with one of the most anticipated developments in Tampa’s history.

The Hillsborough County Aviation Authority will consider a height variance for Tampa Bay One, a long-awaited development just off of Interstate 275, near the intersection of Dale Mabry Highway and West Cypress Street.

The owner of the site has requested a variance to build four mixed-use towers with a maximum height of 260 feet or more than 20 stories, according to the authority’s May 2 agenda.

Bromley Cos., based in New York, has owned the 17-acre site for almost two decades. It assembled the parcels in the late 1990s. It could hold 1.2 million to 1.5 million square feet of development, depending on the tenant mix and range of uses — retail, residential, office and hotel — that Bromley is able to land.

The variance request doesn’t mean a groundbreaking is imminent, said William Haines, Bromley chairman. But his team is increasingly fielding more interest in the site.

* * *

Bromley’s original clearance from the aviation authority expired. The group has unveiled mixed-use proposals for the site in the past but those were ultimately stymied by the real estate market.

This is for property between Dale Mabry, Himes, Cypress and 275.  Nothing is imminent.  Nothing may happen at all.  It would not be the first time a major project never happens.  On the other hand, it could be nice, especially if any rail line does go between the airport and downtown (some day), it is truly walkable and bikeable, with street retail – not just a mall – and does not have surface parking. So maybe they have to go back to the design board a little if this is the plan:

From the Westshore Alliance website – click on picture for website

From Bromley – click on picture for website

That is about as unconnected from the surrounding area as possible (and it has surface parking lots?) and does nothing to promote a walkable, urban environment.  They need to update that 1990’s design.

One funny thing in the article:

The site is close to the Westshore business district, where the retail vacancy rate is 3 percent and rental rates are the highest in the Bay region.

It’s funny how marketing lines are drawn.  If a building at Waters and the Veterans can be in Westshore (which it isn’t), how is it that a building at Dale Mabry and 275 is not?

Steinbrenner Field – Renovations

Because of time and space (though not space-time), we did not get to this last week, but the County Commission approved renovations to Steinbrenner Field.

Hillsborough County commissioners approved a $40 million renovation of George M. Steinbrenner Field on Wednesday, greenlighting an agreement that will keep the New York Yankees here for spring training through 2046.

The deal commits more than $13 million in Hillsborough County tourism tax dollars to the project and is contingent on Florida matching those dollars through a spring training retention fund. The Yankees will pay the remaining $13 million.

There are a number of things here.  First, the Yankees spring training does bring a decent amount of business and exposure to the area and the deal includes them staying here until 2046.  It does promote tourism.  Second, the money comes from tourism taxes, which by statute are limited in the ways they can be spent.  They cannot be used for transportation.  They can be used for stadiums.  Finally, the Rays do not seem to care.  So we do not have that much of an issue with the spending.

Economy – Housing

Let’s look at the housing market.

Tampa Bay home prices shot up nearly 11 percent in March, the third consecutive month to show healthy gains.

The volume of single-family home sales also rose — up 4.2 percent over the same month a year ago — although the slower pace reflects a continued shortage of moderately priced homes.

That would seem to be a vicious cycle (as prices go up, the number of houses that are moderately priced will keep going down).  Then again, the situation may support the rental market. (And, then again, the price increases may not continue in that manner. )

The bottom line is that housing seems good for now.  The real issue is whether people will end up paying beyond their means creating and eventually bursting a bubble – and whether our economy is sufficiently developed to withstand the inevitable housing downturn.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Last week, we noted that Orlando had begun the first expansion of SunRail.  This week, we look at Denver:

Local authorities on Friday launched a new Denver-DIA train service aimed at whisking people from the airport to Denver’s Union Station in just 37 minutes for $9. The train leaves the airport starting around 4 am weekdays, and runs every 15 minutes until nearly 1:30 am. DIA is the country’s fifth-busiest airport, with 53 million passengers a year, and the train is a long-missing transportation option.

“This is a major element for our growing up as a global city,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said.

The airport, although technically in Denver, is actually 23 miles from downtown, and the drive often takes far longer than the usual 35 minutes due to heavy traffic on Interstate 70. The train makes six stops between downtown and the airport, carrying up to 180 passengers at a time. The cars were designed to accommodate travelers with luggage, and have power outlets to charge cellphones.

* * *

Even before it opened, the train began spurring new growth in the area, including an under-construction 400-acre transit-oriented development adjacent to one of the train line’s stops. A key part of that project is offices for Panasonic Enterprise Solutions, which plans to create 300 additional jobs in the company’s audio-video and eco-solutions business.

From Denver RTD – click on map for website

It is the product of vision and political will.  Something sorely lacking in certain places around here.

List of the Week

Some like to say this is Tampa’s time.  Well, we found one area where Tampa runs with the big boys: lawyer ad spending.  According to Bloomberg, this was the breakdown of spending on legal services ads last year:

From Bloomberg – click on graphic for article

In fact, if you add Tampa and Orlando, which is still not as big a population as LA (and certainly not New York), they blow away the competition ($12 million more than LA).  Who needs transportation improvements?

Special: Go Hillsborough – A Proponent Has His Say

April 25, 2016

Two Roundups ago, we quoted some comments from a reader in favor of Go Hillsborough. (See “Transportation – The Continuing Saga of Go Hillsborough“)  Because we used his comments out of context and so they were a bit disjointed, we offered to post a more prepared statement if he wanted to make it.  He did.  So, without further ado, his comments (we have only edited them for a little and without deleting any points or changing the substance).

This is the best plan one can expect with these elected officials and this electorate.

It is better than most thought could get done and I personally believe it’s a good plan. But, even if you disagree, it is, at minimum, the best plan we can get right now with these elected officials and this electorate.

This is very true and the essence of the debate over Go Hillsborough. The truth is the plan isn’t what I would design. It’s obviously not what advocates against Go Hillsborough would design either. However, for the first time since I have been involved, the “do nothing” crowd does not exist. The tea party, the left, the business community, the urbanists, and the politicians agree *something* has to be done.

So the choices are do something like 2010 and try and spend most on transit and lose with the electorate, do something like 2007 and spend almost all on roads and set us even further behind, or try shift our spending towards smarter growth now.

This plan does that [the last one]. 57% of the money goes to transit, buses, sidewalks or complete streets. Of the money that’s left, only half goes to new roads and widening. The rest goes to signals, intersections, and safety measures. In fact let me note [] the county voted to do take on part of the suggestion that you posted of mine to offload the resurfacing to the budget and shift that money to other projects — and none went to widen or new roads.

This is how this whole process has been. It started at 40% for alternatives and now it is at 57%. But there is another reason it’s a good plan — because of what it does not do. It is not a road tax to fund mostly building new roads like the CIT ended up being. Most of the money isn’t for cars, but not just that **less money than any other plan in the history of Hillsborough goes to new and widened roads**.

It focuses on smarter ways to deal with traffic. Computerized signals, redone intersections, and the 2010 referendum would have had us spend more than twice as much money on new and widened roads than this proposal in the first ten years. Sure, we would have spent tons on transit but the tradeoff then was a half-billion dollar road expansion.

Some argue not enough goes to this or that. Some hate they didn’t write it and others will demand monorails. We won’t get what we each want — it’s part of living in a community. This plan isn’t just a result of this process; every project but one is part of the long-range transportation plan. The system is actually working in this case — and that is what many don’t want to know.

In 2012, no one wanted to talk about transportation. But about 3 years ago in March of 2013 hundreds of citizens showed up at County Center to ask the Commission to start the process that became Go Hillsborough. This is the end result of citizens working with their government. It’s resulted in mobility fees that will collect far more from developers; it’s resulted in taking care of a massive resurfacing backlog; and it’s resulted in a plan forward for the next ten years.

And the plan is a concrete step forward. It may not have been pretty or exactly what any individual wants. I believe it will get better and be the foundation for a future where transportation choices become a part of our lives and allow us to change direction on transportation.

We are also willing consider posting a response, if someone is wants to submit one, provided it sticks to the subject matter, is polite, makes relevant points, and comports with our editorial policy. In keeping with out view that the policy is the important thing, not the person, we will also not list the name of the author. Finally, please note that we reserve the right, for any reason, to edit and/or not post any submissions.

Roundup 4-22-2016

April 22, 2016


Transportation: Of Roads and Ancillary Things

— Go Hillsborough: Moving On

— Go Hillsborough: A Missing Piece

– Gandy Connector: Is This Change Really Necessary?

— TBX: The Opinion Piece

— Phoenix

— LA

— Tampa Bay

— And One More Thing: the PR Push

— And Another Thing: The Port and TBX

TIA – A New Record

Economy – Employment

— And One More Thing

Westshore – Redevelopment Proposal

Downtown/Channel District – MOSI

Rays – Oldsmar?

— And One More Thing

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

Cool Website


Transportation: Of Roads and Ancillary Things

— Go Hillsborough: Moving On

Go Hillsborough moved to its next stage.

Commissioners on Wednesday unanimously approved projects that are part of the controversial Go Hillsborough half-percent sales tax plan, one that would span 30 years to fund the region’s transportation needs.

The Hillsborough County Board of Commissioners approved the list of projects for the unincorporated county that would be presented at a public hearing for further comment and changes on April 27.

Mike Merrill, the county administrator who developed the plan, told the board that the list of projects will be part of the referendum if it makes it to the November ballot. He added that the [sic] other jurisdictions that are part of the plan — the city of Tampa, the city of Temple Terrace, the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority — have all approved their project lists.

This came as there was news that some local Democrats are organizing against the plan because it lacks sufficient mass transit. You can read the whole Tribune article on their opposition here, but the Business Journal had a some give and take that summarizes the argument.

At Wednesday’s meeting, public comments came from Ed Turanchik, a former county commissioner and an attorney with the Akerman law firm, and transit advocate[e], Kevin Thurman, among others.

“This is not a transit plan, this is a status quo plan,” Turanchik told the board as he criticized the plan. “CSX is not in the mix. There is a way forward for premium transit congestion relief,” he said. “If you want real congestion relief, move people from where they live to where they work.”

Following the meeting, Merrill said of Turanchik’s criticism: “I think the beef is simply he’s not getting a train. That doesn’t mean you throw out the baby with the bathwater.”

Well, really a plan should be like this:

The board also approved a motion by Commissioner Kev[i]n Beckner to make sure the transportation plan is an integrated one, coordinated with the county, HART and all the other transportation agencies involved in the various projects. 

Given that the motion passed unanimously, it is a real question why such an integrated, coordinated plan wasn’t done in the first place. The fact that it had to be brought up at the meeting this week where the Commissioners approved the list of projects makes one wonder again about the overall plan.

Moreover, the very fact of voting for a coordinated plan supports the criticism above.  The plan does not take into account all the studies that are to take place and all the changes will happen.  Without changes in planning and mobility fees, it merely hardens in place a lot of poor planning.

And, no, it does not have a train or even the vision for a train in the future.  For anyone who really wants proper transit, Go Hillsborough is a faith-based plan – hoping that after ten years, after another big argument, maybe there will be a real plan for real transit (as opposed to just funding HART’s old wish list). That may be the window to transit in the plan, but asking people to just have faith has also always been a problem.

Also of concern was when, at about 11:37 am on the meeting on Wednesday (we noted the time), the Commissioner for the South County (as well as South Tampa and Town N Country/Westchase, though you may never notice) told everyone this little nugget about the County’s share of the money: half the money and one-third of the projects are going to the South County.   Huh? While South County may be poorly planned and there may be future growth there, it is hardly the most congested area in the county. And it is not the part where the majority of through traffic from other counties goes, burdening our transportation system. Why does so much money go there?  What is with the lack of balance? And, given that South County is all sprawl based developments, how does that fit with changing planning priorities and patterns of development?

Nevertheless, the business community finally spoke:

The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, the largest chamber in Hillsborough, on Thursday endorsed the plan to raises the county’s sales tax by a half-cent to fund growing transportation needs.

“The cost of doing nothing is greater than the cost of investing in our transportation options,” said chamber president and CEO Bob Rohrlack. “We cannot continue to ignore this. It’s impact(ing) workers getting to work, our quality of life.

“It’s impact(ing) our ability to function and we’ve got to do something here.”

The question, really the prudential question if you care about having a proper transportation system, is whether you think Go Hillsborough is really investing in transportation options enough and properly or whether is it basically just trying to make the status quo a little better.  (And part of that is the as yet unaddressed mobility fees and changes to planning.)  We are sure that many are putting their faith in building a rail line from downtown to Westshore.  But, as with many other real transit elements, that is a matter of having faith.  The FDOT study has not even started.

Whether you support Go Hillsborough or not depends on where you come down on that issue. (It would be a lot easier to decide if there was at least a vision for years 10-20.  But that was deliberately left vague.)

As we said last week, we are undecided, more because we doubt that local officials can come up with something better than the merits of the plan.  What we do know is that the plan could easily be made much better, and that is not likely to happen.

— Go Hillsborough: A Missing Piece

As we said, major factors in whether the plan has any merit are whether planning will change and there will be mobility fees to cover the costs of new development.

On any number of occasions, Hillsborough County commissioners have proclaimed that developers need to start paying their fair share for new roads to service their new commercial and residential projects.

But on Wednesday, commissioners were instead arguing that a complex mobility fee system, developed after more than a year’s worth of study, had put transportation impact fees too high.

Commissioner Al Higginbotham expressed shock at how high new transportation fees would be for developers of smaller businesses, such as drive-through restaurants.

A 4,000-square-foot, drive-through restaurant would pay an $84,990 in the first year the mobility fees are implemented, probably fiscal year 2017. The fee would top out at $283,300 in the fifth year under the county’s proposed phase-in program.

First, the cost of the mobility fee above is meaningless.  The whole idea of mobility fees is that you pay more when you require more infrastructure.  Fees change based on location and usage.  The example above does not give location.  It does not tell us if the business is in a fully built up area or in what is now a farm in Ruskin.  (Under a proper mobility fee system, a restaurant in a built up area should be significantly lower than one built on the edge of a much more sprawling area.) It is not a fixed number, as implied in the quote above. (Nevertheless, if the County had pushed to have walkability and real transit, the fees would be lower.  But it didn’t.)

Second, what did the Commissioners think was going to happen?  Even if that number is accurate, now we know how much they have been making taxpayers subsidize development.  (The fact is that mobility fees are much more market oriented – you pay for what you use and profit from, you pay for the actual cost of your business.) Some people understood this even if the Commissioners did not.

We are not for pricing business out of the county, but:

The fees proposed by the county staff were developed through research done by Tampa transportation planning firm Tindale Oliver. They are based on the number of vehicle trips generated by a home or business, the average length of the trips, and the cost of new roads or other transportation improvements to handle the additional traffic.

Steve Tindale, CEO of the firm, said he used methodology common to counties around Florida. The fee levels in those counties are very similar, Tindale said, and are based on interviews with drivers to establish how far they traveled to and from a business.

Those counties where the fees are dramatically different don’t have the documentation to show how they arrived at the final fee rate, Tindale said.

“Two-thirds of the counties were consistent, but a third, it’s going to be difficult to know how they plugged the number in and where the information came from,” Tindale said. “There is no variation where you see the collection information has been collected and consistently applied.”

So, it is not clear that will be the case.  Additionally, it would be nice to know which counties have cut their fees below cost.  One county was talked about a lot: Pasco (which apparently exempts many types of development from any fees).  But,

Ron Barton, assistant county administrator for economic development, advised the commissioners not to use Pasco County as a model when it comes to setting mobility fees. Hillsborough County is three times larger than Pasco in population, Barton said, and workers here earn salaries that are 33 percent higher than the county to the north. And, with 641,000 workers, Hillsborough has six times as much employment as Pasco.

“The fact is, we’re a valuable market and we should be pricing ourselves accordingly with everything we do,” Barton said.

So even the economic development people at the County think the Commissioners are overreacting. (And, yes, they should stop acting like Hillsborough is a desperate small town. That led to the subsidies and low standards that created the mess in the first place.)  The fact is that for decades the County Commission has been giving away taxpayer money either directly or by not charging the fees they should.  That is one of the main reasons we have Go Hillsborough, and that it is such a road plan, in the first place.

The fact is we need a new fee system.  We need new planning (which is completely unaddressed).  It may be expensive, but so is making the taxpayer subsidize drive-through, fast food establishments and sprawling subdivisions.  The question really is not the cost.  It is who is going to have to pay?

– Gandy Connector: Is This Change Really Necessary?

There was news about a change to the proposed Gandy Connector:

The Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority unveiled a new rendering Monday, showing that the extension will be 30 feet from the bottom of the bridge to the ground, allowing for continued access and visibility to businesses on both sides of Gandy Boulevard. Most bridges in the United States are 15 feet from the bottom of the bridge to the ground, THEA said.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

That is a bit odd.  First, there is the fact that if you make it taller, it will be even more obvious and not necessarily that attractive. Second, there is what URBN Tampa Bay pointed out:

Yes, making the road deck really high off of the ground makes visibility underneath somewhat better for business interests along Gandy Blvd. But it also raises the road deck up above the tree line, allowing a whole new level of sound transmission to occur deep into residential neighborhoods flanking both sides of Gandy Blvd.

In other words, raising the road that high makes it more intrusive visually and sonically to the residents nearby.  That seems an odd step to take.

There are a couple of possible solutions.  First, raise it but just not that high.  You can lift if to 20 feet and still improve visibility.  It’s not like most people are driving higher than 5 or six feet above the ground.  Nor are most of the buildings on Gandy very all in the first place.  Most are one story buildings.

Not only that.  It seems to us it would be cheaper (and better visually) to just help local businesses lower their signs.  Then you don’t need to have such a high roadway, and you don’t need such ugly signs (yes, we know that businesses love to have the biggest, tallest signs they can, but there should be better sign laws in Tampa anyway.  Tall, big signs are ugly).

Either way (or a combination of both) seems better than visually and sonically polluting the surrounding area.

There was also news about the timeline:

The planning, traffic and economic studies are expected to be completed by September, with a request for proposal for construction issued two months later. THEA anticipates the construction contract will be awarded next January and construction to begin by the end of 2017. The project is scheduled to open by 2020.

If that holds, it would be very interesting given how long so many projects take to get off the ground.  Apparently, things can get done quite quickly when there is the will to just do them.

