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Roundup 1-18-2019

January 17, 2019

Contents

Transportation – Stuff

— HART

— Mayor and Transportation, the Editorial

— Ferry Update

— Consequences

West Tampa (a/k/a North Hyde Park) – Ugh

Hyde Park/Downtown – Garages for All

West Tampa (a/k/a West River) – Begin

Westshore – (Not) A Lot

Airport – Record(s)

Port – More Making

Economic Development – Known Knowns

Channel District – The Sign

Rays

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

— About Malls

— Scooters

— Boring

___________________________________


Transportation – Stuff


— HART

There has been much news recently regarding the search for a new HART leader.

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority is moving forward with selecting its next CEO, despite concerns from one Tampa Bay area business organization.

Tampa Bay Partnership Director of Policy and Research Dave Sobush brought up concerns during the Jan. 14 ad hoc committee meeting about HART’s CEO search.

“We believe the results have not yielded a leader with a track record aligned with HART’s near- and long-term future. We ask that the committee members expand the list of candidates and take more time for public comment. … This role by all rights could be attractive to seasoned and proven CEOs of similar agencies,” Sobush said. “In the event the right candidate does not emerge from this round of recruitment, we encourage you to ask why that maybe the case and go back to the drawing board. Expediency should not drive this process. The expectations are high and we shouldn’t settle for less than the experienced, seasoned leader we deserve.”

Sobush is not on the HART board, but the partnership, a CEO-led advocacy organization, wanted to address the search as it focuses on public policy and how the new transportation sales tax affects the transit agency. HART would collect nearly half of the taxes raised, and as a result, it would increase HART’s budget by over $200 million, and bring an estimated $4 billion in new revenue over the next 30 years.

What specifically are they looking for?

“it is incumbent upon the HART Board of Directors to select a proven leader, deserving of this responsibility, who can usher in a new era for transportation in Hillsborough County and in Tampa Bay. The stakes are too high to not get this right,” The Partnership wrote in a letter to HART Board Chair Les Miller.

* * *

“Throughout the years, we’ve seen our HART executives make the most of limited resources and navigate a challenging political landscape. We’ve witnessed the development of talent, and watched as [that talent] moved on to other communities,” the letter reads. “But with a budget over $200 million, and an estimated $4 billion in new revenue over the next 30 years, this is no longer a job for someone to learn as they go, or to use HART as a stepping stone to build a career.”

“If we intend to use these resources to provide world-class transportation services, we need a seasoned executive with experience in building and managing a top-tier transit agency.”

In its letter, the Partnership applauds HART for hiring an outside talent agency to search for a new CEO, but laments that the current short list is not good enough.

“This is a game-changer for our entire region and, arguably, the single most important moment in the history of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority,” the letter continued.

The Partnership further suggests that if the HART Board and talent search agency cannot identify the right candidate, it should hit the brakes on the current search and start from scratch.

“Expediency should not drive this process. Our expectations are high, and we shouldn’t settle for less.”

And, not unexpectedly, the Times echoed those thoughts in an editorial.

The transportation tax approved by Hillsborough County voters promises to give HART, the county’s mass transit agency, the money it needs to finally transform the area’s transportation system. But there is a disconnect between the voters’ ambitions and the pool of candidates to become the agency’s new chief executive. HART should slow down the hiring process and consider reopening the search.

A HART panel will meet Monday to decide which of the four finalists for chief executive will move to the next phase. Of the four, one already works for HART, and two others come from agencies that would be smaller than Hillsborough’s newly invigorated transit operation. How that meets the aspirations of this new era is anybody’s guess. With billions in new funding in the coming years, HART needs an experienced leader and visionary who can reset the region’s bar. HART’s board owes it to voters and taxpayers to get this right.

We cannot say we disagree with the stated qualities desired. But that is not to say that one of the candidates may not be a very good choice.  Nor does it mean that simply getting someone from a large transit organization may not be the best choice.  On the other hand, the present candidates may not be the best choice.  We have not met or spoken to any of the candidates, so we can’t really say.

For us, the bottom line is that there is no real hurry, especially with the referendum lawsuit out there.  We see no harm in trying to expand the field, though that does not mean one of the present candidates should not ultimately get the job.

The real point is that our expectations are high, and we should not get someone who will settle for something like the “BRT” plan.  We need someone who has a real vision for a proper transit system and the ability to carry it out, and someone who can navigate, but is not beholden to, local factions.  If that takes some more time, that is fine with us.


— Mayor and Transportation, the Editorial

There was an interesting editorial in the Times regarding the mayor race and transportation.

The transportation tax approved by Hillsborough County voters in November appears enticing to several candidates for Tampa mayor who are offering their own spending plans for improving roads and transit. But while the next mayor will play a major role in shaping Tampa’s transportation future, some of the biggest decisions on the splashiest projects will be outside the city’s control. That’s a reminder that the next mayor must work effectively with other partners on this regional issue, a reality that went unacknowledged in this week’s first major mayoral debate.

True enough.  The editorial then notes that a few mayor candidates have released plans and says:

But the big-ticket projects being considered – from express bus service to a connector between downtown, the University of South Florida and the airport, for starters – would fall to other agencies, from HART, the county’s mass transit provider, to the state and federal governments. The one-cent transportation sales tax would provide Tampa an additional $30 million per year, enough to accelerate road paving and other routine maintenance and to subsidize some mass transit in the urban core. HART, by comparison, stands to receive an additional $136 million per year, more than four times the city’s share. And HART – not the city – would be the agency attracting any state and federal matching funds for start-up costs and operations of any expanded mass transit system.