— TBX: The Opinion Piece

It is good that the Gandy Connector is tentatively moving forward, though who knows if it will actually be built?  Even if it is built, there will still be a large gap between limited access roads in Tampa and Pinellas in the Gandy corridor.  And even if the Gandy corridor is all made a highway, it will leave a large gap in the northern part of the area, where there is no east-west highway at all.  As we have said many times, that forces people coming from the north and going to Pinellas to drive through Tampa, which adds congestion in Tampa.

— Phoenix

That being said, there is TBX, which will supposedly relieve congestion in Tampa, though for a variety reasons that is a questionable assumption.  Regardless, the push for TBX continues.  This week, the Tribune had an opinion piece by the head of TBARTA.

I recently returned from Phoenix, where I attended a national conference on transportation and urban planning, and Los Angeles for a family vacation that followed the conference. The best part of the trip is knowing that living in the Tampa Bay area is so awesome that I would not trade it for either place when considering all the things we have here. However, there is one thing that we have that, while adequate at times in the past, is clearly not yet ready for prime time. After hearing Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s inspirational State of the City speech on April 12, it is easy to see that our biggest challenge is our existing transportation system, which is not yet mature enough to play the role it needs to in a region approaching 4 million people.

Phoenix has worked on transportation infrastructure for a long time. It took Phoenix four referendums, over two decades, to finally get the financial resources in place to build a robust roadway, bus and rail system to serve its population. The investment has resulted in a transformed city compared to the one I visited just seven years ago.

Development along the light-rail line is very impressive, with new residential developments near rail stops, new downtown hotels and a new convention center. Even more impressive is the use of the system. The light rail was completely full every time I used it, even on a Sunday. All kinds of people were on it: college students, business people, tourists and retirees. Our hotel was 3 miles from the convention center, but a block from the light-rail stop. It was easy for me to go back and forth, to meet my family for lunch at restaurants along the line and easily get around without a car.

Waiting for the train to take us back to the hotel following an evening baseball game was very telling. I got into a conversation with a retired couple who talked about the train. They live in the suburbs and thought before it was built they would never use it. Now they love it. They told me they drove to a park-and-ride lot and jumped on the train to the ballpark downtown, all the while avoiding expensive parking costs, traffic jams and all the other issues you have to deal with when you drive.

Transit has changed the whole feel of Phoenix so much — from a relatively suburban model downtown to an active, exciting city.

But transit is not all Phoenix has. As part of the referendum that passed, there also were roadway improvements. Their expressways include express lanes that connect many of the suburban areas to the city.

Are they crowded? Yes. But they basically function in a reasonable, fairly predictable way and appear adequate to the size of Phoenix’s metro area.

On its face, that sounds like a strong argument, so we looked a little closer at Phoenix’s investment in express lanes.  While we found ample articles on Phoenix’s HOV lanes (something the Tampa Bay area has never had) (see here, here, here, here, and here), we did not find any mention of express lanes (defined as variable rate toll lanes).  In fact, we did not really find mention of highways in articles on what was in the 2000 or 2015 referenda plans. (See here , here, here,  and the summary of the 2000 plan here.  The closest we found was this from January 2016:

Arizona Department of Transportation is placing a big weight on the shoulders of Mike Kies, the agency’s director of transportation planning. He has to find a solution to moving traffic that the state can afford.

That’s no easy task. The cumulative total of money needed to preserve the existing transportation system and handle a 1.5 million-person Valley population increase is around $100 billion over the next 20 years

* * *

In Arizona where ADOT studies say that 24/7 traffic volume is too low to support a toll road, peak traffic flows are high enough to support HOT — high occupancy toll — lanes where drivers are demand-charged for using a higher-speed lane on the freeway while others remain in conventional, more clogged, free lanes.

“Managed lanes, which are being tested in some states, assess congestion charges for drivers based on how much traffic wants to use the lane,” Kies explained. “In a HOT lane, pricing goes up to keep lane traffic volume down so that someone paying to use the lane has a generally free traffic flow.”

Which is looking at something in the future.  Moreover, it involves HOT lanes, which are not exactly the same thing as Florida’s variable rate toll/express lanes.  HOT lanes function like this:

Car owners who have transponders are automatically charged as they pass under each toll reader. Carpoolers don’t pay. Photo-enforcement cameras deter cheaters. HOT lanes are usually separated by a concrete barrier to keep cheaters from weaving in and out to avoid detection.

In other words, they are a hybrid between HOV and variable rate lanes.  If you are driving by yourself, you pay.  If you are carpooling, you do not.  At least, HOT lanes car arguably help with congestion by supporting taking cars off the road by carpooling, as do HOV lanes.  HOT lanes also allow people to lower their costs by sharing a ride. (And carpooling lessens the parking requirements in urban areas – another benefit.)  In that way, they are not simply a means to make people pay more while pushing most people into already congested lanes.

But, once again, that is not under discussion here because, well, nothing is actually under discussion here.  We have just been presented with what we are going to get and everyone has been told to get behind it. You don’t believe us?

Metropolitan Planning Organization Executive Director Beth Alden also urged the audience to back both the express toll lane project called Tampa Bay Express and Go Hillsborough. The MPO, which oversees transportation planning for the county, is holding a public hearing June 22 to determine whether it will formally back TBX by keeping it in the MPO’s Transportation Improvement Program.

Without the MPO’s backing, the project dies, [Florida Department of Transportation District 7 Secretary] Steinman said, and the money for interstate improvements is spread between Orlando, Miami and other metro areas. He said all the interstate improvements FDOT is planning for this area, including the rebuilding of the downtown interchange commuters call Malfunction Junction and the rebuilding of the I-275/SR 60 interchange are contingent on the MPO approving TBX. It’s all or nothing for this area, he said.

Just think about that for a minute.  The Howard Frankland bridge replacement, the bottleneck at 275 and SR60, malfunction junction – none of those would be fixed unless we approve the whole thing? Why?  Because that’s just the way it is. How’s that for an indication of the apparent weakness of our legislative delegation and local officials. They don’t even get a choice to pick which projects they want. Either do what FDOT tells you or you are screwed. (Next time someone tells you “local is always better” – See “HART, again: Tampa Bay Exceptionalism, Part II,” you’ll know that is just rhetoric.)

But we digress.

Getting back to Phoenix, while we find it odd that there is no mention of variable rate toll lanes actually being in Phoenix, maybe they are there.  If they are, please let us know.  And even if they are, note that Phoenix built alternatives (which is necessary for express lane theory) rather than building express lanes and maybe contemplating something else sometime, maybe.

In sum, Phoenix has nothing to do with TBX other than to disprove the arguments for it.

— LA

Next, the opinion piece discussed LA:

Los Angeles, a city completely dedicated to the automobile, started addressing transit 20 or so years ago — and it is helping. They have a fully mature expressway system, with express buses running in dedicated express lanes, light rail in the expressway medians and adequate lanes to reasonably function with the massive amount of traffic that exists there.

In other words, like Phoenix, Los Angeles has addressed all forms of transportation in the last decade.

In other words, LA went hog wild for freeways, then realized that it was a bad model and started changing track.  Setting aside the question of scale for LA versus the Tampa Bay area, how does that support building highways first?

— Tampa Bay

Back to the opinion piece:

What does this mean for the Tampa Bay region?

Here are facts that exist now:

There is no silver bullet — there is not one answer. We have the least number of expressway miles per 100,000 residents of any region our size, and small but efficient transit systems undersized for our regional needs, especially when you consider our commuting patterns. The city of Tampa itself has the fourth-highest percentage of daily population increase of any central city of a metro area in the country — after Washington, D.C., Atlanta and Miami. The reality is we need all our transportation systems improved to match the size of our ever-growing region.

We need to finish upgrading our interstate/expressway system to a functional level with express lanes for express buses, redesigned interchanges and better regional connections between our communities.

While we are working on that roadway task and building our existing transit systems to a more robust level, we need to plan for what comes next, which needs to be some form of premium transit system. The completed expressway system will provide the envelope for transit options so that once construction is complete, we will be able to move to the next level that Phoenix and Los Angeles have already accomplished.

That is not really the lesson to be learned.  The lesson to be learned is that transit, roads, and other transportation matters should be studied together, planned together, and built to function together.  TBX is based on 25 year old plan.  The real comprehensive highway needs of the area have not been studied for a while, if ever. (Does it make sense to keep expanding a few highways to try to keep jamming more cars into the same space or should there be alternatives? How does a potential east-west road in the north fit in to all this?  Will the Gandy Connector ever really connect all the way to 275 in Pinellas and US 19? Will there ever be an east-west road in Pinellas, too?)  The FDOT transit study hasn’t even started.  Have HOV or HOT lanes been studied or must we have the full “Lexus lane” concept? (And, of course, DC, Atlanta, and Miami all have heavy rail, and some have commuter rail).

And part of the reason Tampa has such a daily increase in population (and notice it is percentage) is because so many people live in the unincorporated county so close to the city limits (and things like Westshore and USF) – those people will derive pretty much no benefit from TBX express lanes because the access points are not made for them or there is no good highway near them.  That takes us back to the coordinated study of roads and transit.

We get the basic idea in the opinion piece of a multimodal system.  We are not opposed to all roads.  We are just opposed to a piecemeal approach that is destructive, wasteful, illogical, and fails to have real transit. (And, note, that Phoenix’s rail does not run down the median of the highway)  If the writer really wants to reach his goal of a multi-modal system, he should seek a fully coordinated, comprehensive study of the transportation issue that leads to a comprehensive, non-politicized, non-ideological plan, plus proper planning.  That is not TBX.  Frankly, that is not Go Hillsborough.  Frankly, this area just doesn’t have it.

(And if that is not enough analysis of the opinion piece for you, URBN Tampa Bay posted another analysis that is similar in theme but slightly different here.)

— And One More Thing: the PR Push

We do not know if the opinion piece was part of an organized push for TBX.  We will assume it was not.  However, there was an interesting little piece pointed to by URBN Tampa Bay that discussed San Diego that does deserve to be considered.

How far will transportation agencies go to spin public perception of their highway expansion plans? San Diego’s KPBS has produced a brilliant case study in this video and the accompanying report — a deep dive into the media operation mounted by the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) to defend its slate of highway expansion projects.

In late 2011, SANDAG passed a long-term transportation plan with a slew of highway expansions guaranteed to increase pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Nevertheless, the agency hailed its work as an environmental victory, the first such plan in California to meet the state’s supposedly stringent new sustainability goals.

Environmental groups weren’t fooled. They sued SANDAG on the basis that the agency failed to account for the increased traffic generated by highways, and they were soon joined by California Attorney General Kamala Harris.

You can read the rest of the story yourselves.  The interesting thing was the content of the public relations campaign SANDAG tried.

Here are a few of the highlights from Trageser’s review of SANDAG’s media operation:

Just keep that in mind when you see local officials pumping TBX.

— And Another Thing: The Port and TBX

The Port board, comprised of political appointees and elected officials, have had their say on TBX, and it is what you thought it would be:

The Port Tampa Bay board of commissioners is sending a letter urging the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization to approve the Tampa Bay Express project and avoid losing the state funds to other regions.

“The proposed Tampa Bay Express project will be a critical link to both the continued enhancement of the region’s transportation network and the ability of Port Tampa Bay’s stakeholders and customers to move cargo efficiently to market,” said the letter dated April 19 and adopted at Port Tampa’s board meeting Tuesday.

In fact, it is wholly irrelevant.  Trucks cannot use the express lanes.  In rush hour, the express lanes will push more traffic into the free lanes, which will block traffic.  Over time, those lanes will get even more crowded and nothing will really help.  More free lanes would be much better for the Port, though there would still be congestion.  And, if the Port ever wants to develop its land downtown, real transit is what they need.

But that is probably not why they sent their support for TBX.  It is far more likely that they sent their support because 1) the Board members are politically connected, so they have to, and 2) they want state money for the port, so they have to.

According to URBN Tampa Bay (and they put the link), the Port’s letter idea was the Mayor’s.   Think of that what you will.

TIA – A New Record

The airport reported that it broke its March passenger record:

WE JUST SET a new record for March! Nearly 1.97 million passengers used Tampa International Airport last month, beating the previous record set in March 2008. 

That is great.

Economy – Employment

There is no doubt that employment numbers have recovered in this area.  Recent news has just reconfirmed that:

Employment in the Tampa metropolitan area has grown by 24 percent since December 2009, making it the fourth-fastest growing job market in the nation and the best in Florida over that period, according to an analysis by the New York Times.

In the same period, the region’s unemployment rate has fallen from 11.9 to 4.6 percent.

Only San Jose, Austin and Charlotte have grown jobs at a faster rate than Tampa Bay since the recession, the study shows. The Orlando metropolitan area placed fifth and Miami 11th in the study, a positive indicator of Florida’s economic health.


The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater MSA was first among state metro areas in job demand in March with 47,790 job openings and led the way in demand for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) positions, with 14,950 openings in March. All 24 metro areas in Florida had year-over-year jobs gains in March 2016. Orlando-Kissi[m]mee-Sanford led the growth story with 49,000 jobs; a 4.3 percent gain. The Tampa region was second; up 3.4 percent as was third-ranked Ft. Lauderdale-Pompano Beach-Deerfield Beach with 27,300 jobs.

And that is all good, though, as we have shown previously, most of our STEM jobs are in lower wage customer service jobs, not the actual production, programing, research, and engineering fields that support high wages and establish real clusters. (See “Economic Development – Searching for STEM”)  Nevertheless it is something.  But it is not this:

“We have changed Tampa’s economic DNA,” he said. “Literally and figuratively, we are leading the state of Florida out of the recession.”

There may be better employment numbers, but there have been in the past, too. (see 1985,  1998, 1998, 2000, excerpt from 2006. We probably missed a cycle in there somewhere.)  It does not follow that our economy has structurally changed, even if incomes have improved a bit.  It is still far too dependent on customer service and other service jobs (like tourism) and real estate.  Yes, we have added some other elements, but, welcome as they are, they are still relatively small.

Changing our economic DNA is an admirable, worthy, and, in all truth, imperative goal and may happen at some point, but we are not there yet.  Right now, it is in no way clear that the present situation is not just another cyclical boom to be followed by another cyclical bust.

— And One More Thing

Somewhat tangentially, the Times had an interesting piece with photos of the Channel District from 2007 and now showing the changes (you can see it here).  The differences are clear.  However, what the piece fails to point out is that all but one of the buildings that the pictures showed was already under construction in the 2007 photo.  And there is nothing wrong with that.  As we go through our cycles, we are adding to our area.  Eventually, hopefully, that will lead to a critical mass.  That we have improved is not the issue.  The issue is whether we are keeping pace with other areas – and not just keeping pace but overtaking them in quantity and quality in our economy (and remember, we start from quite far behind so our growth must consistently outstrip other areas for a long period of time to catch up).  As we always say, we are making progress, but that gap needs to be closed much faster.

Westshore – Redevelopment Proposal

It seems that the developer that bought Austin Center is moving forward with redeveloping the property.

Besides leasing and property management, though, Redstone has started to think about the future of the 10-acre site in the heart of Westshore. On Tuesday, Fogarty presented preliminary redevelopment plans at the Westshore Alliance’s annual development forum.

While it’s very early in the process, Redstone is envisioning a miniature city of sorts on the site, with retail, office, hotel and residential space. An urban mixed-use development fits in with plans that have been buzzed about since Redstone was under contract to buy it in late 2014.

Setting aside the hyping of a mixed use development not a “miniature city,” we would welcome such a development, depending on the specifics.  It is time for Westshore to grow up (and for the City to pay more attention to helping it really grow up). So, what are they considering?

Conceptual plans include two office buildings — one 200,000 square feet and one 300,000 square feet — with ground-floor retail fronting Westshore Boulevard. There’s also a 50,000-square-foot retail building, 15,000 of which fronts Westshore Boulevard.

The site plan calls for grocery signage, though a grocer isn’t identified on the plan.

The preliminary plans are based on current market demand in Westshore, Fogarty said. There are a number of restaurants and retailers who want to be in the district, he said, but they have nowhere to go. There’s also significant demand for office space, though office rents aren’t quite high enough to justify new construction.

“The retail side — the rents are there,” he said. “On the office side you’ve gotta go out and prove you can do it.”

Fogarty said there’s also significant interest from multifamily developers, which Redstone expected, as well as from hotels, which was a bit of a surprise.

“We’re trying to advance the ball on a multifamily deal,” he said.

It’s soon to name any potential development partners, Fogarty said, but the residential vision for the property would be new to Westshore.

“It’s a higher density project than what’s been seen in Westshore so far,” he said. “Instead of traditional stick frame, it’s moving into concrete structure, which gets you higher density in a smaller footprint.”

Finally, something other than stick construction.  So do they have any conceptual drawings?

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

It is a bit strange to release a rendering of a parking garage first.  Sure, it is a nice, vegetation covered (we think) parking garage, but still. Anyway, the Business Journal has a photo of a possible site plan:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

It would have been helpful if the picture was taken straight on rather than from the floor, but, nevertheless, the layout seems ok (though it is not great having the residential shoved in the back, and we are not sure if there is anything going above the retail or if it will just be a squat building).  In any event, it is early days.  We are sue things will change.  We look forward to seeing what they come up with.

Downtown/Channel District – MOSI

In what can be described as completely inevitable:

The Museum of Science and Industry, located in north Tampa since 1982, is moving downtown in an effort to modernize what has become a stagnant and unprofitable operation.

The MOSI board voted today to beginning planning for the move by assembling a study team of community partners, land use experts, museum planners and philanthropists. The process should take a year, according to MOSI spokesman Grayson Kamm.

The task force will be led by Mike Schultz, chairman of the museum’s board and president and CEO of Florida Hospital’s West Florida Region.

We do not really have much of an opinion on this because there are no details.  On the other hand, maybe they should have done all the studying first.  But that’s not how most things around here go.

The board, whose meetings are not open to the public, made the decision to move based on a relocation study by Museum Management Consultants and Consult Econ. The study found that a downtown location would allow the museum to “reinvent” exhibits and programs to attract younger adults and seniors. Now, the bulk of MOSI visitors are families with children.

Adding dynamic, constantly updated exhibits could boost attendance by 34 percent, the consultants said.

The decisions may have been based on the studies, but it was more likely other factors.  Obviously, MOSI has no money, the County wants to give the MOSI land away (given their track record, that is a big question mark), and the Lightning owner wants MOSI in his project. That would seem to do it. (Even with the lawsuit that may be coming.)

Now, we’ll have to see what they come up with.

Rays – Oldsmar?

There was an article in the Times regarding the Rays’ stadium search:

When the Tampa Bay Rays announced their dream list of ingredients for a new stadium site in February, regional connectivity was high on the list.

That was music to Oldsmar Mayor Doug Bevis’ ears. For several years, he had kicked around the idea of luring the Rays to this city of 14,000.

After all, the northern Pinellas County city that hugs the Hills-borough border is practically middle ground in Rays country. In fact, 120 acres of undeveloped land owned by Tampa Bay Downs lies just to the west of Race Track Road, the actual county line.

“When we started this conversation 2 1/2 years ago it was kind of tongue in cheek, but the more we talked to people, the more it made sense,” Bevis said.

And, despite the theoretical possibility of getting funding from Pinellas and Hillsborough, unless someone is going to fix Memorial Highway, build an east-west expressway, and start running rail transit on the CSX tracks through the area anytime soon, it should stay tongue-in-cheek.

— And One More Thing

A Times columnist discussing the Rays said this:

A 40-minute drive north is no different from a 40-minute drive south. Or east. Or west. And that’s what you get in a market with no mass transportation and no dominant center.

Except, like it or not, there is a center to West Central Florida, and it is in Tampa.  What that means for the Rays remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

While this area keeps debating what sort of transportation system we will have, others are actually acting.  For instance Orlando:

The southern expansion of SunRail into Osceola County began earlier this month and is set to be completed in a little under two years, adding an additional 17 miles and four stations to the commuter rail system.

The expansion would extend from the Sand Lake station in south Orange and have four stops: the Meadow Woods community in south Orange, near the Tupperware business campus, downtown Kissimmee and Poinciana.

The extension will cost $186 million and is expected to be finished by early 2018. Construction isn’t expected to cause any traffic problems.

They are also working on getting funding for a northern expansion, though they did not get Federal money this year.

While we are in favor of using DMU units on CSX rails rather than having a more commuter rail system like SunRail, the big take away is that the Orlando region, as a region, is working together to move into the future while we have plans that, even if they were to pass, lack compelling vision.  And Orlando is about 15 years ahead of us (and that does not count the delay 10 years in the Go Hillsborough plan).

Cool Website

Citylabs highlighted a very cool website:

As the social and economic benefits of transit become clearer and clearer, a parade of data-driven maps and websites have tried to evaluate transit access in major American cities: where buses and trains go, who they serve, how effectively, and how often.

Tuesday marks the launch of AllTransit, the most exhaustive and accessible such resource yet. A joint project of the Center for Neighborhood Technology and TransitCenter, it assembles the largest collection of transit data anywhere—543,000 transit stops, 800 transit agencies, and 15,000 routes nationwide, according to the site. That in itself is a major public service, since agencies aren’t (as of yet) required by the DOT to open up their data about connectivity, access, and frequency. AllTransit doesn’t offer that data raw (not for free, at least), but it does offer a number of useful ways to explore it.

You can access it here.

Roundup 4-15-2016

April 15, 2016


Transportation – The Continuing Saga of Go Hillsborough

— The Editorial

— The Polls

— Conclusion-ish

Transportation – TBX/Gateway Express Clarification?

— One More Thing

Transportation/Planning – Welcome to Pasco

— An Unhidden Cost of Sprawl

— How Do Solve a Problem Like SR54/56

— Meanwhile, to the West

— Conclusion

Transportation/TIA/List of the Week – When Things Are Done Right

— And a Little Service Sort of News

Transportation/PTC – When Things Are Done Incorrectly

Latin America – Cuba Developments

— A Slow Boat to Havana

— The Consulate Search

This is Not Good


Transportation – The Continuing Saga of Go Hillsborough

We were really hoping to avoid saying anything about Go Hillsborough this week.  But it was hard, especially with the news that came out.

— The Editorial

First the Times ran an editorial, which is echoed many of our criticism of Go Hillsborough (we apologize for the big quote):

Of course, revenue is only half of the equation. The spending plan also falls flat, as it continues to pour more money into the same old road system instead of investing strategically in more efficient transit options. Of the $1.2 billion committed for the first 10 years, 58 percent would go to roads and 42 percent to mass transit. That split should be reversed. This plan won’t give commuters convenient and reliable options for leaving the car at home, and it guarantees that the road network will absorb the lion’s share of transportation spending for decades.

The plan for mass transit is less than meets the eye. Of the $505 million in spending in the first decade, one-fifth would go for an express bus line in the southeast suburbs, one of the worst areas for bus use in the county. Another $21 million would go for ferries to take south county residents assigned to MacDill Air Force Base onto their restricted work site. Running empty buses in the suburbs is not a wise use of these precious dollars or a good visual advertisement for mass transit. As a recipient of federal transit aid, the county could also be courting an equity issue by funding a bus to nowhere in the suburbs at the expense of service to inner-city residents. And taking employees on a closed route to and from a restricted military installation is a nice addition but of limited public benefit.

Take away the suburban express and the ferry, and the spending plan becomes more upside-down, with one-third for transit and two-thirds for other pet projects. For the much-touted Tampa rail project from downtown to the airport, there is no route, no train technology, no finance schedule and no idea how the city would cover 93 percent of the project’s $480 million cost. A study to answer those questions wouldn’t even begin for at least two years. Same for the express bus in the suburbs — no route and no spending plan. The Legislature put $100,000 in the budget this year to study an alignment, but Gov. Rick Scott vetoed it.

With its lack of specifics, the Go Hillsborough plan is not a coherent long-term plan but a list of projects the county and its three cities could fund with a new revenue source. There is no overarching vision for bringing together the road and mass transit projects, no discussion of how and when the many moving parts fall into place, no explanation of how projects fit into larger plans by the area ports or airports, and no sign of how Go Hillsborough would make the county more competitive.

Even after two years of study, officials have failed to get ahead of the problem by addressing land development policies that drive new growth to the far-flung exurbs. If anything, this measure promotes sprawl by forestalling any effort to address growth and transportation in a single policy. County commissioners and staff went to some lengths during a meeting last week to underscore that there is no plan for introducing rail across the county, much less across the Howard Frankland Bridge. And the spending plan doesn’t extend beyond the first 10 years, leaving two-thirds of a 30-year tax proposal still in the conceptual stage.

* * *

But it’s long been clear that county commissioners have no stomach for making the hard decisions that would make Go Hillsborough stronger. The result is an underfunded, poorly designed plan that seeks to appease antitax conservatives in the suburbs at the expense of urban residents and puts off questions about rail, growth and regional connectivity until further down the road.

The Times concludes that the plan either needs to be fixed or tossed so as to not lock in this plan.  There is something to be said for that position.

And yet . . . we keep coming back to this: this basically that this is the best plan one can expect with these elected officials and this electorate.  Frankly, the best argument for Go Hillsborough was made by a reader who also sees the warts on the plan in a Facebook discussion (he is the one who first brought up the fixes we have posted previously).  Because it was not really written for this purpose, his comment is short and may seem a bit disjointed (and we apologize for putting his words out there like this.  If he wants to write some and send it to us that lays out his position more clearly, we will be happy to post it).  Still, it makes the point:

Buses are the critical need for transit. Period. [T]he long term for the county is [undetermined]. That is a valid question for everyone to ask . . .  It’s an opportunity to try and convince the county to say what they are going to do with $1.6 Billion or more from 2027 to 2047.

. . .in fact [the Go Hillsborough plan]’s significantly better in the first 10 year than anything anyone has proposed in a decade. More detailed, more realistic, and more tied to what people want.

That is true (though maybe not enough of what the people want).  Despite its problems, this plan is better than anything in the last ten years.  And that is a reason to support it.

Either way, people should get a chance to vote.

— The Polls

There were a couple of polls released this week regarding public support for the plan. They did not provide any clarity.

A poll released Thursday by the Greater Tampa Area Chamber of Commerce says as many as 54 percent of respondents would support a half-cent sales tax increase for transportation improvements.

That rate of support slips to 47 percent, however, when the question is put in different contexts, according to chamber president and CEO Bob Rohrlack.

There are two ways to look at the result:

Rohrlack downplayed the level of support shown for the transportation tax, saying more work needs to be done educating the public about how the new tax proceeds will be spent before a majority might support the levy.

“There is some support but there is still some education that needs to go on,” he said

Proponents of the tax were more upbeat.

“The long and short of it is, it’s a very positive thing that the majority of residents are willing to raise their taxes to fix transportation problems,” said Kevin Thurman, executive director of the pro-transit group Connect Tampa Bay. “Everything else is just conjecture. If people want to say (the numbers) aren’t positive, they’re wrong.”

Maybe.  One thing is clear:

Many voters who don’t support the tax still agree something should done about the county’s gridlocked highways, pot-holed neighborhood streets and limited mass transit options.

A huge majority of those polled — 88 percent — thought improving the county’s transportation system is a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” priority.

And even more interestingly from the Chamber of Commerce poll:

When asked if the plan goes too far or not far enough in solving the area’s traffic crisis, 54 percent said it did not go far enough, whereas 24 percent said it did goes too far.

Which is an interesting circle to square with the County Commission’s timid approach.  Maybe boldness would bring greater support, even if those who are already opposed would yell a little louder.  On the other hand, given that, for political reasons, the Commission’s approach has been defined more by the opponents of any transit than the proponents, boldness is unlikely.

A second poll had quite a different result:

A new poll indicates a majority of Hillsborough County voters would support a half-cent-per-dollar sales tax increase for transportation improvements if a vote were held today.

The poll, conducted by the Tampa-based Mercury firm and financed by unidentified business interests, indicates the strongest support yet for the proposed tax. A total of 66 percent of those surveyed said they would either “definitely” or “probably” vote for the tax.

Given polls from previous referenda, we have our doubts about those results.  Regardless, a few things are clear.  Transportation is a, if not the, major issue for this area.  It definitely is an issue for people who live here now and have to get around. As has been discussed previously, it is a major issue for companies looking to relocate. It is an economic issue.  It is a lifestyle issue.  It is like a health issue.  And for many, especially some of the biggest opponents of transit, it is an ideological issue.  And, finally, it is an issue that has been handled badly by local officials.

— Conclusion-ish

We are really of two minds about the issue.  The plan is in not inspiring.  Regular readers will know that we agree with basically every criticism in the Times editorial.  (And note that even if you are good with the city rail components and even if you think the present Mayor is a can-do, big vision, big project mayor, he will be out of office before anything regarding the downtown-Westshore rail line will really be done.  There is no guarantee about the next administration.  Even something as obvious and supported like the Riverwalk took 40 years.) And, to a large degree we agree with this from URBN Tampa Bay:

Even if we concede, ok this is just a half cent sales tax, it’s a limited pool of money… And ok, a sales tax is the only significant funding mechanism we can hope to get from the existing political establishment… Even if we reduce expectations for Go Hillsborough to near zero, Go Hillsborough still doesn’t check the first box any transportation plan should check, which is to offer a compelling vision that the community can rally behind.

And yet . . . and yet, we know that the present County Commission is not going to provide a compelling vision. And, given local politics, it is questionable whether any group of elected leaders in the foreseeable future will either. Go Hillsborough probably is the best we can get right now, especially given the present County Commission and the electorate. And people who have been here a while will know that Hillsborough County (Tampa included) has a hard time taking big leaps forward, which is why we lag behind other areas. There is an argument that, while uninspiring and still too road centric (and including spending money on pork for Commissioners – like the South County Express Bus – rather than really being a comprehensive, coordinated, integrated plan), you are just not going to get much better with the government you have. Given that, there is reason to support it.

To be honest, we are still undecided.

Transportation – TBX/Gateway Express Clarification?

This week, there was news of the Gateway Express portion of TBX in Pinellas.

The Florida Department of Transportation reached out to contractors Thursday, unveiling its latest plans for the Gateway Expressway.

The project “will take Tampa Bay into the future for many years,” Debbie Hunt, the director of transportation development at the Florida Department of Transportation, told an audience that packed a hotel ballroom near the campus of the University of South Florida.

The Gateway Expressway is six separate, multifaceted projects intended to make driving into and around Pinellas County easier and safer. It has been in the planning stages for 16 years.

The overall project includes building a new four-lane elevated expressway from the Bayside Bridge and U.S. Highway 19 to Interstate 275. There will also be express lanes along the median of I-275 from south of Gandy Boulevard to the Howard Frankland Bridge. A toll-free option will remain.

Heading south from the Bayside Bridge, there will be a new flyover ramp to access the new tolled road. At St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport (PIE), the access road will be reconfigured and shifted south toward the new overpass at Terminal Boulevard.

Traveling south along U.S. 19, there will be new flyover ramps and a new viaduct bridge at 49th Street. Interchange ramps will be reconstructed with express lanes to I-275.

The express lanes will continue north along I-275 across the Howard Frankland Bridge to connect with future express planes throughout the Tampa Bay region.

First, we have no problem with the basic idea of Gateway Express – except that there is no real transit to go with it in Pinellas County.  Pinellas is plainly underserved in the highway department.  The basic idea of the connections in Gateway Express make sense (though there should be a full connection to the Gandy Bridge and the plan is not a substitute for real transit).  We don’t even have a problem with it being a toll road.  Toll roads make sense in many circumstances. (Did we mention that Pinellas needs real transit, especially if it wants to grow at all, which will require redeveloping areas more densely?)

On the other hand, we do have an issue with toll roads that have variable rate toll lanes.  If people are already paying to use a road, why should they have to pay more to get proper service? (And what alternatives do they have – which is a prudential question for the express/variable rate/congestion pricing theory? None, because there is no real transit in Pinellas County).

Nevertheless, the overall idea, sans express lanes is ok.

— One More Thing

In the Business Journal article about Gateway Express, there was a schmancy video from FDOT, which is this:

Towards the end of the video, the video shows the variable rate toll lanes, otherwise known as “express lanes.”  Around 6:26 of the video, the video goes towards the Howard Frankland Bridge.  It shows 4 free lanes and an express lane on 275.  Then it gets to the approach to the Howard Frankland where all of a sudden you get three free lanes and one express lane.  As everyone knows, the Howard Frankland now has four free lanes.  In other words, the plan, as presented by FDOT this week, appears to take away a free lane from the Howard Frankland (which was the previously announced plan, though it is unclear if it still is), or, at best, create new bottle necks at the end of the bridge until the bridge is widened in the “future.” Especially given FDOT’s propensity for widening roads before fixing bottlenecks (see Malfunction Junction and Howard Frankland/SR60), that plan needs clarification.

And then there was this:

The project is also leaving open an option for a future light rail corridor on the south side of Ulmerton Road.

Which is all well and good, but who says that is the best path for any possible rail?  We are still waiting for FDOT’s own transit study (and will be waiting for a while).  Will any other path’s be closed off?  If so, why?  Shouldn’t there be a full study first.

It all goes to the uncoordinated planning or transportation in this area and plans that are slavishly accepted by most local officials without much (or any) discussion.  Like we said, the basic idea of building these connections is fine (overdue, even).  But there are still a lot of questions.

Transportation/Planning – Welcome to Pasco

We only rarely venture deeply into subjects regarding Pasco County and usually they involve issues that have a wider significance. This week, however, there were a number of items regarding Pasco that merit a more comprehensive look.  Before we get there though, we have to point out that Pasco has done some good things, like institute mobility fees.  However, even with those, Pasco has seemed to completely ignore proper planning and has failed to learn the lessons of nearby counties.  Frankly, it is a sprawling mess, especially around SR 54/56.  We can think of few places in the area that are more car-centric.  And it is only going to get worse with all the sprawling development planned for that area.

Now, to the issues.

— An Unhidden Cost of Sprawl

First, it is often said that sprawl has hidden costs.  Now, Pasco is making those costs known.

Faced with a growing number of aging neighborhood roads, many of which suffered further deterioration during last summer’s floods, the county commission realized it could not afford to use property taxes to pave the thousands of miles of subdivision roads in Pasco County. Following the practice of many rural counties around the country, the county commission adopted a special assessment ordinance that charges residents the cost of paving neighborhood roads.

Unfortunately, word of the ordinance didn’t reach all of the residents. Waving assessment bills they said they never saw coming, they flocked to commission meetings to protest.

Leventis expressed the concerns voiced by many of the residents.

“We’re not a gated community. All our roads are public. It’s not just us using them, so why do we have to pay to have them paved?” she asked. 

That is the cost of sprawl.  In a sprawling area, land is not used efficiently or productively.  You have more road surface than necessary to move people around and the land facing that road is not as productive (or as taxable).  Logically, you have more road surface to maintain and less revenue to cover maintaining it than more urban/walkable planning.  That is the idea behind mobility fees and promoting infill: the roads, and other utilities, are already there, make them productive. (Though sadly, many sprawling areas are almost impossible to really have infill without just ripping down what is there and starting over.)

County Commission Chairwoman Kathryn Starkey repeated the refrain from other commission meetings in the past two months.

“Your property taxes do not go to road maintenance,” she said. “And Pennies for Pasco (gas tax fund) has a long list of projects approved by voters for safety, operational improvements at intersections, maintenance of traffic signals, signage and road and bridge operations.”

The paving assessment spreads the cost of paving roads throughout the neighborhood, she said. Residents can pay the assessments in a lump sum or over 10 years. For qualifying low-income residents, the cost may be offset with state or federal grant funds.

Most of the assessments approved by the commission to date have ranged from $250 to $350 a year for 10 years.

When you keep pushing the sprawl over more and more areas, costs go up and revenues do not rise at the same level.  You get a deficit and someone has to pay.  Services cost money.

Public Works Director Mike Garrett said many neighborhood roads have not been repaved since the 1970s.

Ok, that is just embarrassing.  What kind of management is that?  And how do you keep planning the same way when you know you can’t even maintain what you have?

In sum, the sprawl model is easier to do and what many developers are set up to do.  It makes money for large land owners who can sell their holdings, so local officials, who are often supported by the big landowners, are in favor of it.  And the elected officials at the time can trumpet growth and their great leadership.  Then, a decade or so later, it is time to pay the bill, many of the elected officials have already moved on, and the homeowners are left to pay.  That is what Hillsborough is dealing with and that is what Pasco is dealing with.  (And, frankly, that cost is not much different from a ½ cent sales tax increase and does not seem to include repaving other roads or providing any transit or other alternatives, like you could really walk or bike from a subdivision to SR 54/56 locations).