Again, true. The editorial then notes that all the candidates must come up with more than a wish list and tell us

How would they use transportation to make the neighborhoods safer and more vibrant? How would they better connect residents to jobs and major destinations? How would they work with area mayors and other leaders to improve mobility throughout Tampa Bay? With the debates under way the mayoral election less than two months away, it’s time for voters to look beyond the platitudes for candidates with a coherent message and an achievable vision. That will be key in electing a mayor who can build on Hillsborough’s transportation vote for the good of the entire region.

Once again, we agree, but we would emphasize that the plans should fully include the nearby unincorporated areas around the city (as we have noted many times, many of those areas are closer to downtown and Westshore than many parts of the incorporated city and include things like Bristol-Myers Squibb’s offices next to the airport and a decent chunk of the airport itself) that feed workers and consumers (and traffic) into the city for practical transportation reasons and because, as was learned in the past, without those areas, there would be no referendum money to even discuss.  While, as was said in one candidate forum, it is often true that:

. . . Tampa’s next mayor has a big microphone.

“The mayor of Tampa is the single-most important political position in the region,” he said.

The Mayor will only be a voice regarding any larger system and will not be the final decision-maker. They can propose and advocate but cannot bring a project to completion. Whoever is Mayor needs to be able to play nicely with and remember the needs of others.

(And, of course, we want to know their view on TBX/TB(n)X?  And if it changed, why did they change it?)


— Ferry Update

In what comes as no surprise to us, the Cross Bay Ferry is doing well.

The ferry service connecting Tampa and St. Petersburg is outperforming what it accomplished when it launched the previous year, making the demand for it more evident.

HMS Ferries Inc., the operator of the Cross Bay Ferry, reported seeing an uptick in passengers in November 2018, when it relaunched, and in December 2018. In November, it saw 9,268 passengers and in December it saw 8,811 passengers, bringing the total to 17,079 passengers.

The numbers, shared by Schifino Lee Advertising & Branding, one of two agencies handling marketing for the project, represents a 35 percent increase in passengers compared to 2016-17 season when the ferry had 7,606 in November 2016 and 5,063 in December 2016.

That is fine, but our issue with the ferry remains.  It is still more an attraction/fun cruise than a real part of a regional transportation system.  Until that changes (like running every weekday), the ferry is largely irrelevant to the transportation discussion.


— Consequences

ABC Action News has an interesting piece on Glen Avenue in West Tampa.  (With video here)

Neighbors in West Tampa are pushing for a number of road safety upgrades, citing a number of traffic and infrastructure concerns.

Some are specifically concerned about Glen Avenue, where they say the road is narrow with deep ditches on each side. There’s also a lack of sidewalks.

Another major concern is that the upgrades on Himes Avenue have made it more challenging to turn left, West Tampa residents say drivers are using neighborhood residential streets as cut-throughs and are often speeding.

You can read more about the challenges, like no sidewalks and a narrow road, in the article.

Jean Duncan, director of City of Tampa’s Transportation and Stormwater Services Department, said while there are no specific updates regarding Glen Ave., there are plans for a new sidewalk on Tampania Ave. from Columbus Dr. to Tampa Bay Blvd. There are also plans for some resurfacing work planned for this area, Duncan said..

That’s fine, but it does not do much for Glen and the people who live on it.  Many of the problems encountered on streets like Glen are longstanding.  Why the road was built without sidewalks, curbs, and with drainage ditches in a classic cheap Florida style is probably lost to history.  However, one thing that is clear – the changes (we don’t really think they are “upgrades”) to streets like Himes have broader consequences.  (We are not sure what the actual motivation of the changes was but they have some obvious problems, like making it hard for people coming off residential streets to turn left.  Where are they going to go?  Is it more likely that they going to turn right on Himes then make a U-turn or just drive on residential streets to go south?  And if the changes were to promote walking and biking, how will that work without sidewalks and with very narrow roads with drainage ditches in the neighborhood?)

It is not that we do not want Himes and street like it to be more functional. It is just that, as with many streets, it appears the changes were made without looking at the larger area and considering the practical ramifications.  Streets do not exist in a vacuum, and they should not be designed or altered as though they do.


West Tampa (a/k/a North Hyde Park) – Ugh

Speaking of things not existing in a vacuum, we have commented a number of times on a project proposed for 514 North Rome.  (See, for instance, “West Tampa (a/k/a North Hyde Park) – Another Cookie Cutter Project”)  The project has always been problematic because it lacks sufficient retail in a developing urban area.  Moreover, it is instructive because what the City Council does with the project tells us a lot about the vision of the council members for Tampa.  So, as you can guess, they approved it.  Because it is on point, we quote extensively from URBN Tampa Bay:

Yesterday, the Tampa City Council gave final approval to a project in North Hyde Park that we had opposed. By a margin of 4-3, the council approved the residential project with token retail at 514 North Rome. The project has 226 residential units, 1,100 square feet of retail space, and 348 parking spaces.

Reddick, Maniscalco, and Capin voted against the project. Suarez, Cohen, Viera, and Miranda voted in favor of the project.

Our main beef with the project is the lack of commercial space, specifically along Rome. In order to make North Hyde Park a mixed-use live, work, play community the various residential projects proposed for the neighborhood need retail space to walk to, to support all of the new residents. Otherwise, the residents have to drive to go anywhere anyway, despite the urban location. North Hyde Park should not be a bedroom community. 1,100 square feet of retail (roughly the size of one apartment) is woefully insufficient to support all of the residents in the project.

Residents understand that the projects city council approves, define what kind of community we become in the future. We think it will be an uphill climb for any candidate who is supportive of this kind of project to win favor with urban core voters. Particularly since Tampa’s urban community has called for code reform in NHP to ensure walkable development for several years. The city council has had all of the time they need to establish an overlay in NHP, as they have in other urban core neighborhoods. Taxpayers have invested tens of millions into Julian B Lane Park nearby. A major cycling facility is about to be developed through this neighborhood along Cass St. All of which came out of the Invision Tampa public outreach process. Where are the corresponding reforms to land use to ensure the walkable vision the community has for this part of the city is realized? 