The sad thing is that it is entirely predictable.

— How Do Solve a Problem Like SR54/56

Another not so hidden cost of sprawl is embodied by SR54/56, and the mess that they have become.  As we have often said, SR54/56 is built in such a way that, even if there was transit, no one in their right mind would use it because the distances one would have to walk, especially to cross streets and vast parking lots, is so great that it makes no sense (and is actually quite dangerous).  SR54/56, with its intersections with three left turn lanes in addition to the regular lanes, huge setbacks, drainage ditches, and huge parking lots is such a place.  But something needs to be done because the traffic is a mess and will only get worse.  The logical thing to do would have been to build the east/west road planned for Pasco long ago to at least get through traffic off SR54.  That did not happen.

Then there was the relatively recent proposal for an elevated toll road down the middle of SR54. That would have at least allowed traffic to move (at least better than what is there now).  But that was nixed because of financial issues, though there was loud public opposition. (see here and here)

But Pasco has not given up on solving SR54/56.

It’s now up to the Pasco County Metropolitan Planning Organization to choose a remedy for predicted traffic congestion along the corridor of State Roads 54 and 56.

For the past seven months, two task forces made up of concerned residents, landowners and business owners have studied ways to head off what traffic experts believe will become a gridlocked transportation corridor by the year 2040.

Although the widening of State Road 54 and State Road 56 to six lanes has provided some relief for drivers, the reprieve won’t last long, according to the MPO. In the next 25 years, the population of Pasco County will triple with most of the growth — 135,000 new residents — settling in large-scale community developments along the 54/56 corridor.

“They’re building hundreds of new homes along that corridor that will dump a ton of more trips onto 54/56,” MPO senior planner Manny Lajmiri said. “If we’re going to be ready for it, we have to act now.”

Note that pretty much all of that growth will be sprawling, car-centric growth, which makes sense, because, what else can you really do, especially when most of the developments already are sprawling, car-centric developments? (For instance see here and here and just remember there is no way you are walking any of that.)

Last year the MPO formed two task forces, one to represent the corridor from U.S. 19 to U.S. 41 and the other to represent the corridor from U.S. 41 to Bruce B. Downs Boulevard. The members have met monthly to discuss possible solutions and recommendations.

The task forces held their final meetings March 28 and 31 and will present their recommendations to the MPO on Thursday.

“Each task force came up with their own recommendations, but many of them overlap,” said Sandy Graves, chairwoman of the “east” task force.

We are not sure what an express lane for buses even is, so it is not really traditional.  Setting that aside, there was a bit of surprise.

Included is a recommendation by both task forces to build elevated express lanes to include a dedicated guideway for bus or rail transit.

At a joint meeting in February, the task force members opposed a suggestion by Florida’s Department of Transportation to build elevated lanes over U.S. 41 in Land O’ Lakes because of the effect on the business district at that intersection.

Since then, task force members have decided to keep the idea of elevated lanes under consideration — provided local traffic can continue using at-grade roads, and pedestrian bridges are included.

Let’s look a little closer at the recommendations (you can see drawings of the ideas if you click on the lists and look at the associated pdfs).  First, from the east task force:

-Alternative B: Grade Separation @ Major Intersections and At Grade Rail or Exclusive BRT and Uses Same Grade Separated Overpasses

-Alternative D: Elevated Express Lanes and Express Bus/Other Service in Express Lanes

-Alternative F (Modified to include grade separation at signalized intersections): At-Grade Express Lanes; Express Bus/Other Bus Service in Express Lanes

-Alternative G (Modified to include grade separation at signalized intersections):At Grade Express Lanes and Express Bus in Express Lanes and BRT or Rail in Dedicated Guideway

-Alternative H: Maintaining Existing 6 General Purpose Lanes And At Grade Exclusive Transit In Dedicated Guideway

-Alternative J: Maintain existing 6 General Purpose Lanes (no build) and maintain Local Bus

Now from the west task force:

-Alternative D: Elevated Express Lanes and Express Bus/Other Service in Express Lanes

-Alternative F (Modified to include grade separation at signalized intersections): At-Grade Express Lanes; Express Bus/Other Bus Service in Express Lanes

-Alternative C: Elevated Express Lanes and Local Buses Remain At Grade and No Transit in Elevated Lanes

-Alternative G (Modified to include grade separation at signalized intersections): At Grade Express Lanes and Express Bus in Express Lanes and BRT or Rail in Dedicated Guideway

-Alternative H: Maintaining Existing 6 General Purpose Lanes and At Grade Exclusive Transit in Dedicated Guideway

-Alternative J: Maintain Existing 6 General Purpose Lanes (no build) and maintain Local Bus 

So the highest ranked common idea is and elevated highway (we are not sure if they mean variable rate toll lanes or just a limited access road, maybe normal tolls) and rail or BRT.  Setting aside the issue of getting an elevated road through opposition and whether it will be a normal toll road or some variable rate thing, Pasco needs an east-west road.

On the other hand, usually we are all for transit.  However, because SR54/56 in most places is so sprawling, we actually think that without some radical change in planning and building patterns (and in some places even with it), transit on SR54 very well might be a waste of money.

Nevertheless, it shows that Pasco may know that it made mistakes in planning (though “do nothing” was on both lists, too).  Whether it will actually do anything about it is another question.  We tend to think they will just add some lanes or maybe some more buses, declare victory and move on until the next time.  This is Tampa Bay, after all.

— Meanwhile, to the West

So what if nothing changes?  Well, just look to the west, to US19 in Pasco County.

About 650 people have suggested new names for U.S. 19, west Pasco County’s main north-south artery.

The contest entries kick off an effort to improve the safety, aesthetics and image of the roadway stretching between Holiday and Hudson near the Gulf of Mexico coast.

Why the contest?

Local leaders in recent months have hit the road to boost support for an image makeover of the much-maligned section of U.S. 19 through Pasco. For years, the section of U.S. 19 in Hernando County has been called Commercial Way.

The local chamber and board of Realtors formed a partnership to handle landscaping maintenance along about 20 miles of the six-lane highway and also pushed for the name change.

The maintenance group will coordinate with the city of New Port Richey, which plans to spruce up U.S. 19 within the city’s limits.

The Port Richey Bayou Business Association wants to focus on embellishing the U.S. 19 bridge over the Pithlachascotee River, said Kristin Tonkin of Sunset Landing Marina.

“We’ve got to make it a place people want to go instead of to avoid,” Armstrong said about enhancing U.S. 19. The corridor remains the “single biggest economic engine” in the county, he said.

While we are not sure if it is the biggest economic engine in the county, we are sure it needs a makeover.  As bad as SR54/56 is traffic-wise, it is definitely nicer looking than US19, even though US19 is near the water.  US19 now is what SR54/56 will become without a change in approach.  US19 was the first modern focus of growth in Pasco.  However, eventually, the land got used up and the sprawl developers moved on to build newer sprawl elsewhere, like farther east on SR54. That left much of west Pasco behind, especially without good highway access (back to the east/west road) to the major population centers.

— Conclusion

None of this is inevitable, but it is predictable.  It is all the result of choices made over a long period of time, mostly made based on short term interests rather than long term vision.  Pasco should have learned from the counties around it and done better, but, so far, it hasn’t.  Now other counties can learn from it.  For instance, mobility fees are good.  However, they are not enough.  You need to change planning, too.  You need to have proper infrastructure.  You need to change your mentality and not settle for just a little nicer version of the same thing that caused you a problem in the first place.  And you have to take a longer view – not just the length of your term in office.  The lessons are there to be learned.  Whether they will be learned is an open question.

Transportation/TIA/List of the Week – When Things Are Done Right

(c) 2015 All Rights Reserved. Courtesy of a Reader.

This week, once again, the airport gave us a lesson how things can be done right in the Tampa Bay area (if only they would hold a seminar for the County Commission).  First,

Which airports leave fliers the most satisfied?

Tampa International scored the highest rating among big airports in the United States. Omaha’s Eppley Airfield and Washington state’s Bellingham International were the top-rated medium and small airports, respectively.

That’s according to feedback from more than 170,000 passengers who’ve flown through U.S. airports between November 2015 and February 2016. The data was collected by the AirportXP, a mobile platform from Phoenix Marketing International that collects real-time feedback from fliers.

Among large airports, Tampa performed best with  82% of respondents scoring the airport with a “6” or “7” on a 7-point scale via AirportXP. A “7” means a flier was “very satisfied” with their experience while a “1” means “very dissatisfied.”

Tampa edged out Salt Lake City (81%) for the top rating among “large” airports. Charlotte (79%), Chicago Midway (78%) and Atlanta (76%) round out the top five. h

Setting aside that we are not sure who would vote for either Atlanta or Charlotte’s airport, that is great.  Yes, a one time ranking on such a list is no big deal, but the airport is a usual suspect on airport rankings.  It is great, and we all know it.

Aside from the innovative and excellent original plan, one thing that makes it great is that it constantly updates that plan and stays ahead of the game (unlike, say, the Hillsborough County Commission on transportation and planning).  That trend continues:

With passenger growth in 2015 exceeding projections, Tampa International Airport officials are re-evaluating plans for future upgrades.

The $1 billion initial phase of the airport’s master plan appears to be on target for a smooth landing over the next year, so it’s time to determine if the plan to move forward is solid, airport CEO Joe Lopano said.

That re-evaluation will take place over the next four months with the help of two consulting firms: one considering physical renovations and expansion; the other looking at whether the airport is targeting the right geographic regions to attract new nonstop flights to Tampa.

The Hillsborough County Aviation Authority board voted recently to extend the consulting contracts, one by $110,000 on top of the $2.2 million the airport initially shelled out to develop the long-term plan, and one by $200,000 to evaluate future targets for new flights.

“We’re taking a look at all of the assumptions and making sure we still have confidence on where that is leading us and that we’ve done our due diligence in going on to the next phase,” Lopano said.

Exactly.  Before the first phase of a master plan is done, they are looking to see if the next phases make sense (as opposed to FDOT which uses a 25 year old study to justify something which did not even exist in that plan: variable rate toll lanes).  And that all makes sense, because things change:

Already, the airport is seeing growth rates that far exceeded its projections going into phase one of the master plan, which includes a new consolidated rental car facility, a new people-mover train, 65 new restaurants and more space in the main terminal.

Airport executives had predicted 2 percent growth last year and saw 7 percent growth, said Chris Minner, the airport’s vice president of marketing.

Good deal.  So what is going to be examined?

As written now, the second phase of the master plan, expected to get underway sometime between 2018 and 2023, calls for construction of a new hotel and service building replacement and demolition, relocating the air traffic control tower and creating new employee parking at a cost of approximately $400 million. The third phase, scheduled for between 2020 and 2028, calls for expanding the main terminal to handle 34.7 million passengers annually — about double what it handles now. The airport, under the current plan, would have a new airside with international and domestic gates, an international curbside at the main terminal, new security checkpoints and increased concession space, all at an estimated cost of about $1.2 billion.

Consultants will consider whether those plans should stay as is or get tweaked, based on accelerated passenger growth and other economic factors, Lopano said.

Fine with us.  And:

At the same time the master plan is being reviewed, Minner is working with a consulting firm on determining the best markets to target for new nonstop flights.

Already, of the six areas targeted to date — Mexico City, Panama City, the Bahamas, Europe, Sao Paulo and Bogata — three are on board, he said. Tampa International now has flights to Frankfurt, Germany, Zurich, Switzerland, London, England, and two islands in the Bahamas. Minner and his team will review the others and decide whether to keep them or target six completely new destinations.

And that is all based on actual metrics, which is nice (as opposed to just tossing out vague notions of economic development for things like, say Bass Pro Shops or playing fields, and throwing money at them).  But that does not mean that the airport does not invest.  Aside from all the building projects, they also have properly targeted incentives (sorry for the long quote):

“There is an economic impact assessment where we closely examine how much revenue does the airport derive and how much new revenue does that generate for the entire region,” Minner said. When the airport lands a new nonstop flight to Europe, for example, that is worth $154 million a year to the airport, including the job creation that comes with it.

The airport offers incentives to get airlines to come here, Minner said, such as waiving certain fees the airlines would otherwise pay to do business at Tampa International. There are business partners in the community that pitch in to make that possible, including Visit Tampa Bay and Visit St. Pete Clearwater, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. All have a stake in the airport’s success, Minner said.

When the Tampa airport first began offering incentives to airlines to fly from Tampa, Lopano said, some in the community scoffed, saying the airlines would stay only as long as the incentives lasted.

That’s not what happened. Edelweiss, which flies to Zurich, and Copa, which flies to Panama City, have both stayed well past the end of incentives, which included the waiving of gate fees by the airport. And they’ve added more flights.

“I think we are on the right track to move on to the next phase” of the master plan, Lopano said. “We’re tweaking. We’re going back into the weeds again and making sure the basis of the forecast is sound and that we all buy into it.

“We’ve always said this is one big hairy beast and we need to be very thoughtful on how we move forward,” Lopano said. “The first phase was a financial no-brainer because it was funded mostly with rental car fees. They wanted a building and were willing to pay. The next phase is sort of on us.”

Note, that incentives were very controversial under the old airport director.  It took much work by a small dedicated group to push for that change.  The same is true for pushing for international service.  Most of the local political class just went along with the old airport director to get along, like they do on TBX.

Investment in infrastructure, especially well done infrastructure brings returns.  And incentives for new business can bring returns if your analysis is proper and you only use it to buy quality that is sustainable.  There is nothing wrong with either of those things if properly done. They are not without any risk, but risks can be minimized with intelligent planning and analysis – as well as a proper vision. (Once again, is the Hillsborough County commission paying attention?). And note that the airport is already working on the financial issues for getting the next phase done before the first is completed. It is nice to have an adult approach.

We just wish that more local officials would function like the airport. (But, please, don’t wrap the new people moved in pictures of birds).

— And a Little Service Sort of News

There was news of a possible new service:

Silver Airways will offer a nonstop flight from Tampa to Nassau starting next month. And Bahamasair also has proposed a new flight from Nassau to Tampa, according to the website

Tampa International officials declined to comment on the Bahamasair report, but reports that flights to and from Nassau and Tampa could begin on Jan. 6 next year and would be offered twice weekly on a ATR42-600 twin-turboprop aircraft, which seats about 40 to 50 passengers. 

Ok, it is not Singapore Airlines, but we are happy with any new service and with more airlines.  We have never understood the dearth of flights to the Bahamas from Tampa.

Transportation/PTC – When Things Are Done Incorrectly

In contrast to the airport, we have the PTC, which shouldn’t even exist.  But it does.  Here is what has been going on.

The Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission refuses to give up its fight against ride-hailing company Uber, and now drivers are in the middle.

PTC Vice Chair David Pogorilich says his group will continue to ticket drivers who agree to work illegally for Uber. They’re setting up stings and issuing $700 tickets. Pogorilich said the PTC wants Uber to put drivers through background checks and finger printing. It also wants the company to agree to other rules.

So, nothing productive.  But then there was this:

There has been a major shake-up at the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission.

It happened after 8 On Your Side started asking tough questions about a trip taken recently by Kyle Cockream who is the executive director of the Hillsborough PTC.

Cockream traveled to the Palm Beach County Commission last week to speak on a ridesharing ordinance being considered there.

Cockream also met with county commissioners the day before the meeting and was there with a man named Lou Minardi, who is the president of Yellow Cab in Tampa. Cockream maintains he was on vacation and just happened to go to the meeting because he’s interested in the issue.

However, when he introduced himself in the public meeting before the county commission, he gave his name and title with the Hillsborough PTC and never said he was there as a private citizen.

* * *

However, his remarks were directed against ridesharing companies. He held up two examples of drivers arrested in Hillsborough County for offenses and told commissioners they were driving for ridesharing companies. He told commissioners the insurance carried by Uber and Lyft drivers is an area that can have fraud.

Maybe, maybe not.  But why is he crusading (coincidentally with a local cab company owner) against ridesharing if the PTC has no problem with ridesharing, just getting fingerprints and background checks?  Anyway:

Not long after a WFLA TV interview with Cockream on Monday, the general counsel of the PTC sent an email to board members advising them that Cockream had resigned.

At 8:50 p.m. on Monday, Cockream sent an email to WFLA TV stating:

“This afternoon the General Counsel Attorney for the PTC sent an official notification to all of the PTC Board Members that I submitted a “resignation”. My retirement paperwork (not resignation) was submitted January 21, 2016 to Commissioner Crist. This is in no way related to our conversation earlier today,” said Cockream’s email.

So he is no longer at the PTC. That does not change the questions that the episode raises about what the PTC is really all about.

State Senator Jeff Brandes has a different view. “I think it’s incredibly inappropriate and frankly it really calls into question his impartiality on the whole issue of taxi cab versus Uber and Lyft and I think it puts another black eye on the PTC,” said Brandes.

Yup, and it has long since run out of eyes to have blackened.  OF course, if it was disbanded, it would not have that problem.

Latin America – Cuba Developments

There were two interesting developments this week on Cuba.

— A Slow Boat to Havana

First was an article in the Tribune on ferries to Cuba.

Discussions are under way about carrying cargo and passengers to Havana from ports in Tampa and St. Petersburg.

But the maritime link appears even closer to reality through another local landing — Port Manatee.

Havana Ferry Partners of Fort Lauderdale met with government officials in Cuba earlier this month and is optimistic it will be granted porting rights there in time to set sail as early as June, said CEO, Jorge Fernandez, a part-time Manatee County resident.

Port Manatee, an estimated eight hours to Havana by ferry, is on his short list of preferred U.S. landings.

Oh, that pesky Port Manatee.

Ferries are expected to be a popular way to travel and take cargo to Cuba.

Passengers can enjoy the maritime journey for an estimated $290 per ticket, said Phil Richards, president of Havana Ferry Partners. They can carry baggage cheaper than on airlines and more of it, a plus for those bringing bulk goods to family or friends in Cuba. The first 40 to 60 pounds of baggage could be free with a small fee per pound after that, Richards said.

Importers may also prefer ferries to freighters. On a ferry, they can accompany their cargo to the Cuban port, there is less bureaucracy, and the cost may be cheaper for those shipping smaller weights.

* * *

The Tampa area could indeed use such a service, said Bill Carlson, president of Tucker/Hall, a public relations agency that supports humanitarian and business missions in Cuba.

The area has no regularly scheduled cargo lines serving Cuba even though it is home to the third largest Cuban American population in the U.S. and to business and political leaders who want to create a gateway for commerce to the island nation. Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale and the Port of Jacksonville do have regular cargo service to Cuba. The Port of Miami does not.

Indeed.  For political reasons (the same reasons that not all elected officials are openly championing the Tampa Bay area as a hub of Cuban trade), Tampa has been giving up business with Cuba to other areas, despite our natural connection.

In the article, it says that Tampa and St. Pete are also negotiating for ferries to Cuba.  We doubt there will be service from all three.  According to the article, Port Manatee has the advantage of being closer to the Gulf and thus a bit cheaper to run a ferry.  That is likely true.  It also has the advantage of not having the politics.

Frankly, while we think Tampa is the logical choice, we do not really care if the service is from Port Manatee.  It is a short drive and in the area. The Tampa Bay area will have the service.  It is just that Port Tampa Bay will have lost out – and Tampa proper will not be quite the gateway to Latin America.  It would not be the first time that local fickleness would have cost Hillsborough County/Tampa. (See, for instance, “A Bit of History – Tony Jannus”)

— The Consulate Search

Which brings us to the quest for a consulate.  While the business community, and many others, in Tampa want a Cuban consulate here (and one makes sense), not all political officials are on board (those pesky political considerations).  St. Pete is also pushing for a consulate.  Miami has said it does not want one.  Apparently, that may be technically correct, but the real story is a little more complicated.

During a trip to Cuba in late March, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Commissioner Ricky Arriola met with the island nation’s Foreign Relations Ministry. The two Beach officials said they would welcome Cuban diplomats in their city.

Well, that is interesting.  Of course, there is opposition.

Members of the community spoke passionately Monday night at Miami Beach City Hall in reaction to the suggestion that Miami Beach could host a Cuban consulate.

The city’s citizen Hispanic Affairs Committee hosted a public discussion on the topic, which has become a political lightning rod. A majority of speakers, some from Miami Beach and many from around Miami-Dade, decried the idea that a consulate could open in the seaside city. Not all opposed. A smaller group of residents favored a consulate.

We don’t know what will happen (aside from Miami/Dade eventually getting a consulate because it only makes sense).  This area may get a consulate, whether it be Tampa, St. Pete, Kenneth City, who knows.  But, once again, we need a concerted effort with everyone on board.  We are not going to be a Gateway to Latin America if we ignore our longest, closest, tightest connection.

This is Not Good

There was one news report that really caught our eye.  We are not sure how to categorize it or even what exactly it says, other than it is not good.

“Overall, when you look at the country as a whole, the gains in life expectancy have been much larger for the rich than for the poor,” Chetty said. On average, people in the top income quartile “have gained something like three years of life expectancy over the 2000s, whereas people in the bottom five percent of the income distribution have experienced no gain at all on average.”

“But,” Chetty added, “it turns out that this national story has a great deal of local variation to it. There are some places, like Birmingham, Ala., and Cincinnati, Ohio, where the poor gained almost as much in life expectancy as the rich. In contrast there are other places, like Tampa, Fla., and Knoxville, Tenn., where the poor actually had declining life expectancy over the 2000s.”

* * *

In Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties, the life expectancy of the region’s poorest residents dropped by 2.2 years from 2001 to 2014.

No one is sure why this is the case, but it is problematic, to say the least.

Roundup 4-8-2016

April 8, 2016


Transportation – Go Hillsborough Moves On

Economic Development – Bring On the Innovators

— Long Time

— The Bottom Line

Transportation – Mobility Fees, the Editorial

Downtown/Transportation – The Park and the Question

— One More Thing

Hyde Park – How Do you Solve a Problem Like Howard?

— One More Thing

Hyde Park – The Old To Be New

Downtown – Straz, the Editorial

MacDill – The Hunters Stay, Maybe

Ybor City/Channel District – Maybe

Bayshore – One More

Airport – The Train Gets a Name

Port – Cruises to Cuba?

List of the Week


Transportation – Go Hillsborough Moves On

There was news about Go Hillsborough:

After more than two years of discussions about local transportation needs, Hillsborough County commissioners are close to deciding whether to put a half-cent sales tax increase for transportation projects on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Today, County Administrator Mike Merrill proposed a public hearing for April 27, followed by a vote on the tax. No commissioners objected.

Well that is something though who, other than the most extreme person, is going to object to a public hearing?

Unfortunately, it does not seem that the Commission will do anything to improve the plan with simple changes that could make it so much better.

Economic Development – Bring On the Innovators

Three was an article in the Times regarding a proposed innovation district in downtown St. Pete.  Add that to the Innovation District around USF in Tampa and, in theory, the Lightning owner’s project.

St. Petersburg decided not long ago that it wants to launch an “innovation district” — a compact, walkable piece of downtown that houses a cluster of health care, higher education, marine research and other high-powered assets.

Among those key assets hoping to collaborate are USF St. Pete, Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, Bayfront Health, USF College of Marine Science, SRI, U.S. Geological Survey, the Poynter Institute and other research organizations.

Mission One: Get all these brains cooking up new solutions to problems, creating products that can be commercialized and, it is hoped, generating new and good-paying jobs.

Mission Two: Brand this new “St. Petersburg Innovation District” and start marketing the heck out of it to attract talent.

There is nothing wrong with trying to maximize you assets. So what has been done?

Wisniewska and Maguire say they were approached by St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin, who urged the women to take those conversations to a higher level. Would they co-chair the start of an innovation district?

Why not create an “innovation district” brand, the city leaders said. Define it with specific geographic boundaries. Formalize a strategy to foster collaboration. Recruit a sharp person to run it. And then promote it as a talent hub within a city that’s already starting to get national attention as a place on the rise.

Which is interesting because you can build buildings, draw up by-laws, create a website, and do all that, but the one thing you can’t just create is actual innovation.  That is not to say that getting people together in close proximity to each other to push new ideas and cross-pollinate is a bad idea – it isn’t.  It is what you should do, but we are not sure that too much formal work will really create innovation.

— Long Time

Nevertheless, formalized innovation districts are in fashion. The Times article points to Boston as an example:

One innovation district that is very much in the national news is Boston’s South Seaport District, which recently landed the most coveted Fortune 50 corporate headquarters relocation in recent memory. GE recently said it would move from suburban Connecticut to Boston to take advantage of its more innovative culture.

Now that’s economic development. And it’s a coup for Boston’s coffers. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh has cited a six-fold increase in tax revenue from the district, to $101 million this year from $16 million in 2005.

Indeed.  This is the innovation district website.  This is what it looks like (at least in part – and, as an aside, there seems to be a decent amount of underutilized waterfront):

From the Boston Globe – click on picture for gallery article

That is quite impressive. (And in many, though not all, ways similar to the Mission Bay area of San Francisco.) So, let’s look a little closer at the Boston story.  It starts quite a way back:

Mayor Kevin White moved into his office at the new City Hall in 1968. According to the late Boston College historian Thomas O’Connor, “When he looked out … down at Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market, they were rotten. And just beyond that, he could see the Seaport, and that was rotten, too.” White set some preliminary planning into motion, but it was Mayor Tom Menino who made development of the Seaport a priority, pushing for the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center and the ICA to get built there and at one point proposing to move City Hall there, too. Just two years ago, he dubbed the area the “Innovation District” and set about creating a tech hub to rival Cambridge.

Then, they put a new Federal Courthouse there:

More than a few eyebrows were raised in 1991 when the city ­announced it was moving the federal courthouse from the heart of the Financial District to the then-desolate Seaport. But when the John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse (pictured above) opened seven years later, complete with an 88-foot-tall glass wall overlooking a park and the harbor, it became an instant monument to what is possible in Boston: an architectural triumph that transformed a rundown dock into a place of vital civic importance. The Seaport was suddenly a place to conduct serious business.

Then, they spent a lot of money in infrastructure – road and rail (plus we are sure the associated bus connections):

The Big Dig may have been a financial black hole, but today’s Seaport wouldn’t exist without the $14.6 billion project: The new I-93 and I-90 interchange meant that city and suburban dwellers could reach the Seaport in just a few (relatively stress-free) minutes. Meanwhile, the Silver Line, the Big Dig’s mandated public-transit component, ensured that conventioneers, residents, and workers could easily get to and from the airport. The most important change, though, may have been psychological: By burying the dingy, elevated Central Artery — which had previously cut off the waterfront from the rest of the city — the Seaport and downtown were at last connected.

Then, they built a convention center and hotels and put the Institute of Contemporary Art nearby, making the district a location for tourists.  Then, the megadevelopments came:

In 2005, Joe Fallon, the founder, president, and CEO of powerhouse development firm the Fallon Company, bought the 21-acre Fan Pier waterfront site — at the time a parking wasteland — from Hyatt Development Corporation chairman and president Nicholas Pritzker, whose own plans had stalled over a slumping real estate market and a family feud. “I paid $115 million, a bargain,” Fallon says. “But who knew back then?” Seven years later, he’s in the middle of a vast mixed-use plan that includes not just millions of square feet of office space, but also a hotel, a marina, a park, retail space, and condos. He’s already attracted restaurants like Strega Waterfront, haute-couture haven Louis (pictured above), and Salon Mario Russo. But the biggest tenant by far is Vertex Pharmaceuticals: The company’s global headquarters — twin 18-story towers with 1.1 million square feet of research labs and office space — are under construction (pictured in the background above) and will open next year. The biotech multinational signed a 15-year lease worth $1.1 billion in 2011, joining other major corporations in the area such as Manulife Financial (John Hancock’s parent company) and Fidelity Investments.

Mind you, we still haven’t gotten to the creation of the innovation district or announcement by GE yet.

Then, and probably most importantly for “innovation”:

Fleeing rising rents in Cambridge, artists, photography studios, and tech startups began moving into rehabbed — and relatively affordable — Fort Point warehouses around 2000. Barbara Lynch rode that wave by launching restaurants Menton, Sportello, and Drink, while just a block away Joanne Chang opened an outpost of the acclaimed Flour Bakery + Café. The new residents and restaurants laid the groundwork for more employers to relocate to the area. “The momentum of the neighborhood helped us feel good about what we’re doing,” says Mike Swartz of digital design firm Upstatement. “When I’m out in Fort Point, I see people I know — it has a cool small-town feeling.”

Note where the tech startups came from – Cambridge, home to Harvard and MIT.  In other words, before there was any “innovation district,” there was a district where potentially innovative companies were drawn by lower rents which was also an area in which the City had already pumped a lot of money and amenities and in which there was infrastructure to connect to the entire Boston area (not to mention being close proximity to the waterfront, downtown, Back Bay, and airport, and some other universities).  In other words, the core talent was already there and connected.

Then, more restaurants and housing came.

Finally, after all that you had the declaration of an innovation district, a simple map of which is this:

From Boston Magazine – click on map for article

— The Bottom Line

The point is not that it cannot be done here (probably on a smaller scale).  In fact, the Trop property, just like the empty area in downtown Tampa (or the area around USF in Tampa which is crying out to be redeveloped), provides much latitude to create what you need.  The point is that this area has a habit of looking at what others do and superficially copying it, hyping it, but not seeing the trumpeted results.  What Boston did takes a long time, with a lot of vision and a lot of investment, including in infrastructure (not just a few buses and some express toll lanes).  It also takes a bit of luck.  It also takes talent, which Boston has in abundance, especially young college graduates but also accomplished older adults, but the Tampa Bay area is still working to attract.

The Times article asks if St. Pete can pull it off.  Yes, it can, at least to some degree.  So can the Tampa Bay area overall.  But we can only do so if we are clear-eyed about where we now are and what it will really take – and are truly willing to persistently invest the time, effort, and money (and political capital) over a very long period to get it done, which has not been the case in past efforts in the area generally.  Whether that will happen or not is the great unknown.

Transportation – Mobility Fees, the Editorial

The Tribune ran a very good editorial regarding mobility fees in Hillsborough County. You can read the entire thing here.  We will just highlight a little.

Hillsborough County commissioners can forget about ever confronting our transportation crisis if they don’t adopt mobility fees for new developments.

The fees won’t remedy Hillsborough’s $8 billion backlog of transportation needs or eliminate the need for the comprehensive transportation plan offered by the Go Hillsborough half-cent sales tax proposal. But the fees should prevent the county from digging an even deeper transportation pit.


Impact fees tend to encourage construction in rural areas with little traffic, and thus little initial impact. But this ultimately causes the kind of inefficient growth patterns, over time, that has made a mess of much of the county.

As Commissioner Stacy White puts it, “We can’t keep putting six homes per acre out in the middle of nowhere.”

In contrast, mobility fees are lower for developments built in areas where the county offers — or plans to offer — roads, providing an incentive for more efficient growth that requires less road construction.


Transportation impact fees, which haven’t been increased since 1989, are woefully inadequate, ranging from $770 to $1,950 a house. Studies have found that the fees cover roughly 10 percent of the true transportation costs a house generates.

Mobility fees would encourage more responsible growth.

Indeed.  We would add that the cause of the mess has an address – the County Center.  So:

Commissioners should see that the fees make a development pay its fair share of transportation costs and also must be part of the county’s transportation strategy.

There is no argument here.  But it also must be said, as we have previously noted, that in dealing with grandfathering past credits, the County should be focused on saving taxpayers from paying for the County’s past irresponsibility.  Then again, whether the County Commission can actually do any transportation and other planning properly is still an open question.

Downtown/Transportation – The Park and the Question

This week, Perry Harvey, Sr., Park was opened next to the Encore development in downtown Tampa.   As has been amply noted, the park was designed to honor the old Central Avenue neighborhood which was the main activity center for Tampa’s African-American community for many years, until it was essentially bulldozed to make way for housing projects and I-275/I-4 in downtown Tampa.  While we had/have some issues with the design of the park, honoring the neighborhood that was destroyed is not one of them.

This week’s opening was attended by many, including the Mayor, who celebrated the honoring of the neighborhood, which is good.  But it raises a question: Why does Tampa continue to destroy neighborhoods then just celebrate them later rather than preserve those neighborhoods? (And that does not even touch the old Hillsborough County courthouse which is no longer in existence but is the seal of Hillsborough County.) This is particularly relevant regarding the TBX plan (note that 275 runs right next to Central Avenue through most of Tampa north of downtown), which will further bulldoze neighborhoods in the center of Tampa while providing no benefit to those who now live there.

— One More Thing

Which brings us to something the FDOT spokesperson said regarding the public meetings and complaints that FDOT does not care about opposition to TBX:

From FDOT’s standpoint, these community meetings are not designed to hear opposition to the project, only to get input from those affected by it and learn the type of mitigation they’d like to see to lessen its impact, said Debbie Hunt, FDOT District 7 director of transportation development.

“We’re listening to the fact that people don’t want TBX,” she said. She said FDOT has to consider the 19,000 people who live near the project, but also has to consider the millions of people who use the interstate system and how much TBX could relieve congestion.

But there is no clamor for express toll lanes.  And, note what FDOT told us last week:

“This widening study was done a decade ago, but the department realized you can’t build your way out of congestion by adding more and more lanes, especially on the Veterans because it’s very constricted. We’re not going to expand into Tampa International Airport, so we needed another solution,” Deason said.

And, you can’t solve congestion by building lanes purposely designed to not move the maximum number of cars and purposefully designed to push cars out of those lanes onto admittedly already congested lanes without providing any useful transit alternative.  And you can’t solve congestion by making the access points to those limited-utility lanes at the far end of the local traffic usage.  And you can’t solve contemporary problems based on 25 year old studies.

(Yes, the highways need improvement, but much of that can be done by drawing through traffic away from downtown (east-west Pasco road, Gandy Connector).  And much of the other improvement is in eliminating things like the bottle neck at the east end of the Howard Franklin.  We also need alternatives, which FDOT is studying with no coordination with the TBX plan.)

Nevertheless, once again, we have to point out that the real address for all this is local officials and the MPO.  TBX is only an issue because of the lack of attention to infrastructure, lack of vision, lack of planning, lack of political will, and general complacency on the part of local leaders.

That is the reason you have parks celebrating the history of neighborhoods that were bulldozed being built right next to other neighborhoods that are planned to be bulldozed rather than having a comprehensive, logical, coordinated, transportation system that can serve all those areas properly.

Hyde Park – How Do you Solve a Problem Like Howard?

For a while now, there have been issues with Howard Avenue around Hyde Park.  The essence of the problem is that Howard is a place to which people want to go and around which people want to live, but it is a narrow road with limited parking.  People living in the surrounding neighborhoods complain about bar and restaurant patrons using side streets.  So, the City is looking at it.

Parking spots in the SoHo district on a Friday or Saturday night are so scarce that valet parking is a must and help guides have popped up on the Internet.

This popularity is driven by the district’s many bars and restaurants but it has produced a rash of complaints about overflow parking on residential streets, late night noise, congestion and accidents on Howard Avenue, the hub of the district.

In response, the city is considering adding turn lanes, restriping Howard Avenue to make more room for buses to stop, and adding more crossing points and left-turn lanes. As much as $100,000 may also be earmarked for a new parking study.

The ideas are among recommendations in a new study from consultant DKS Associates into a 1.3 mile stretch of Howard Avenue between Bayshore and Kennedy boulevards.

City officials hope to adopt most of the suggestions but acknowledge that budget constraints mean some of the ideas may take years to act on. This includes restriping Howard, which likely will have to wait until the next time the road is resurfaced.

* * *

Other changes recommended in the study include more landscaping of sidewalks and a redesign of the intersection where Howard, Dekle Avenue and DeSoto Avenue meet. New signal timings at Howard and Swann avenues and Howard and Cleveland Street would help improve traffic flow, the study also says.

Ok. Improve traffic flow and make the pedestrian experience a little better (the pedestrian experience should have been improved long ago, but whatever)  Now, hold that thought for a moment.

Restriping Howard could include traffic calming measures with transit stops for buses, pedestrian crosswalks with islands halfway across the road, and narrower lanes to make drivers slow down.

“We can do better than just putting a yellow line down the middle of the road,” Duncan said. 

Ok.  Slow traffic down.  Hold that thought, too.

SoHo resident Julie McGee said she likes some of the ideas in the study but is concerned there is little that will address revelers driving through residential neighborhoods to avoid the congestion. McGee blames the city for approving too many bars in too small an area.

“We have horrible cut-through traffic,” she said. “They’re trying to avoid Howard and Swann.”