That is all correct.  Moreover, we noted a number of times regarding the issues on Howard that the City Council had a chance to avoid those problems by creating a proper district in North Hyde Park.  They never did.  As is far too common, instead of being proactive, they are reacting.  That is no way to plan and build a proper city.


Hyde Park/Downtown – Garages for All

As you may remember, when Altis Grand Central was first proposed, the City Council rejected.  It was tweaked positively, and they approved it.  One thing they never addressed was that the parking garage would be the tallest, most prominent feature of the building.  Now the building is almost done.   Well,

From Altis Grand Central – click on picture for Facebook page

From Altis Grand Central – click on picture for Facebook page

As you can see, the parking garage is the tallest, most prominent part of the building.  We get that they need parking, but it does not have to be (and should not be) the main feature of the building.  The two new complexes in this area, this and Manor Riverwalk, have garages as the most prominent feature. (And that does not even address the garages in the Lafayette Square proposal.)  That is no way to redevelop or build an attractive urban neighborhood.


West Tampa (a/k/a West River) – Begin

The long discussed West River redevelopment project is about to begin (though we were told it would begin a while back):

Construction crews hired by the Tampa Housing Authority will on Monday begin work on the first of several buildings that will eventually comprise the West River redevelopment project, a mixed-income community slated to change the face of West Tampa.

* * *

The new building will go up at the corner of Rome Avenue and Main Street, featuring 160 affordable-rate units for senior citizens. It will sit near the former site of North Boulevard Homes, where more than 2,000 low-income residents were relocated to make room for the redevelopment.

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

You may remember the site plan:

From Florida Future at SkycraperCity – click on picture for post

While we don’t love this building (particularly the surface and first floor parking, inadequate retail, and general lack of street interaction), it is better than what was there before.  We will be interested to see whether 1) the Housing Authority has learned from Encore and 2) whether the other buildings in “West River” will be but more urban in design.


Westshore – (Not) A Lot

It appears that AAA will be changing their presence in the Westshore area now that they have a new HQ off Waters.  There is now a website touting sale of their office building (here). It also indicates that AAA will be building basically an outparcel office/car repair facility (something like this apparently) where the bridal store was just north of their office.

 

From Commercial Real Estate Services Advisors’ 1515 Westshore website – click on picture for website

From Commercial Real Estate Services Advisors’ 1515 Westshore website – click on picture for website

From Commercial Real Estate Services Advisors’ 1515 Westshore website – click on picture for website

As you can see from the “aerial” above, the property has much potential, though it is questionable whether a car repair shop is the best use of that Westshore frontage or contributes to an urban environment along that key corridor.  We get that people need their cars fixed and AAA has that land already, but that aspect of the change is disappointing.  Not surprising given what has been built around it recently, but disappointing.

In other Westshore news, the Austin Center property (on the right of the “aerial” above), which was touted for a big, urban redevelopment has been sold.   The new owners say that, at some point, they would like to redevelop it.  We’ll see.


Airport – Record(s)

The airport hit a new record for passengers in 2018:

The numbers are in and we continue to shatter records! We are up 8.5 percent in passenger growth year over year from 2017 to 2018 reaching 21,289,390 passengers in 2018. . .

That is all good.  We hope for more good news this year.

Over at St. Pete-Clearwater,

With 2,237,440 passengers in 2018, St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport set a record for the fourth year in a row, officials said Wednesday.

Passenger traffic grew 9 percent from 2017.Despite the annual gain, passenger counts in December were 9 percent lower than the same month the year before. If not for that monthly dip, the airport’s annual numbers might have registered their sixth double-digit increase in a row.

Breaking records is great, but we still worry about the St. Pete-Clearwater’s reliance on one airline.


Port – More Making

There was more news about manufacturing at the Port:

Cemex Construction Materials Florida LLC currently leases two sites at the port one is where it operates a cement handling terminal at Berth 3.

The West Palm Beach-based company wants to lease roughly 5 additional acres of land from the port so it can handle more cement products, fly ash, industrial slag, limestone and more. It also wants to build a ready-mix concrete plant.

* * *

The lease for the 5 acres, if approved on Jan. 15, would be for 20 years. The first year year would be $66,690. The rent for the second year would be $247,000. In the lease years three through 20, the rent would be based on the rent for the second lease year and adjusted.

The minimal annual tonnage would be 200,000 tons starting July 2020.

Cemex Florida would be responsible for all utilities, real estate taxes, site improvements and maintenance.

Cemex, the Mexico-based parent company, has more than 270 ready-mix concrete plants across the U.S. with nearly 160 ready-mix facilities throughout its Florida and mid-south regions.

It is not huge, but every bit of business counts.


Economic Development – Known Knowns

The Times had an about the cost of living that made a solid point, if not anything new.

The Tampa Bay area is often touted for its low cost of living, especially compared to places like New York City or Washington, D.C. The lack of a state income tax makes it particularly attractive for retirees who sell expensive houses up north and bring fat 401(k)s.

But what about the rest of us? The ones who work here. How affordable is it?

More often, we aren’t scoring that well.

In a recent look at housing affordability, our metro area placed in the bottom quarter. In the Tampa Bay Partnership’s competitiveness report released in December, we ranked 17th out of 20 peer cities when it came to the cost of transportation.

And just a few days ago, WalletHub released a report that looked at the best states to raise a family. Florida ranked 39th overall, tucked between North Carolina and Arizona.

(WalletHub report here) How to explain that?

Affordability is a two-step equation: How much does something cost, and what’s the capacity to pay for it? Those stubbornly low wages make it harder to afford things like child care, doctors visits and saving for retirement, even if they cost the same as they do in those other cities.

Sure, some things are more expensive in those places. But the reverse is true, too. We generally pay more for car and homeowner’s insurance. Our property taxes can be higher.

Besides, look at the wide gap between us and them in those income figures. Is it really that much more expensive to live in St. Louis? No, it costs less, according to most cost-of-living calculators.

The fact is that affordability is relative.  Low wages area good for the people paying the wages but not so good for the people earning the wages.  And our low wages are a problem, especially when you consider that major costs such as transportation and maintaining housing (though not necessarily buying it in the first place) are high.  (Our house prices are relatively low, but they are also often high relative to wages.)  While that may attract employers looking for low-cost employees, low wages and high relative costs are not generally a draw for ambitious talent.

Those costs (not to mention helping attract higher paying jobs and talent) are one of the reasons we need real transportation alternatives.


Channel District – The Sign

There are few things that Water Street has done that we do not like (we are still waiting to see what kind of awnings or other real shelter they provide).  And while it is not exactly something we don’t like, we have a suggestion about one thing. We are talking about a sign at Sparkman Wharf.

Looking good, Tampa! We love the new installation at Sparkman Wharf. What a great new spot to show off our beautiful city!

From Water Street – click on picture for Facebook page

We understand what they are doing.  They are covering up the view of a parking lot with an Instagram-ready feature.  We have no problem with that.  We actually think it is a good idea. We would just suggest a tweak: make it so that the street light is not right in the middle of every picture.  Either make the background wall a little higher or just slide the whole sign down the walkway a bit.  Just a thought.


Rays

There was some more Rays news.  You can read it here and here.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State

While some still push for the “BRT” plan on I-275, Sunshine Citizens noted something interesting in Broward County (where a transportation referendum also passed in the election):

From Broward County. “The Broward County Commission will hold a public hearing on Tuesday, January 29, 2019, at 10:00 a.m., at the Broward County Governmental Center, Room 422, 115 South Andrews Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, to receive public input on the proposed elimination of the Broward County Transit Division’s 95 Express Route 107 between Pembroke Pines and Hollywood to the Miami Civic Center and downtown Miami, due to ridership levels below performance standards agreed-upon between the Florida Department of Transportation (funding partner) and Broward County.”

You can find the route information here.

Interestingly, Broward County lists some alternatives:

Alternative transportation options:

Alternative transportation options are available for riders traveling between Pembroke Pines and downtown Miami.

These options include utilizing:

Note that Tri-Rail is listed.  There may be some specific details about why this particular express bus is not performing well, but it is not really encouraging, especially when our local proposal is so obviously flawed.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country


— About Malls

Last week we wrote about Westshore and University Malls and the proposed changes to them.  Interestingly, also last week there was this news out of LA:

The Westside Pavilion shopping mall will soon be home to nearly 600,000 square feet of Google offices, mall owners announced today.

Google has signed a 14-year lease for the entirety of the office space, which will be known as One Westside when it is complete in 2022. This adds to an already long roster of office space Google is already renting on the Westside.

One Westside will be “a first-of-its-kind conversion” from shopping mall to creative office space, according to Macerich and Hudson Pacific Properties, which own the mall.

This is the location of the mall.  As you can see, it is a much more urban layout than either Tampa mall.  You can see renderings of the proposal here. That is also much more urban.  And it is Google, so they have more money to spend on whatever they are doing. But that, not multiplying outparcels, is how you repurpose a mall.


— Scooters

Tampa is moving towards having electric scooters. URBN Tampa Bay referenced an article about the experience in a few other cities that is definitely worth reading (here).

The article has a number of interesting points, but the things that really caught our attention was the discussion of the relation to bike infrastructure and using bike lanes. The scooter plan in Tampa is to force users onto sidewalks (sidewalk use is allowed in some places in Nashville, but not “a business district” in contrast to Tampa’s idea which will force scooters on to sidewalks in business districts).  Look at the pictures in the article and you will notice that all of them feature scooters in bike lanes.  (And note the picture of the pop-up bike/scooter lane – here – has the lane next to the curb being buffered by parking, to like most of the bike lanes in Tampa.)  We are not opposed to scooters, but think they really belong in protected bike lanes.


— Boring

Getting back to LA, we ran across this interesting take on the Boring Company project to build transportation tunnels to move cars around. (here)   It gets to the heart of much of the hype around many new transportation ideas. This is the conclusion:

Before they start digging the next tunnel, I’d ask the people working at the Boring Company to figure out why exactly they don’t like crossing Crenshaw Boulevard—and instead of building ways to avoid it, design a solution that actually benefits all the people who use it.

While we do not necessarily agree with every word of the article, it is worth a read.

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Roundup 1-11-2019

January 10, 2019

Contents

Westshore/USF Area – On Malls

— End/Beginning of an Era

— Uptown Funk

Transportation/Built Environment – Odds and Ends

— Yes, But

— Brightline

— On Cities, Cars and Transit

Transportation/Planning – Maybe Not

Economy – Port Value

Downtown – Riverwalk Place

Downtown/Channel District – Will Water Street Offices

Downtown – More Banking?

Downtown – Finally?

Downtown – Finally II

Downtown – Not Now

Blink . . .

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

_________________________________________


Westshore/USF Area – On Malls


— End/Beginning of an Era

In our last Roundup we discussed the proposal for repurposing the Sears store land and nearby surface parking at Westshore Plaza.  We have a generally favorable opinion of the proposal, as long as it is diligent in its urban design.  And, while the proposal has an unknown schedule, there was more news at the end of December:

The latest nail in the coffin for Sears stores came Friday in an announcement that an additional 80 stores will close — including the WestShore Plaza location.

According to a list released Thursday by parent company Sears Holdings, the WestShore Plaza store will be shuttered by late January along with the others “as part of Sears Holdings’ processes to accelerate its strategic transformation and facilitate its financial restructuring.”

That should help the scheduling.