Ok. Traffic is too slow so people cut through neighborhoods.

Now, put that all together.  Fix traffic lights to have traffic move, then put in traffic calming to slow the traffic you just tried to get moving down, which will cause more congestion and push people into the surrounding neighborhood.  But, then there is too much cut through traffic so traffic has to speed up to get Howard more efficient.

In other words, the idea is to simultaneously do things for opposite purposes.  How does that actually do anything other than cost money?

Then throw in this:

Talk of a parking study may resurrect fears that the city will build a parking garage in the district, as it did in Ybor City and the Channel District.

Duncan said there are other options that a study might recommend.

That could include more parking spots on nearby collector roads, like city recently provided on Platt Street. There could also be changes to zoning regulations requiring new businesses to provide extra parking spots to obtain building permits or alcohol licenses. 

First, especially if there is no transit (and there isn’t), we are not opposed to parking garage, particularly if it is north of Platt.  At least that would put cars out of the core of the area.  On the other hand, adding more parking will around the business and nearby roads will just create more traffic and more cut-through driving.  But we are not sure any of that is optimal.

To be honest, it is not exactly clear what the actual purpose of any of the studying is.  Which goes to the real issue with Howard – the City is not clear what it wants.  Do they want a thriving urban neighborhood or do they want a quiet local street?  Because if you want an urban street, you are going to have people and, given the lack of transit, you are going to have their cars.  And if you jam their cars onto a two lane road, you are going to have people using the grid because, as URBN Tampa Bay noted:

Also, facilitating “cut-through traffic”, so that no single road is overwhelmed with travelers is exactly what an urban street grid is designed to do!

That is basic urban planning. Which makes you wonder whether, much like Seminole Heights, the people living nearby really want to live in a city or just bring suburban living closer to downtown.

What would help all this is transit, but:

The city and the Hillsborough Area Transit Authority last year proposed paying $90,000 for a pilot program to test demand for a shuttle. The plan was to run the service 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. between Howard and the Fort Brooke parking garage downtown.

But members of the SoHo Business Alliance, a group of about 40 area businesses, balked at committing to pay for the service after that, said Stephen Michelini, a consultant who represents the group.

“We were afraid if we started offering the service for free and we couldn’t’ continue, it would send the wrong message out,” he said.

* * *

Instead, the alliance has partnered with Yellow Cab of Tampa to run a privately operated shuttle service that had its soft launch last weekend, Michelini said.

The service runs along Howard and includes a loop through Hyde Park. Alliance members are still reviewing the route and will officially launch the service once they gauge the level of ridership.

That is their choice, but we doubt it will do much, except maybe move some of the overflow parking to other areas of Hyde Park. (Though we are sure lots of people are using Uber, but don’t tell the PTC.)  Without a way to bring people from farther away, you will not get rid of the congestion.  And if you jam up Howard and make it really inconvenient to get to, you will start to choke the businesses.

Which brings us back to the bigger issue: what do you really want?  If you want urban living, you have to create the infrastructure to have it – which includes paying for transit. (And we don’t just mean the businesses, we mean the residents, too.)  And if you want the benefits of living in city, you have to remember there are some downsides.

— One More Thing

Finally, the City should learn from the problem that is Howard and plan better in areas like that north of Kennedy which is seeing a lot of development (and even Westshore).  There needs to be street retail in and near the buildings being built and good sidewalks.  Give those people places within walking distance to go and let that area develop properly (and make it clear what you are doing so people who buy in know it), and you will not have the same problems.

Hyde Park – The Old To Be New

Speaking of Hyde Park,

The Boston-based owners of Hyde Park Village are moving forward with the next phase of redeveloping the property — one of the most significant changes yet to the South Tampa shopping district.

WS Development has asked the city of Tampa to determine whether its plans for Block H — the building along Snow Avenue that is home to Nature’s Table — represent a substantial change from plans originally approved for the property.

If the city’s Development Review and Compliance staff determine that the developer’s plans are not a substantial change, the proposal is not subject to a public hearing and city council approval. 

URBN Tampa Bay posted a rendering of the changes (new on top, old on the bottom)

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

That is definitely an improvement.  Given how busy Hyde Park Village was when it first came around and how popular the walkability was, it has always made us wonder why the city allowed such not walkable development between Hyde Park Village and Howard.  It was truly a lost opportunity that is still in the process of being fixed decades later.

Downtown – Straz, the Editorial

The Times also had a very good editorial, this one regarding the Straz (you can read it here), that echoes much of what we wrote last week.

The David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts unveiled preliminary drawings last week of an ambitious remake of its downtown Tampa campus. The master plan includes several promising features, from creating a bold entrance to the Straz to opening its outside terrace to fuller views of the Hillsborough River. But the plans also suggest there could be some clutter and a mishmash of architecture along a riverfront that taxpayers have spent millions of dollars to open. As the concept moves to the next stage, the Straz needs to ensure that any additions to the city-owned property complement and not merely commercialize the waterfront.

How so?

The plan succeeds by looking to incorporate the Straz more fully with the river, following the lead of hotels, restaurants and bars along the Riverwalk. That would make the Straz more of a casual stop for passers-by and a more exciting backdrop to those out for a concert or a show. The changes also could sharpen the Straz’s design and make it more suitable for its semitropical setting.

The drawings, though, seem more concerned with helping Straz’s bottom line than they do with public space or aesthetics. A new events pavilion crammed near the Cass Street Bridge would do little for the public. A soaring sculpture on a platform in the river would obstruct water views and could look out of place and scale with the Straz’s gentle slope to the river. These features would also compete with the city’s overly elaborate plans to remake Riverfront Park directly opposite the Straz, squeezing boat traffic on the river and giving the entire area a patchwork feel. And the plans threaten to remove too much of what little green space exists behind the Straz, where a lawn breaks the hard look of pavers and helps keep pollution from flowing into the river.

Aside from the lawn issue, that echoes what we noted last week and we completely agree.

The Straz will do a feasibility study to explore funding sources, and any final plan will certainly revolve around money. The city should be open to contributing something to the effort to improve the public facility. The Straz is a public asset and a magnet for downtown development. Straz and city officials need to give the public ample opportunity to be involved in the remake. There is time for that. For now, the Straz has opened a welcome new era — and a healthy conversation about the look and feel of downtown.

There is also one point we did not bring up last week, but that is particularly relevant.  This is a publicly owned building.  While the announcement last week said that the alterations would be funded by donations, that is not entirely clear and they are very costly (upwards of $100 million), and we are not sure (though we are open to being convinced) the City should prioritize this upgrade over other needs. Regardless, as noted by the Times, and others, there needs to be public input on this.

MacDill – The Hunters Stay, Maybe

We have already discussed that the NOAA hurricane hunters have to leave MacDill because of space requirements for the Air Force.

Sen. Bill Nelson said in a Twitter announcement Wednesday that the famed Hurricane Hunter aircraft that are being evicted from MacDill Air Force Base “will stay in Tampa Bay.”

But Nelson did not immediately say where that would be, indicating only that the aircraft will be housed within 50 miles of MacDill.

A spokesman for Nelson could not immediately provide details.

That is good news.  We still think the Coast Guard station at St. Pete-Clearwater makes the most sense, but we’ll see where they actually end up.

Ybor City/Channel District – Maybe

It seems that the Gas Worx project between the Channel District and Ybor is in the process of being redesigned.  A rendering that apparently was originally in La Gaceta, courtesy of URBN Tampa Bay:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

While a taller building might be nice and noting that this is only a rendering and only of one aspect of the building, we like this look (except maybe the size of the sign on the roof).  We like that the grocery store is in the building and that the building is apparently up to the street.  We reserve full judgment until we see the whole thing, but we like what we see.

Bayshore – One More

The Colonnade closed and the land was sold.

The Colonnade Restaurant, a historic waterfront restaurant that has been a staple in South Tampa for more than 75 years, has been sold and the site will be redeveloped into high-rise condominiums.

A joint venture between Ascentia Development Group and Batson-Cook Development Co. purchased the property and have plans to demolish the restaurant along Bayshore Boulevard and redevelop it into waterfront luxury condos with views of downtown Tampa and the Hillsborough Bay. The restaurant closed its doors Tuesday night.


The proposed project is still in the planning phase, but ADG and Batson-Cook are considering “luxury waterfront condominiums with views of downtown Tampa and Hillsborough Bay.”

We’ll just have to see what happens.

Airport – The Train Gets a Name

The new train connecting the main terminal to the rental car facility now has a name: SkyConnect.    That is fine with us.  But, please, as much as we love local birds, do not wrap the train in them.

Port – Cruises to Cuba?

There was an article in the Times that asked the question: Could there be cruises to Cuba from Tampa?

Yes (but not before Miami dominates that sector as well as most others involving Cuba).

Next question.

List of the Week

There is no list this week.

Roundup 4-1-2016

April 1, 2016


Economy/Economic Development/Transportation/List of the Week – More People

Transportation – More Smoke from FDOT, et al.

Economy – More Money, A Least a Little

— More or Less Than it Seems

Economic Development – More Millennial Studies

Downtown – More Straz

Downtown – More AER

Downtown/Hyde Park – More Change at Altis Grand

Downtown/Channel District – More Land for the Lighting Owner

Port – More Comings and Goings

Transportation – More PTC Dancing

Public Art/Built Environment – More Murals


Economy/Economic Development/Transportation/List of the Week – More People

The Census Bureau released its latest batch of stats recently.

Hillsborough County added 30,725 people in the year ended July 1, pushing the county’s population to nearly 1.35 million people.

The growth spurt of 2.33 percent for the year was second only to Orange County’s among the state’s population centers. Home to tourist meccas Disney World and Universal Studios, Orange County added 31,631 people for a growth rate of 2.51 percent.

The new figures, released by the U.S. Census Bureau, showed Hillsborough’s population surge was driven by a net in-migration of 23,205 people, of which 14,687 came from other U.S. states and territories.

Another 8,518 people came to Florida from other countries.

The rest of the population growth was from an increase in births over deaths of 6,423.

The Tampa Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes St. Petersburg and Clearwater, grew by 57,412 people, 13th in the nation behind metropolitan areas including Houston and Dallas at No. 1 and No. 2 and Orlando at No. 10.

(Take note that this is for Metropolitan Statistical Area.  Orlando lobbied and managed to get listed also as the main part of a Combined Statistical Area adding a few hundred thousand people and making it technically bigger than the Tampa Bay area.  Orlando understands how to market.)  At least we are among the usual suspects:

From the Census Bureau

Population growth is generally good. We are not going to get into what all these people are doing, how much they are making, etc. (are they low wage workers looking for a cheaper life or are they bringing higher paying jobs)  We are not going to get into all their motivations, and we are not going to get into rates of growth.  We will simply point out that the County Commission, and other local government officials, are woefully behind in addressing the present needs of the area, let alone the needs of all these other people who may or may not move here.  They may celebrate the increase in people but, when the dust settles and they are no longer in office, all the taxpayers will be paying for their inability to plan ahead and have the political will to solve the problems that are obviously going to be made worse.  We need planning and transportation changes now.

Transportation – More Smoke from FDOT, et al.

The Tribune had a piece on the Veterans Expressway expansion which touched on a number of relevant issues.

Commuter traffic on the Veterans Expressway at rush hour is comparable to that on many major roadways in this area — bumper-to-bumper, stop-and-go, exasperating.

Florida’s Turnpike officials say that will change with the expressway widening from four to eight lanes and the addition of express toll lanes. The road widening will be completed in phases, with the first segment — Memorial Highway to Gunn Highway — opening by late summer. The express toll lanes are scheduled for completion in the spring of 2018.

The Veterans Expressway, which requires a toll, will be the first stretch of pavement in the region to get express toll lanes. Commuters can use the express lanes for an additional charge. State transportation chiefs tout the lanes as a mechanism for congestion relief. Critics call them an outdated solution that should be replaced with more robust regional transit.

Never mind that express toll lanes are not congestion relief (see below).  Never mind that the limited access points will cause all sorts of changed traffic patterns that no one can anticipate.

It really seems that “express lanes” are an excuse to not have to really do something about congestion by saying that, if you don’t like the complete lack of services that normal people are provided, you can pay a whole lot more and maybe (because it is maybe) not have as much congestion if you are not one of the people the state intentionally prices out of the market for congestion relief.  How much extra will the state charge?

Commuters pay $1.85 one way to drive the 11-mile stretch, Deason said. The express toll lanes will cost an additional 50 cents initially, but the price will increase as the express lanes become congested. There will be no cap on the express lane charge.

Commuters can get on and off the express toll lanes at three points: Memorial Highway, Linebaugh and at Dale Mabry.

“We haven’t tried to estimate what the high toll could be on the Veterans,” Deason said. “We will analyze that after lanes are open and traffic is using the lanes.”

Electronic signs will warn drivers when the toll is increasing, she said, “providing ample time for drivers to make a decision to choose the express lane or stay in the general-use lane.

“There are complicated metrics that include monitoring traffic volumes and average speed that go into the decision to raise the toll.”

It’s not a toll on top of a toll, Deason said, likening it to the choices people make for cable television. It’s the difference between basic cable and adding premium channels, she said.

Except having the possibility of premium channels does not really eat up 1/4th of all the bandwidth to all users of cable with no chance that there will be more bandwidth for non-premium users to use (as the Veterans will not be expanded anymore – not to mention that pretty much all highway expansion planned is express lanes, which are more accurately called variable rate toll lanes).  And, enjoy the lack of a cap on the “express lane” toll.

In any event, as we said, variable rate toll lanes are not really congestion relief:

“If you want to relieve congestion, you can’t build your way out of it,” Olivieri said. “You need a truly multimodal transit system.”

Deason said Florida’s Turnpike officials agree they can’t necessarily widen their way out of congestion.

“This widening study was done a decade ago, but the department realized you can’t build your way out of congestion by adding more and more lanes, especially on the Veterans because it’s very constricted. We’re not going to expand into Tampa International Airport, so we needed another solution,” Deason said.

The Turnpike people know it, which means FDOT knows it.  Even the Tribune knows it.  So the MPO knows it.  Everyone knows it.  Hell, even the County Commissioners probably know it.  So why is that the only firm plan being bandied about and why does it get so much support?  Because it is a lot easier to let FDOT dictate than to have any vision about what this area should be, and, if we have learned nothing else in the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough process, we have learned that our local officials love the easy way out, especially if they don’t have to have any vision other than living in 1995.  And that is a major reason we fail to truly compete with the usual suspects.

Economy – More Money, A Least a Little

Going back to the economy, there was interesting news on wages.

Driven by vigorous pay increases in construction and health care jobs, personal income in Florida rose 5.2 percent in 2015 over 2014, outpacing the nation’s income growth rate last year of 4.4 percent.

That is interesting.  Of course, it does not say where these increases were (Tampa, Orlando, Miami, Naples?), nor does it really get into the fact that Florida started from a low base so a .8% greater increase compared to the national number is not that great, but it is better than nothing.

That’s the good news. Florida still lags well behind a majority of states in per capita personal income, a perennial thorn in the state that could take generations to improve. Florida’s per capita personal income in 2015 was $44,101. The national average is $47,669, which means Floridians earn 93 cents for every $1 earned on average nationwide.

That difference ranks Florida No. 28 among all states in personal income.

Florida is already below average in income.  To get to a solid income level would indeed take a long time.  And those numbers do not talk about inequality, which is quite large in many parts of Florida, where numbers are inflated by a relatively small number of very high earners parking their incomes in a low tax state.

Like we said, increased income is good.  Where we are is not really that good.  We still need a lot of work to really get our economy changed.

— More or Less Than it Seems

And let’s just toss out this necessary corrective, which is wrapped up as something good.

Tampa ranks No. 3 as the most cost-friendly big city in which to do business.

Tampa stands out for its low labor costs, including salaries and benefits, KPMG said in a press release about its 2016 Competitive Alternatives study.

The study compares 31 large metro areas — those with populations of 2 million or more — across a range of factors related to doing business, including costs associated with taxes, labor, facilities, transportation and utilities.

It serves as a valuable benchmark for business executives, economic developers and policymakers considering sites for business operations, said Ulrich Schmidt, managing director in KPMG’s global location and expansion services practice, which helps companies that are expanding, relocating or consolidating facilities.

In other words, if you are a CEO or someone with lots of cash, it is great because you don’t have to pay your employees much or provide them too many benefits.  (You can use your savings to drive in the express lanes while your employees are stuck in traffic.)

But if you are just someone with talent, though, what is the appeal?  Why wouldn’t you go where you can make more, even if the cost of living might be slightly higher?  As we have previously discussed, the higher income will more than offset the higher cost of living. (See “Economic Development/Lists of the Week I – It Depends on Who You Ask”) And you will already have urban amenities. You can always move here to retire to the cheap life.

Increasing population is great – but it is not the ultimate measure of success (or Florida would be spoken of like Silicon Valley, and it isn’t).  The fact is that, if you want to really raise incomes and develop a strong economy with true substance that can weather a boom/bust real estate cycle and is truly productive, there needs to be a better sales pitch than “we are cheap/you won’t get paid much.”

Economic Development – More Millennial Studies

And on the theme of attracting (and retaining talent), there was an article in the Tribune with news that the EDC is actually going to survey Millennials.  It started out good with stuff like this:

Metro areas such as Tampa, working to grow jobs and draw the best and the brightest, are putting this group — born between 1982 and 2001 — under a microscope. The Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. has commissioned a survey of millennial CEOs and workers in competing markets to ask what would persuade them to relocate here for a job or to move their company to Hillsborough County.

“Instead of just talking about millennials, we need to get them to the table. We need to carefully evaluate the gap in what they want and desire and in what we have here in our market,” said Colleen Chappell, EDC chairwoman.

Tampa wants to lure a Fortune 500 corporate headquarters to the downtown area. It also needs to lure the talent pool of the future to help established companies grow and help fast-growing startups continue to expand, she said.

The survey will be conducted in Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Nashville and then randomly across the country, said Michelle Bauer, spokeswoman for the EDC.

“We’ll see how our market stacks up against competing markets and what we are doing right, then where we see new opportunities” to attract young professionals.

“Talent is always a top consideration for companies considering expanding,” Chappell said. “Millennials are the future of our workforce. There are many of them already in the workforce and want to grow in it. There are nearly as many millennials as there are baby boomers, so it’s important for us to understand them, what motivates them, what inspires them. That can’t be done on assumption.”