— Uptown Funk

There was also news about another mall repurposing/renovation/etc.  This time it involves University Mall a/k/a Uptown.  From URBN Tampa Bay:

University Mall is moving forward with a comprehensive plan amendment to redevelop its property into a mixed-use town center known as “Uptown”. Below are some of the conceptual plans. The project includes a wide mix of uses including retail, residential, office, medical, academic, and more.

What is proposed specifically is a new category on the future land use map of the comprehensive plan, which would be called ICMU-35 (Innovation Corridor Mixed Use). The new category would give the developer greater flexibility in how it develops the residential portion of the development and allow a wider range of uses. (And potentially higher residential densities thanks to a proposal to allow residential development to use units per acre or FAR (2.0) to calculate how many units are allowed to be built).

The land in question is currently zoned UMU-20 (Urban Mixed Use) and R-20 (Residential), with the new land use category proposed to be limited to the University Mall site, and a few parcels just north of the mall along N 22nd St.

And some news from one of the USF area economic development leaders in the comment section:

Mark Sharpe The Development team at UPTOWN: an Innovation City (iCity) will be making some very exciting announcements starting in January 2019 regarding medical, scientific and technology players and projects beginning to converge and develop, on a national scale, in the heart of what will soon be seen as Florida’s largest and most tech-productive Medical District.

We hope so, but how will it be laid out? Here are some of the renderings and site plans:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

 

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

 

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

 

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

 

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

It is a bit difficult to really grasp what is being presented because the images and the rhetoric seem disconnected.  The rhetoric is essentially to create a live, work, play environment with a medical cluster and housing in urban setting on the present mall property.  What is presented is more like repurposing and recladding the mall with some housing added.  Aside from adding some housing, there is no real urban design to the overall vision presented.  (Like we have said before, it is more Wiregrass/Wesley Chapel than urban Main Street.)  We get that the ideas presented are not necessarily the final product, but having all that parking is definitely not making the best use of the land.   And there is no logical street circulation through the project and no real connection to the areas around the property.

We are not even going to get into restaurant row (aside from the fact there is a gas station there right now).  Nothing could be less urban than playing to the mess that is Fowler.  If this is what we get, it is a wasted opportunity.

As for the request for a new planning category, we have no idea what an “innovation” category is.  It seems to mean a just another kind of “mixed use,” though “mixed use” is not that innovative, at least not outside this area.  But whatever.

The bottom line is that, aside from the rhetoric, we see little about this project to really get excited about, except maybe some of the housing and the hope that there will be a medical cluster of some sort (which would definitely be a positive thing).  That is not to say that there may not be more in the future, but, as of right now, it just seems like an opportunity to anchor a real transformation of the area is going to be, if not lost, then not truly taken.

The bottom line is that the developer can do much better than what we have seen so far.  Hopefully, they will.


Transportation/Built Environment – Odds and Ends


— Yes, But

Which brings us to Fowler and Busch (though we are going to focus on Fowler).

Tampa City Councilman Luis Viera and Tampa Innovation Alliance executive director Mark Sharpe have intensified their calls for traffic calming and safety measures along Fowler and Busch Boulevard, another busy corridor in North Tampa.

* * *

“It’s a speedway,” Sharpe said of Fowler. “It’s fast and it’s dangerous. It’s not designed for businesses along the road, it’s designed to move cars rapidly.”

Fowler is an especially difficult challenge.  It is definitely is a speedway, designed exactly to get cars to the businesses on the road, which are also designed for cars, and USF, which is also for the most part still designed for cars.

In addition to being unsafe, Sharpe said the mechanics and looks of Fowler and Busch are dragging down the development of the area. He said the Innovation Alliance is trying to enhance the areas around USF into an inviting enclave that attracts businesses and provides opportunities to residents. But the safety issues and lack of scenic vistas on the roads that serve as a first impression for many visitors is making that challenging. He said improving those stretches of asphalt should be an imperative for city and county officials.

We agree. Fowler is a mess, and it is ugly (Busch is not much better).  In fact, it is not even well planned/designed by 1970’s standards.

Public transportation remains a key factor in adding safety to the roads. An app called the “Uptowner” will launch May 2019, allowing users to call for a quick ride to businesses in the USF area.

Improved public transit, better speed management programs and safe zones for pedestrians to cross could transform Fowler and Busch into true boulevards, Sharpe and Viera said, where people can safely walk and bike next to the road and drivers move at a steadier speed with less stop and go.

First, there is no real transit. (An app that calls for rides is still car-centric.) Second, there is a lack of east-west roads in north Tampa, a situation which intentionally funnels traffic onto streets like Busch and Fowler.  There has to be a way to get around.  (And it is not just Fowler or Busch.  Bruce B Downs is not walkable.) And, really, crossing Fowler is fine, but to what end?  The buildings are so far apart and sprawling that walking is not really desirable.

As we said a while ago regarding some proposals regarding Fowler in front of USF (see “Transportation – Makeover):

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

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

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

We also found a presentation from the engineer from January . . . On page six, there are some renderings of the road and some diagrams that appear to show all the left turn lanes removed.  We get the aesthetics of narrowing the road and removing turn lanes.  We get that it makes it nicer for people to cross.  However, how exactly is that going to work around USF on a morning when classes are going?  Where are all the cars going to go?

It’s not that we wouldn’t like more transit.  Clearly we would.  But it is not there.  And even autonomous vehicles have to turn. (And, given the layout of USF and the area, it will take people pretty much just as long to walk to autonomous vehicles, get in traffic and go to any lunch spot as it would to get in their own cars, especially if someone is blocking the road trying to turn left.)

The bottom line is that we are all for making the area around USF nicer.  We are all for alternative transportation and making it nicer for walking and biking.  But changes need to be practical, too.  The biggest thing holding a redesign of Fowler around USF back is the layout of USF and the fact that everything in the area has riffed off of USF’s car-centric design.

We do not want to say nothing can be done, because it can.  And we do not want to put down the effort to make the area better.  We are all for it.  And we know the Innovation Alliance leader is working hard on some large issues. Making Fowler a little nicer to experience is good, but we are not sure how the proposed road changes will substantially change the core issues which made the road that way in the first place.

(The engineer report referenced above can be found here)

Since we wrote that, we have learned that, at least for now, the rebuild of the mall will probably have a car-centric restaurant row and massive surface lot rather than anything really walkable on Fowler.  The fact is that there is nothing even mildly walkable about Fowler – the street or the buildings (Busch is a little different at least in width, but the City shows it priorities when it allows things like this.  Though, we guess, at least is has a door on the street, so that is something).

We are all for fixing Busch and Fowler, but simply applying a few new urban planning ideas without establishing any of the conditions for them to function properly should not create any expectations of real change.

If the area had real transit out of traffic that connected USF to its surroundings and planning that included proper design standards that allowed some density and walkability, that might be a real catalyst for change. (And it should be noted that the Innovation Alliance cannot make those changes.  That has to be done by government.)

Fowler needs a full rebuild (and not a restaurant/gas station row to add to the sprawl), and there are no signs of that yet.  Hopefully, a plan that addresses not just roads but the built environment and real transit will be forthcoming.


— Brightline

There were a number of developments regarding Brightline.  First,

Buffeted by oppositional lawsuits, doubts about financing and an identity makeover, Florida’s privately owned, higher-speed train service remains on track to expand from South Florida to Orlando and Tampa, according to a new timetable from its leaders.

Brightline had long indicated that construction of rail from West Palm Beach to Orlando International Airport would start in late 2018.

But the company’s president, Patrick Goddard, told Central Florida transportation officials recently that his Miami-based company in March would issue a construction-start notice to contractors.

Work would take 30 to 36 months and Brightline trains would begin to operate from the Orlando airport train station by late 2021 or early 2022, Goddard said. A large building, with a soaring, distinctive roof, the train station just south of the airport terminal has been substantially complete, though unused for more than a year and now houses Brightline staffers.

Obviously, building that connection is important for the usefulness of any Tampa connection.  Also important is this possibility:

O’Malley said construction for the Orlando-to-Tampa leg would take about as long as the segment from South Florida to Orlando.

His company is contemplating a work schedule for the Tampa corridor that would “overlap” with construction — rather than wait for completion — of the South Florida corridor.

That is ambitious and would definitely speed things up, if it happens (assuming the negotiations with the State and other entities reach a positive conclusion).

Regarding the aforementioned lawsuits:

Brightline cleared a major legal hurdle when its case versus Indian River County was dismissed.

U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper dismissed the motion on Dec. 24 for summary judgment by the county against the rail line, which will be known as Virgin Trains USA in 2019 following a partnership with Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group. Brightline had previously settled on Nov. 20 with the other parties to the case: Martin County and CARE FL (Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida).

* * *

Indian River County had made the case in its suit that U.S. Department of Transportation was above its authority granting bonds to an ineligible project because of federal tax code. The county also brought up safety concerns about the train, claiming the Federal Railway Administration did not give a thorough review of the safety and environmental impacts of the proposed train line.

Cooper disagreed in the ruling, stating that U.S.Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao had reasonably exercised power when issuing the bonds. He also wrote that the project was found to have an overall benefit to safety by the Federal Railway Administration because of the need to improve safety features like at-grade crossings.

Indian River County Assistant County Attorney Kate Pingolt Cotner told Orlando Business Journal the county was reviewing its options with outside counsel.

The dismissal comes as Brightline received a six-month extension from the U.S. Department of Transportation on $1.15 billion worth of activity bonds, according to The Bond Buyer. The extension represents the second time the deadline on the issuance of the debt was extended since it was granted in December 2017.

That should help with the bonds, but there is still opposition.

In other words, things are moving forward, but it is not done until it is done.


— On Cities, Cars and Transit

There was a fine opinion piece in the Times from a transit planner. (here)  We are not going to go over the whole piece.  You can read it for yourself.  However, here are some key points:

Most commentary about urban transportation is a distraction from this simple math. Some commentators decry a ” war on cars,” as though war could change the facts of geometry. Tech entrepreneurs promise us safer cars, sexy cars, greener cars and, eventually, driverless cars . Many of these improvements will be wonderful, but none will change the simple problem: Cities have relatively little space per person. Cars are big. Big things don’t fit in little spaces.

Can car-based technology help with this problem at all? It depends on how we use it. Driverless vehicles could be a great thing in cities, but they will only address the geometric problem if they’re used as taxis rather than owned. In that case, they could abolish most demand for parking. We’d respond, though, by building on all those parking lots. That would mean even more density, which would mean even more people trying to fit down the same streets, which would mean that the need for alternatives to the car would become even more urgent.

Walking and cycling are important parts of the suite of car alternatives, but mass transit is the only solution for transporting large numbers of people over long distances without using much scarce urban space. No other mode can provide liberating transportation to tens of thousands of people per hour in the width of one traffic lane.

Not to mention this:

Most people don’t live in places where transit can fill buses and trains, so of course the transit that most Americans see around them is disappointing and often empty. Most elected leaders expect transit agencies to run buses to low-demand areas for non-ridership reasons, such as lifeline needs or equity. These relatively empty buses are not evidence of transit’s failure because high ridership is not what they are trying to do.

True mass transit — full buses and trains liberating massive numbers of people — consists of intense service focused on places of high density, good walkability and straight paths that transit can follow. ( These, too, are geometric facts. ) That’s why transit does best in dense, walkable cities and is also most indispensable there.

While we do not imagine there will be a city completely without cars (or even that there necessarily should be one), the points in the piece are correct.  (And true mass transit does not mean buses on the highway shoulder having to get off the highway to get to stops.)  Self-driving cars and ridesharing have a place in transportation, but they do not solve congestion or efficient movement. In fact, they create traffic and, thus, congestion.  Real transit is essential.