In the survey, Barry Quarles of Market Enhancement Group in San Diego will conduct 125 telephone interviews with millennial CEOs. Ted Stasney, senior consultant and founder of Research Director on Demand, a Tampa area company, will interview 600 millennials in the Tampa Bay area market and 400 in Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Nashville and randomly through the U.S. to determine what would lure them to a new city.

Not a bad idea.  Asking Millennials what they like is good.  We are not sure why there is the geographical focus on those cities (how about San Diego, where the survey company is based?  How about Denver and Austin?  Why focus on just a few cities in the South?)  But, anyway, it is basically a good idea.

Then the article veered into the typical stuff about why this area is so great rather than sticking to figuring out how to attract and retain talent, with such interesting quotes as this:

“Weather and quality of life. I enjoy the outdoors and a warm climate,” Clarke said. “And talent. Are there other businesses similar to mine that I could potentially gain talent from?”

Clarke’s business focuses on what he calls the workplace for the future, orchestrating all the wiring inside Class A office structures, from cable, to audiovisual wiring to security and Wi-Fi.

“Lastly, I think being in a city that is on its way up and being developed provides more excitement than your traditional Boston, Chicago and New York City where they have peaked,” he said.

And that may work for some, but clearly, there are a whole lot of people interested in older cities on both coasts, as well as newer cities in between (and on the coasts).  Maybe they should be surveyed, too.  And while we like the survey, this makes us wonder a bit:

“From a recruiting standpoint, the EDC is still actively pursuing (Fortune 500) headquarters,” Bauer said. “But we have expanded our focus to include fast-growing companies such as those in the Inc. 5000 list. We’ve been speaking with many high-growth companies that are seriously considering Tampa and Hillsborough as a place to expand or relocate. In fact, one of the main reasons for our conducting the millennial CEO survey is to better understand what the next generation of business leaders is looking for in their ideal relocation or expansion destination so we can refine our approach to recruiting them.”

“You’ve got to ask to really know the answers,” Chappell said.

“There isn’t an investor on our board that isn’t interested in understanding how we can move our market to the next level,” Chappell said. “This data will be an incredibly rich resource for many different leaders.”

In their younger years, not all talent is made of “leaders” (and not all leaders have talent).  Are you interested in just recruiting companies/CEOs or are you interested in attracting and retaining talent?  If it is the latter, you do not focus on Millennial CEO’s, you focus on talent (Millennial and otherwise) generally.  And you also ask people who grew up here why they left.  If you do not do that, you are missing a major component of what the area needs to do.

The fact is that we really need to see the area for what it is, good things, but also warts.  Recruiting organizations often have a hard time being up front about the warts.  Sometimes they see the issue but do not want to publicize it (which we understand, to some degree) and sometimes they just ignore it (which is more the Tampa Bay way).  Every now and then they really get to the mean of the matter.

Unless the survey is truly comprehensive and not just focused on attracting a few young CEO’s with a few jobs as trophies, it will be a waste.  It is a decent idea.  Hopefully, it will be properly executed.

Downtown – More Straz

About a year or so ago, the Straz put out some preliminary drawing about changing the complex’s waterfront.   This week they updated that:

The David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts has long been Tampa’s showplace for music and theater, but now it wants to be the city’s living room, too.

“We want it to be a gathering place,” Straz president Judith Lisi said Tuesday, and not just for patrons with theater tickets.

To make that happen, the center is putting together a master plan for a range of new projects and enhancements designed to bring people to the Straz campus on the Hillsborough River.

Estimated cost: $65 million to $100 million. Fundraising would start after a feasibility study is done this year, and construction wouldn’t begin until money is in hand.

Before we get into the drawings, just note that 1) they still haven’t even done a feasibility study and 2) they don’t have any money yet.  In other words, it is still just a concept and can change.

That being said, the Straz will never be Tampa’s or downtown’s living room.  If anything, Curtis Hixon Park is the living room.  Nevertheless, to the drawings and models:

From the Tribune – click on picture for article

From the Tribune – click on picture for website

From the Tribune – click on picture for website

From the Tribune – click on picture for website

So, first, the good.  The Straz looks a bit outdated and does not really address the river or downtown.  This project looks to change that.  And that is good.  Some of the ideas look very nice.  We actually like the concept of an event space (the oblong blob near the bridge), though we liked the first angular iteration more than the glass egg concept.

The biggest two problems we see are these: 1) retrofitting a curvy, glass based feature onto an angular, essentially rectangular concrete building (the Straz) is going to be a difficult task (and note that the existing building is a lot darker than how it is portrayed in the drawings.).  It is much more likely to not look too good (even if the feature in and of itself is cool), even clumsy, than to blend nicely. And 2) the project basically cuts the river off at the bridge and behind the Straz.  The main building of the Straz is pushed essentially to the river front, which does not really open the river to anyone not at the Straz, and the event building is jammed next to the bridge in a really awkward position.  That does not open the river to downtown to the public.  In fact, it cuts the river off far more than the tower project to which there were objections (not to mention blocking views for a number of floors of that building). We are not going to get into that odd sculpture in the river because, frankly, that is truly a hit or miss project and we have not seen enough to know if it could work.  However, the wavy Riverwalk under the bridge is not user-friendly.  (You would think that Tampa would have learned from the previous sidewalks in the old Cutis Hixon Park that bizarrely shaped walkways are not popular over time.)

We are not opposed to fixing up the Straz and making the river more inviting.  We think that is great.  However, what is proposed seems to have a much bigger chance of looking bad and not actually opening up the river.

Downtown – More AER

Speaking of the apartment building proposed near the Straz:

A residential tower in the works for years could break ground in the coming months, its developer said Tuesday.

* * *

Granvil Tracy, president of American Land Ventures, said Tuesday that he anticipates the tower will break ground in late summer.

“The market’s responded favorably, and we have financing interest,” Tracy said.

That is not very firm, but that is what we have.  If it does break ground (and the Channel Club ever does start construction) there would be five major apartment buildings going up at once (though one on Harbour Island will top out soon).  That would be nice.

Downtown/Hyde Park – More Change at Altis Grand

There was news that the developer of the Altis Grand, which had been previously rejected, has a new design.  We welcome that because we are not at all opposed to developing the area around the Oxford Exchange.  So what are they now proposing?

Altman has come back to the city with a significantly different proposal — one with nearly double the retail space that is more intertwined with the existing streetscape. The new building has 9,750 square feet of retail space (compared to 5,000 square feet) and slightly more units (the first version had 296 units). It will be built with 100 percent reinforced concrete, with residential buildings that vary between 6 and 8 stories.

They are also saving a tree and some other things.

This is a rendering:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for website

Which is kind of a mish-mash, though that may have more to do with the artist trying to make the building look tall and imposing, as renderings often do.  What is does not show is the most egregious thing about the previous design, in our opinion: the garage.  This is the new site plan from URBN Tampa Bay:

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

It seems that the apartment portion of the building may be as tall as the garage but the garage will still peek out on the sides, which is not something we really like (though it is not entirely clear).  We appreciate that they tried to make the design better, and it probably is.  Remember, even this design, which is not awesome, is better than what the developer wanted to build before the City said “no.”

While we are not sure about the garage in this proposal, one thing we have to point out is that, when you take the Related groups garage-dominant design (which should not have been allowed), the City has to be very careful (like the City is going to be careful) or this area, which has great potential, will be dominated by views of garages rather than an attractive urban streetscape for decades to come.  And it will be all due to the City not having any standards because why should developers care if the City itself doesn’t?

Downtown/Channel District – More Land for the Lighting Owner

In what has to rank as one of the least surprising land deals in Tampa history:

After six months of negotiations, the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority agreed Monday to sell about two-thirds of an acre of land to Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investment for $2.75 million.

The land consists of the S-shaped curve of E Brorein Street north of Channelside Drive. The Vinik-Cascade group plans to tear up the road as part of a general street realignment in its planned $2 billion redevelopment near Amalie Arena.

The sales price is just under the appraised value of $2.79 million. The buyer is a Vinik-related company, Brorein Partners LLC.

Like anyone was going to say no.  The only surprise is that it took so long to save (or lose, depending on your position) $40K.

The sale, approved unanimously by the expressway authority’s board, won’t go through until the city of Tampa works with the developer to ensure that E Cumberland Avenue, which will be extended west to Brorein and east to S Meridian Avenue, will serve as that new feeder road.

“There’s a great deal that’s going to have to happen between the time the board approves this contract and the actual transaction itself,” said Patrick Maguire, the expressway authority’s general counsel. “There’s a lot of moving parts.”

For example, the sale also is contingent on the developer and the city creating a plan to make sure that the movement of traffic to and from the Selmon is maintained during construction. That has to happen, authority executive director Joseph Waggoner said, before “a shovel goes into the ground.”

Sure.  Not that it really matters in the greater scheme of things.  We pretty much expect local officials to bend over backwards for anything the Lightning owner asks for because 1) he hired a bunch of very connected people and 2) can they afford to get in the way?  Luckily, the Lighting owner has been very rational and intelligent so far.

Port – More Comings and Goings

The Port’s big cranes are almost here.The long-awaited arrival of two enormous gantry cranes capable of reaching across today’s wider freighters are expected to duck under the Sunshine Skyway at dawn Friday, headed for Port Tampa Bay.

The $24 million mega cranes, constructed in China, will allow the port to handle the wider loads on new container ships traveling to and from Tampa.

More cargo coming in on these larger container ships is expected to translate into more jobs for terminal operators, laborers, crane operators, truck drivers and logistic services.

“Getting the delivery of the Post Panamax cranes (for wider ships built in conjunction with the recent expansion of the Panama Canal) on Friday has huge significance for Port Tampa Bay,” said Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman, who sits on the Tampa Port Authority Board. “First and foremost is the picture worth a thousand words upon the arrival that represents the opportunity for the port to grow exponentially by doubling the size of the ships we can handle at the port. More ships means more goods for export or import. That equals jobs and economic growth for our region.

“Second, we will be the only port along the west coast with these gigantic cranes which is huge for our region,” Murman said. She said it took a big effort by Gov. Rick Scott, the legislature and the Florida Department of Transportation to make the purchase possible.

Along the west coast of what?  Florida? How many ports are along the west coast of Florida?  Tampa (Bay) and Manatee.  So are we back to that little feud?

Anyway, the cranes are a good thing – if the ships that need them can fit under the Skyway and through the channel.  In any event, it is good that have more capacity.  And there is much room for growth in container business, which really says more about how little we do now.

Speaking of container companies:

Shipping container company, Hapag-Lloyd America LLC, along with Hapag-Lloyd USA Inc. said it is closing its Tampa office resulting in a permanent loss of 55 jobs.

In a letter to Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity, a manager at Hapag-Lloyd wrote that the company expects to close its facilities at 410 E. Jackson St. in Tampa.

We do not know how many containers they shipped out of Tampa because:

Hapag-Lloyd was ranked No. 2 among TBBJ‘s top defense contractors in Tampa Bay in 2014 based on contracts from the Department of Defense in 2013. The company didn’t respond by deadline to requests by phone and email for comment.

But this is the explanation of the closing:

In an effort to become a market leader in Latin America, Hapag-Lloyd took over the container shipping business of Chilean shipping company CSAV in December 2014.

Following the merger, “we totally restructured,” Horn said. Tampa had been serving as Hapag-Lloyd’s link to the Caribbean but those operational positions have been moved to the company’s Miami office, Horn said. The company’s U.S. flag business went to its regional North America headquarters in Piscataway, New Jersey, which also got some trade management jobs, some of which went to the firm’s Houston office, Horn said. Some 65 employees took relocation offers, 10 resigned and the remaining 55 were laid off.

We could go on about what that means, but suffice it to say that it would have been much better if they had stayed here.

Transportation – More PTC Dancing

The PTC is back in the sting/protectionists/cartel loving racket.

TAMPA (FOX 13) – Newly laid off worker Francisco Franco is driving for Lyft while he applies for new jobs.

“I recently lost my main job, and I do something to feed my family.”

His phone buzzed Friday morning for a pickup at the Brandon Mall. It was really the Public Transportation Commission requesting a ride.

He was falling for a sting.

“I say to the police, ‘Sir, I lost my job,’ he said, ‘Sorry.'”

The PTC handed Franco three tickets for not having the same insurance and licenses as taxi drivers. He will submit the $700 in tickets to Lyft for reimbursement.

“Take care of real problems,” Franco said. “Don’t take care of people who make money who are trying to support families.”

The PTC should be proud that they are making sure that the consumers do not get the service they want.

“We want the public to have the services they are demanding, but we want it to be fair and safe,” said Public Transportation Commissioner Victor Crist.

The PTC, and taxi companies, say it’s not fair of safe for Uber and Lyft drivers to pick people up without being fingerprinted or background checked against international databses.

Watch for the weasel word – “fair.”  Fair to whom? Fair under what definition?  Well, it seems this is what he means:

Crist said his proposal will require driver background checks and require that they have personal insurance policies that cover damages to property and individuals if they have accidents while working. He said he’ll present it at a PTC workshop today. .

Uber has objected to such requirements, saying it maintains commercial insurance covering its drivers and does background checks; PTC officials say those safeguards are insufficient.

Crist said what’s new in his offer is that it would allow the companies to perform the checks themselves and certify the results to the PTC in affidavits, subject to occasional audits, without publicly listing their drivers. He said his proposal will also include de-regulation of cab companies to allow for fair competition.

We are not sure if the PTC will adopt this, but it seems better than what has been the previous PTC position, though, admittedly without details, that seems a bigger insurance requirement than the state says was needed.  Frankly, without details and consideration of this plan, it is hard to judge. But, it all goes to show once again, the PTC could have fixed this a long time ago. Or, like every other county, Hillsborough could have just not had a PTC.

Public Art/Built Environment – More Murals

There was an article in the Times about another mural in Tampa, this time at Berns.  Now there are murals on the Poe garage, other buildings downtown, Grand Central on Kennedy, and other assorted places.    We are by no means opposed to public art.  And we are not opposed to murals.  However, you have to start to wonder with all the murals, how bad is the building design in this area?  How many large, blank walls in very public places do we really have? How ugly is the built environment that it has to be painted over and hidden by murals?

Some murals are fine.  A lot of murals is just a sign that your architecture is bad.  And that does not even get to the subjective nature of the art itself.

Roundup 3-25-2016

March 25, 2016


Planning/Transportation – Does the Emperor Have Any Clothes?

Transportation – Don’t Tell FDOT

Transportation – City Rail

Transportation – Move On

TIA – A Bird Too Far

— One More Thing

Transportation – The Case Against Ridesharing

Transportation – Not Quite Smart Cities

Seminole Heights – The Warehouse

Downtown/Channel District – Moving to Move Some Dirt

South Tampa – More Development

Rays – A Bottom Line Issue

Coming Out Watch


Planning/Transportation – Does the Emperor Have Any Clothes?

Sometimes we see a news report that just makes us wonder if some local officials really understand some of the issues before them.  This week, there was an article about an upcoming workshop on mobility fees (the coverage of which will likely come out after we post this).

Hillsborough County officials are being pulled in two directions as they try to develop a new fee structure so developers pay their share for road improvements around new residential and commercial projects.

Commercial developers say the new “mobility fees” proposed by the county’s consultants, AECOM/Tindale-Oliver, are excessive and will choke the revival of an industry knocked flat by the Great Recession.

On the other side, citizen activists are warning the county against letting developers off the hook and leaving taxpayers to pay for the county’s estimated $8 billion transportation deficit.

County commissioners will hear both sides in a mobility fee workshop 2 p.m. Thursday at the Frederick B. Karl County Center, 601 E. Kennedy Blvd. The public is invited to speak.

That part is straight forward enough.  But then there is this:

Much of the opposition to the proposed mobility fees is coming from commercial developers who could see their fees increase from 665 percent to 937 percent, according to Steve Cona III, president and CEO of the Associated Builders and Contractors, Florida Gulf Coast Chapter. Cona said those fees will fall on churches, doctor’s offices and other small projects as well as larger commercial projects.

“Our biggest concern is that, from a construction standpoint, we’re coming out of the recession with projects that are permitted but have yet to break ground,” Cona said. “There is some momentum and I would hate that momentum to stop.”

County Commissioner Sandy Murman sounded the same concerns at a March 9 mobility fee workshop. Raising fees too high, especially on commercial projects, could hurt Hillsborough’s ability to compete with surrounding counties for big shopping malls and office parks that boost property tax collections and create jobs.

“I’m very concerned about the commercial side of this,” Murman said then, “and we’ve got to keep creating jobs if we’re going to keep up and grow and be the best community we want to be.”

The very idea of mobility fees is that it costs more for infrastructure to build a sprawling mess on the outskirts of the already built up area than to do infill.  Therefore, logically, the fee for building in an empty field in an undeveloped area with no infrastructure should be higher.  Period.  The point is to encourage infill (such as in built up areas like Town and Country, which the particular Commissioner represents).  How that would stop commercial development is unclear, unless the only commercial development you envision is a sprawling mess in an empty area.  The whole point is to incentivize better building (which also uses existing transportation and other infrastructure and makes it easier to maintain – a win, win, win), not make more concessions to keep the mess that has already been created going without paying for it – in other words, keeping the same poor policy.  We are not going to be the best community we can be (and we certainly are not now) if we just keep sprawling and putting the cost on the taxpayer.

(It should be noted that, if you have such a low opinion of the ability of this area to attract anything but the cheapest, low quality, sprawling development in empty farms, then, of course, you would be worried.  We think this area is attractive enough to have some decent standards and still thrive. But that is just us.)

Thankfully, that is not the end of the discussion:

Current fees do not begin to cover construction costs for new highway capacity. Impact fees first levied in 1985 have not risen since 1989. That means current fees pay just $635,000 per lane mile of construction when the true cost is closer to $5 million per mile.

Failing for years to address the gap has been blamed for an $8 billion backlog in road, bridge and other transportation infrastructure projects.

“It’s the recognizing that there hasn’t been an increase in the fees, so we’re increasing them and making up and charging them everything we didn’t charge them,” said Lucia Garsys, the county’s chief infrastructure and development administrator.

At the same time, however, county officials recognize the new fees will be a “quantum leap” for developers, Garsys said. That’s why the county has been meeting with people in the industry and listening to their concerns for months.