Transportation/Planning – Maybe Not

A few weeks ago, we discussed the proposal to merge the MPOs of Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Pasco.  At this time (especially without key questions being answered), we are opposed to the idea.  A key official in Pinellas thinks it will not happen:

“We are continuing to work regionally with our partners in Hillsborough and Pasco to develop better transportation solutions for people to travel between the counties with less congestion and better travel time reliability,” [Forward Pinellas Executive Director] Blanton said. “There’s been a push to merge the three MPOs (Metropolitan Panning Organizations) in our counties, but I don’t think that will happen. 

“Instead, my goal is to strengthen our regional decision-making process if we can get Hillsborough to agree.”

That is fine.  We are for strengthening regional cooperation, but not at the price of giving up planning power, especially when local counties are moving forward with planning at different speeds and with different stated (including in elections) goals.  We don’t need merged organizations if they give us more “BRT” plans.  We need real progress.

And in a related note:

On average, in Pinellas County, the number of traffic crashes are up 9 percent. Deaths attributed to these crashes are up 1 percent and injuries are up 3 percent.

Forward Pinellas Board members reviewed the county’s five-year trends, covering 2013-2017 during its last meeting of the year on Nov. 14.

Program Planner Robert Feigel said the main focus of the report was crash data. On average, 28,007 traffic crashes occur each year with 106 deaths and 4,455 injuries. Feigel pointed out that 64 percent of the deaths involved “vulnerable” users, such as bicyclists, pedestrians and motorcyclists. About one in four fatal crashes involve a motorcycle, which is a 6 percent increase, he said.

Pinellas seems ready for some real transportation alternatives.  Maybe they should try again.


Economy – Port Value

We often discuss the Port and the need for it to increase business.  Over the holidays, the Business Journal had an interesting chart regarding the value of cargo going through various ports in Florida (2017 numbers).

From the Business Journal – click on chart for website

We did not make the chart, but we will assume it is basically correct.  The interesting thing about the numbers is that Tampa has the most tonnage of cargo but is fourth and not even close to third in value.

Recently, the Port has had some successes, and we are happy for that.  But it is always helpful to see where you stand relative to others.


Downtown – Riverwalk Place

Riverwalk Place has obtained initial construction financing.

The 52-story Riverwalk Place condominium tower proposed in downtown Tampa has reached one of its most critical milestones to date: securing a $24.5 million loan that will pay for the first phase of construction.

The developer of Riverwalk Place – a joint venture of Feldman Equities, Tower Realty Partners and Two Roads Development – confirmed the loan to the Tampa Bay Business Journal.  The loan, from California-based Mosaic Real Estate Credit LLC, was finalized Dec. 21, according to a mortgage filed Jan. 3 in Hillsborough County.

A timeline for beginning construction hasn’t been disclosed, though the developers said the loan will pay for foundation work and to demolish the CapTrust Building to make way for the condo tower.  The group pulled its foundation and demolition permits in October.  Those permits expire in April.

Hopefully, it gets going soon.  It has been a long time since this area had a new tallest building.


Downtown/Channel District – Will Water Street Offices

There was news that Water Street might move forward with its office buildings faster than originally thought.

Strategic already had planned to break ground on the first office tower, at 1001 Water Street, next to the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute building, this spring. That 20-story tower is expected to include about 380,000 square feet of office space, a green plaza shared with the USF med school and nine large terraces, plus a rooftop terrace.

When Strategic unveiled details for the office buildings last September, executives said the construction schedule for the second, 19-story building at 400 Channelside Drive would depend on how leasing goes.

It’s going well, said Nozar, Strategic’s CEO. With 500,000 square feet of space, 400 Channelside will be Water Street Tampa’s largest office project, and “we want to pre-lease a certain portion of the building before we start construction.”

“The leasing velocity has been so strong on Sparkman Wharf and 1001 Water Street that we feel very confident that we’ll break ground on (400 Channelside) before the end of the year,” he said. “That building is fully designed now, and we’re teeing it up to be shovel-ready and to be able to break ground on a moment’s notice when we’re ready.”

While there have been no leasing announcements, it seems that there is progress, which is good.  And, note:

A parking garage for that building as well as Amalie Arena will also begin construction with 400 Channelside.

 

From Water Street – click on picture for website

Even without 400 Channelside, there will be a large amount of construction going on around Water Streets.  The JW Marriott and 815 Water Street are underway.  And

1001 Water Street, at the northeast intersection of Channelside Drive and Water Street, will be the first of Water Street’s 2019 groundbreakings. It’s 380,000 square feet in 20 stories and will break ground speculatively, whether tenants have committed to the property or not.

That groundbreaking is loosely scheduled for May or June, around the same time that the Edition Tampa, a boutique hotel and condominiums, will also break ground. The Edition has been tweaked slightly since its initial unveiling; it’s now 172 hotel rooms and 35 condos that will range from 2,500 to 9,000 square feet. (It was previously 46 condos.)

* * *

In the fall and winter, two additional residential buildings will break ground, 1010 Water Street (475 units with ground floor retail) and 1077 Water Street (378 units with ground floor retail). A parking garage for both of those residential towers as well as the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine will begin construction along with those towers.

There is a lot going on there, and we are very happy about it.


Downtown – More Banking?

A prime downtown lot that was, a while ago, the proposed site for a large apartment/condo project, has been acquired:

Twin brothers John and Jason Accardi say they have acquired the surface parking lot at 801 N. Ashley Drive, between the Element apartment tower and William F. Poe Parking Garage. The Accardis own and operate Seven One Seven Parking Services Inc., a national parking and valet company.