“We want to make sure we don’t shut down development,” Garsys said, “but we also want to make sure our taxpayers are getting the benefit of developers’ contributions. It’s really trying to find a balance here.”

So, is there any balance?

Activist George Niemann said he has attended most of the county mobility fee meetings held for non-builder residents and he’s not happy. Niemann said he was told the fees will cover just 30 percent to 50 percent of the true costs for roadwork to serve new building projects.

“The county is not going to implement any changes that will cost developers any more money,” Niemann said.

County officials say that’s not true. The fees as proposed by the consultants are meant to cover the full cost of new development. The impacts are measured by the number of trips a project generates, the average length of the trips, and the cost of new roads and other improvements to handle additional traffic. 

That does not sound like it. To be honest, we doubt that the fees will cover all the cost (especially after the Commission gets to their normal business of waiving fees), but it will certainly be better than what we have now.  Going back to the idea how much to charge and whether some get it:

That’s one reason the county is honoring credits given years ago for roads and other work done for projects that were never built. Also, development agreements already granted under the existing fee structure will be grandfathered in.

County Administrator Mike Merrill suggested cutting off the grandfathering if projects are not started in seven years but Commissioner Stacy White said that might be too long. At the March 9 meeting, White urged Merrill and other officials to negotiate harder on behalf of taxpayers. The longer the grandfather status stays in place, the less money comes from mobility fees for roadwork.

“I just want to make sure the county doesn’t give away the farm in negotiations and that we leverage our position,” White said in an interview. “I don’t think we have to completely give up ground in both of these areas — the credits and grandfathering of the credits.”

Exactly.  For years, the County hasn’t even been bothered to have a farm to sell.  It was more like a guy with a pick-up by the side of the road just handing out taxpayer money to anyone who stopped by.  The Commission essentially ignored its own plans and let people build anything secure in the knowledge that the Commissioners would be out of office by the time anyone figured out the mess they have made. And when anyone figured it out, the taxpayers would either bail them out or suffer.

So, seven years is way too long.  We get the idea that someone who is right about to start work and had a previous agreement should not be hit with the new fees.  However, seven years just incentivizes sitting on a development.  How does that help the county or the taxpayer?  It should be much more of a use it or lose it proposition.

Thankfully, at least some of the Commissioners get it. Whether the Commission as a whole will actually protect the taxpayers they are already asking to pay more for the mess the County has made is an open question.  The bottom line is this: mobility fees are really the acid test for whether the County government is in any way serious (even just in theory) about getting a handle on planning and transportation.  The jury is still out, but we have a hard time being optimistic.

Transportation – Don’t Tell FDOT

There was an interesting blog post on the Times website.  To summarize:

Residents of Seminole and Tampa Heights voiced their frustrations Tuesday night, arguing that community outreach for the Tampa Bay Express interstate expansion only seeks to build consensus for the project, not listen to critics’ objections.

* * *

FDOT representative Ed McKinney fielded many of those concerns after the presentation, but said the proper venue for that would be a public meeting with elected officials.

“I think the frustration last night is more on a political level,” McKinney said Wednesday. “They want more of an audience with the elected officials in a public forum outside of the MPO meetings. (Those are) kind of a one-way street  where people make their comments for three minutes but there’s never any feedback.”

In other words, FDOT brought up the idea, got the MPO to approve it, and now doesn’t want to hear it.  You could go talk to the MPO, but it is not like local officials show any signs of caring much either.

In the end, much as FDOT has its issues, it all comes back to the failing of local officials. (And for your convenience, you can find the members of the board of the MPO here.)

Transportation – City Rail

There was a first real, sort of, comment on the theoretical plan for City rail and what it might cost in the Business Journal:

Jean Duncan, the city of Tampa’s director of transportation and stormwater services, told the Tampa City Council on Thursday that $480 million of that total could go toward a proposed rail project to connect downtown to Westshore and Tampa International Airport.

Well that seems like something. (And, just a suggestion, but the City may want to rename the “transportation and stormwater services” department to “infrastructure” or something that does not sound as odd.  Of course, now that we’ve suggested it, it probably won’t happen.)

The Go Hillsborough half-cent sales tax transportation initiative would be just one funding source for the project and provide $27 million over a 10-year period. The rest of the funding could come from issuing bonds, as well as grants from the federal government and the Florida Department of Transportation and public-private partnerships.

Actually, maybe it does not sound like much clarity (or much money from the sales tax).  But, at least there is a sort of price tag.

The idea of creating rail service is still in the early stages.

You don’t say.  It has only been discussed since at least the 1980’s, which, for reference, is before the ancient study on which TBX is based.

The Florida Department of Transportation is giving a $1 million grant for a premium transit study it is conducting in tandem with local bus operator Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART). The study should begin this fall and be complete in 18 to 24 months.

Except, the study has not even begun, the report is really not telling us much.  Even less:

The technology — whether the result would be modern tram or light rail — has yet to be determined, Duncan told the council. “They will be looking at the CSX tracks,” Duncan said, noting that the exact route has not been decided upon yet either.

We are just going to assume that the reporter does not know that the CSX tracks do not have a downtown to airport connection and so did not accurately reflect what the City official said.  We just don’t even want to deal with the alternative.

But at least the streetcar extension seems a little bit better planned – which we would expect because 1) it is easier and 2) the Lightning owner wants it for his project so the City is scrambling to do it.

Meanwhile, the extension and modernization of Tampa’s historic TECO Line Streetcar from the Channel District to Ybor City, a 2.7-mile stretch, could cost $146 million. The funding sources for this project could come from the sales tax proposal, which would amount to $44 million over a 10-year period. The rest could come from state and federal grants. HDR Engineering was awarded the $1.2 million contract to conduct the project’s feasibility study, which is funded primarily with a $1 million grant from FDOT.

It is a bit odd that the sales tax money will provide more for the streetcar extension than for a downtown to airport connection (not that either amount is that large).  However, that gives a view to the priorities.

In any event, everything is subject to studies.  What is true is that, if there is a referendum, there will still not be an actual plan for rail – just a discussion of coming attractions. And there is no discussion of how to expand and how to include the county (or who will even run a city line).  It is all part of the disjointed approach to transportation planning.

Transportation – Move On

Speaking of transportation planning, there was an interesting column in the Tribune about the whole Go Hillsborough Parson Brinckerhoff silliness.

Sometimes you have to say enough is enough, and we’re there. We have reached that point with those who hint at a dark conspiracy by officials in the proposed Go Hillsborough transportation initiative.

Let it go.

The results of a six-month investigation by Hillsborough County reached the conclusion that, paraphrasing here, although the tea party and other opponents may not like the way backers of the Go Hillsborough plan have gone about their business, that’s just tough noogies.

No laws were broken.

There was no conspiracy.

Move on.

The investigation found no laws were broken.  Whether there was a conspiracy or not is less clear (though not relevant to the actual referendum).  There may have been, but not an illegal one.  Just as something may comply with a law but still be corrupt, especially if there is a bad law. (And even if there is nothing illegal or corrupt, it does not mean that everyone is acting in the best interests of the area.) Moreover, just because it was not criminal does not mean it wasn’t ill-advised. Nevertheless, that is a separate issue to having a good transportation plan, which is the relevant issue for a referendum.

And then there is this:

But I say they should go ahead and have the vote.

I have said, and still believe, that it will get stomped like a bug at the ballot box. Even if my prognostication skills are dead on, though, it’s no reason not to put this before the people. We’ve certainly been talking about it long enough.

If a transportation tax is whomped at the ballot box again like the one in 2010, leaders will have gotten the message — maybe. They’ll be forced to go to Plan B, just as soon as they can come up with one.

Not surprisingly, Tampa tea party co-founder Sharon Calvert does not agree. She doesn’t think the referendum should go forward because, as she said Friday, “It’s not going to pass!”

The fact remains that if you oppose the plan and are convinced it is not going to pass, the best thing that could happen is to have a vote – so that it will not pass and you can say “told you so.”  The only reason for a referendum opponent not to have a vote is if you think there is a chance it will pass (though that has the downside of being against the will of the people).  And if you believe the people should have the power to decide how they are taxed (the ultimate in taxation with representation, see Founders), the best thing you could do is have a vote and let people decide.

So, let them decide (and fix the plan).

TIA – A Bird Too Far

We love the airport.  We approve of almost every move made by the administration.  However, as with all things, sometimes we disagree.  Well,

By late next year, Tampa International Airport visitors will be soaring to and from the main terminal and their gates on roseate spoonbills and bald eagles.

Airport officials unveiled the look for the new automated people mover train Thursday, revealing that each car will be wrapped in a large image of a native Central Florida bird or seasonal visitor. Inside, guests riding the 1.4-mile train will learn about the birds through educational videos.

Airport CEO Joe Lopano also announced a two-week naming contest for the new driverless train, expected to go into service in late 2017. Those who want to cast their ballots can visit to choose from four names: Gulf Glider, Sky Connect, Jet Stream or Florida Flier.

From the Tribune – click on picture for article

We like eagles and we like the people mover, but we see no need (or benefit) to put an eagle (or pelican or seagull or any other bird) on the people mover.  Teach all you want about local birds.  Name the trains after local birds.  Just don’t wrap the trains in local birds.  It is tacky and kind of silly – as much as we love eagles – and everything does not have toe resemble a theme park.  The great thing about the airport is that it is the clearest example of sober, business minded excellence in this area.

As one of our readers pointed out, you don’t want to be the real word version of this:

Please, don’t do it.

— One More Thing

You can find the naming contest here. Frankly, we think all the names are a bit weak (and do we really need a name from a people mover from the rental cars to the landside building?), but, if it needs a name and it can’t be “Trainy McTrainface,” we like “Skyconnect” because, if it ever is extended to Westshore, the name would actually have some relevance.

Transportation – The Case Against Ridesharing

There was an interesting tidbit in the Times regarding the legislature’s work on ridesharing.

Ride sharing: Sometimes the payoff for corporate contributors is what doesn’t get passed. Mears Transportation, whose president, Paul Mears III, is one of Senate President Andy Gardiner’s lifelong friends, won a victory for the second year in a row when the Senate killed a bill that would have blocked local governments from regulating popular ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft. The company has been a long-time supporter of Gardiner’s, giving more than $150,000 to the Republican Party in the years he was in leadership, and $64,000 to the legislative political committees in the last year.

Brandes, who was among the sponsors of the ride-share bill, said he wasn’t surprised but predicted Uber and Lyft will wait Gardiner out.

“We kind of knew going in, with the relationships, what that looked like,” he said. “Once regime change comes, I think you’ll see a significant shift in policy.”

So what is the message legislators intend to send to lobbyist and special interests this election cycle?

“They should continue to contribute because the overall environment, and the policies that we are actively pursuing, are helping the state,” Oliva said.

Exactly.  The legislative failure was the result of protection of legacy cab companies, not a representation of the will of the consumer – who seem fond of ridesharing (hence the protectionism).  The same can be said of the PTC’s protectionism.  The PTC should just go with the house bill’s requirements and move on (or, even better, go away).

Transportation – Not Quite Smart Cities

There was an editorial in the Times regarding thinking big on transportation that focused on the federal government’s smart city challenge.  There had been previous reports on the Tampa and St. Pete applications which were so silly we did not think they merited mention.  However, the editorial ties it all together nicely with this:

The “Smart City Challenge” was not envisioned as a game changer for Tampa Bay, but it became a reflection of the region’s shortcomings. The U.S. Transportation Department pledged $40 million to a city that best integrated new technology into its transportation network. That could include electric cars, sensors to direct traffic or other automated projects. And the grant targeted midsized cities. It was a chance for the bay area to shine and compete on a national level.

But Tampa took a kitchen-sink approach, offering everything from shuttles to solar charging stations for electric vehicles. St. Petersburg proposed a gondola line linking the Gateway area to downtown and the gulf beaches. From the 78 cities that applied, the DOT chose seven finalists — two more than expected. And if a common denominator stood out, it was that the winners had already invested in a modern transportation infrastructure. Austin, Denver, Portland and the other cities have built a spine for the 21 century, which is why they continue to move ahead.

It is no surprise that the cities mentioned are usual suspects on every good list.  As we have said before, doing well on a list now and gain is not really anything, but being a consistently lauded city is something else.  The mentioned cities think big.  They plan big.  They act big. And they accomplish.  They are not doing small things then proclaiming how big they are.

The Tampa Bay area proposals for the federal grant are just plain odd and not worthy.  They seem more like just going through the motions to say we applied for something.  We need to think big.  If we get shot down the end result is no different than getting shot down for dinky ideas.  However, if we actually succeed, the difference will be great.

If we want to be a great area, we need to think and act like a great area.  We will not get there with gimmicks and vague talk.

Seminole Heights – The Warehouse

This week, the Warehouse loft project opened in Seminole Heights.

There are plenty of great restaurants. The craft beer scene is thriving.

Now, Seminole Heights has another ingredient to help lure that coveted millennial demographic.

Developer Wesley Burdette and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn on Tuesday cut the ribbon on the Warehouse Lofts, a former industrial site at 4513 N. Florida Ave. that is now home to 54 apartments.

“A year ago this was just a dilapidated building, leaking everywhere, but we had a vision of what this place could be,” said Burdette. “It’s very fulfilling, its [sic] very emotional to actually see what it has become.”

The run-down former warehouse for an air conditioning equipment distributor has been gussied up to the tune of $5.5 million, but its apartments retain a gritty, industrial feel. There are rusticated block walls, stainless steel railings, and polished concrete floors.

It shows what can be in Seminole Heights, especially along Florida, where multi-story, multi-family development makes sense and can really take what is going on to the next level or a true urban area.  It would have been nice if there was a little retail, but so be it.  This is the first attempt on Florida. (Though we do wonder is why there are no south facing windows so residents can have views of downtown.)

From the Tribune – click on picture for article

The big question is whether Seminole Heights will embrace a new, urban development pattern on Florida.

Downtown/Channel District – Moving to Move Some Dirt

The Lightning owner’s company has moved on the first step to hopefully building his whole project.

Strategic Property Partners has selected a Tampa contractor for its roadway reconfiguration and infrastructure work.

SPP, the real estate company controlled by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investment LLC, said Wednesday that Kimmins Contracting Corp. has been chosen from five firms that responded to a request for qualifications that went in out in January.

From the Business Journal – click on diagram for article

The road work project along Channelside Drive is expected to begin this summer, pending approval from the city of Tampa. Construction will be completed in phases over two years to accommodate traffic and pedestrian access, according to a news release.

It’s not a building.  In fact, it is not even building, yet.  But it is something.  Hopefully, they won’t create a traffic nightmare by rearranging the roads without any useful real transit.  Maybe in two years, someone in government will finally be willing to make a solid rail proposal.

South Tampa – More Development

There was news about another property south of Gandy.

A 31-acre parcel up for sale at the foot of the Gandy Bridge has the potential to be one of the next big high-density residential developments along the Tampa Bay shoreline.

With several other projects in the South Tampa area already moving ahead, though, the buyer of Peninsula Point should be prepared to allow those projects to mature, then move forward with a waterfront development with marina access, said Bill Eshenbaugh, who is marketing the property for $29.5 million.

“Our site needs to wait until the market absorbs the condo properties that are already coming online,” he said.

From the Tribune – click on picture for article

Which is fine.  On the other hand, there is a lot of development planned for the area.

DeBartolo Development filed plans for the Georgetown project last year to build up to 1,235 homes and 9 acres of retail between South West Shore Boulevard and Old Tampa Bay, just north of the Peninsula Point property. And WCI Communities is selling luxury homes with marina access at Westshore Yacht Club just south of Peninsula Point.

Fort Lauderdale-based BTI Partners filed plans with the city of Tampa in 2015 for residential, retail and office space on a 51-acre site just south of Gandy Boulevard near the intersection of Gandy and West Shore boulevards. The New Port Tampa Bay project is expected to break ground in July on the initial phases, which are expected to eventually include waterfront dining as well as a public trail and bike path that fronts the future marina. It is also expected to include luxury multifamily residential units with sunset views over the bay, as well as an upscale town home community, said Beck Daniel, vice president of acquisitions and development for BTI Partners.

So, how are all these people going to get around when Westshore is still two lanes and Gandy is not getting any wider than four?  Just another reason for the Gandy Connector and for making the area pedestrian and bike friendly.   To be honest, right now, there is not enough infrastructure for all this.

At least there is time to get some infrastructure done (and for another recession cycle, too):

Eshenbaugh estimates that if the Peninsula Point property sells soon, developers would have five to seven years to get it rezoned and plan the design for the land before construction would begin.

That time frame would also be sufficient for surrounding developments to mature before bringing a new community to the market, he said.

Of course, that also means that, for most elected officials, it will be someone else’s problem. We’ll see if anyone has learned to plan ahead on infrastructure or if it is business as usual.

Rays – A Bottom Line Issue

In the continuing discussion of where a Rays stadium should go, there was something that was not on the Rays list of required factors:

Typically, Major League Baseball teams get about 70 percent of their support from businesses and 30 percent from individuals.

In the Tampa Bay area, that ratio is reversed. But with a new stadium, the Rays mean to flip it back to the league norm.

“It’s important that the team engages the business community,” Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan said after the hourlong meeting in downtown Tampa. “If that doesn’t occur, then this whole process is moot. But I’m confident the business support is here and we’ll be able to move forward with the site selection process in the relatively near future.”

Indeed.  With so many games, it is definitely necessary to get the business community on board to fill seats.  So what is the problem now?

Asked why he thinks corporate support for the team isn’t greater now, Hagan said: “It’s the location and the facility.”

“It’s an archaic facility and a terrible location,” he said.

Exactly.  The facility is not very good and the location is not near the biggest clusters of business activity – nor is it centrally located.

Auld, however, said the search had yet to narrow the list of possible sites. “We’re looking at every possible site in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties,” he said.

Auld said the team recognizes that Tampa Bay’s business community is not like other major league markets around the country. It’s not as big as some and it has geographical challenges, though Auld said it has a “spirit of growth” that leads businesses to root for one another’s success.

And there is always the question of getting people to and from a stadium – because transportation is key to the entire area.

We’ll see what happens, but it is hard to believe that the Rays really want to stay where they are.

Coming Out Watch

There was a nice little write up/video on CNBC that was part of the Lightning owner’s push to promote his development.  You can see it here.  While we do not think it will push any major corporation to put an HQ here and it ignores transportation (it is a puff piece, after all).  Nevertheless, it is good media.


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