The acquisition of the 1-acre lot is the latest in a series of purchases the Accardis have made in the last three months. At the end of November, the brothers purchased a full city block at 602 E. Cass St.; in October, they acquired the Le Meridien parking garage.

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

As usual, we do not really care who owns a lot, we just care about what they are going to do with it.

“The acquisition of this flagship property is an ideal addition to our current Downtown Tampa real estate portfolio,” Jason Accardi said in a statement. “We are very excited to begin to investigate its long-term development possibilities while continuing to accommodate downtown’s growing parking storage needs.” 

The lot is currently used for both public parking and for TECO employees.

Surface parking is definitely not the best use for the land.  Hopefully (we seem to be saying that a lot this Roundup, but it is a new year), that will not last long.


Downtown – Finally?

As some may know, when the original Tampa City Center project was put together (at the time known as the “Quad block” for self-evident reasons), there were plans for two office buildings and a hotel.  In the event, only one office building (One Tampa City Center) and one hotel (what is now the Hilton) were built with a surface parking lot south of the hotel.  Now, according to URBN Tampa Bay:

The Hilton Downtown is looking to convert their surface lot at the northeast corner of Whiting St. and Tampa St. into a lot for future development:

“The Applicant desires to separate Fee Parcels 6 and 7 from the Hilton Downtown Tampa Development and to create a separate, individual parcel for potential future development. All parcels within the Hilton Downtown Tampa Development are zoned CBD-2, and Parcels 6 and 7 are currently being used as a surface parking lot. Because part of the Hilton Hotel’s required parking is found on Parcel 6, the Applicant is also electing to pay the Fee in Lieu of Parking Fee to ensure the Hilton Hotel remains in compliance with its zoning. There are currently 30 parking spaces on Parcel 6 that are part of the Hilton’s required parking. Accordingly, the Fee in Lieu of Parking Fee to be paid in connection with the separate of Parcels 6 and 7 from the remainder of the Hilton Downtown Tampa Development would be $185,198.40 (i.e., 30 times $6,173.28).

This is the lot:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

This is a picture from an old Downtown Development Authority annual report from the early 80s a reader sent us which shows, at the top of the picture, an early conceptual idea of the second office building (just ignore all that stuff on the waterfront at the bottom where the arena now is):

From a Downtown Development Authority Report, early 80’s

We are all for the change.  There is no reason that lot should not be developed.  (And there is no reason the City should have parking rules that get in the way of developing it, especially with a large municipal parking garage and the streetcar right next door.)


Downtown – Finally II

The Tempo building at Encore is finally opening.

After two years of delay, a crooked contractor that was fired twice and at least two lawsuits, low-income families and renters are finally moving into a new $26 million apartment block on the edge of downtown Tampa.

The Tampa Housing Authority began last week relocating families to the troubled Tempo at Encore, a seven-story complex will provide much-needed subsidized housing for about 132 families and also include 71 apartments that will be offered at market rates. 

You can read the article here to review the saga.  We just hope the Housing Authority has learned from all the issues that arose with this building because:

A litany of construction problems meant frustrating delays for residents. More than 7,000 families are on the waiting list to live in one of the 132 subsidized apartments. Overall, almost 30,000 people are on the Housing Authority’s waiting list for low-cost housing.

That is a need that will likely grow and, while there are plans for more affordable housing, the need is already greater than the plans.


Downtown – Not Now

There was also news about the proposed apartment building next to the Straz.  From URBN Tampa Bay:

Plans to build a 33 story, 271-unit apartment tower across from the Straz Center have been cancelled, but the developer is planning to come back with a new design. We received this note from city staff:

“Applicant has determined that a new design is required for this project. A new DDR application is required for the redesign.”

We cannot say we are surprised by this.  This proposal has been out there a long time, and the rebuilding or the roads has not even been done.  There are a number of possible uses (or mixed uses) for this location.  Hopefully, any new proposal will not be a downsizing.  And, it goes without saying, but we will say it anyway, anything proposed here should be very well designed – not like some other projects on land sold by the City downtown.


Blink . . .

The Times featured an article on blinking crosswalks:

They have a clunky sounding name — “rectangular rapid flashing beacons.” But the electronic crosswalk signs that have been popping up all over Tampa Bay in recent years have a clear purpose.

Transportation planners say they’re helping to prevent accidents in one of the nation’s most deadly regions for walkers and bikers. And they have plans to install even more of them.

The blinking, amber signals are designed for mid-block locations where people tend to cross the street illegally, even though an intersection is 200 feet or so down the road.

Pedestrians at those spots often are headed to high-demand destinations, so traffic engineers figure they’ll be crossing regardless. The goal is to create a logical walkway.

* * *

“You can put a traffic signal every quarter of a mile, but sometimes you still don’t see people crossing where they should,” said Hillsborough County traffic management engineer Brian Gentry. “If they’re actually doing it, you want to make it as safe as possible.”

Sometimes people don’t cross where they should, but you can’t put a crosswalk everywhere either. (And, as much as we want to promote walkability and bikeability, it should be remembered that pedestrians and cyclists are not supposed to just cross streets at random locations.) If the roads and stoplight system were properly designed to deal with pedestrians and cars alike, we would not have such a big problem.

And then there is this:

People who want to cross without walking to a traffic signal can hit the button, which activates a rectangular flashing light. The light, which flashes in an irregular pattern, indicates cars and bikes are required to stop until the pedestrian has crossed those lanes of traffic.

Hundreds of the special crosswalks now exist on popular roadways such as Gulf Boulevard along Pinellas County’s beaches, Fourth Street in St. Petersburg and Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa. However, many people still don’t know exactly how they’re supposed to interact with them.

Drivers make the mistake of not stopping when they should, or waiting longer than required. Some pedestrians hesitate to trigger the signal, not wanting to be rude for stopping traffic. Others don’t push the button at all, not realizing the flashing beacon is the necessary signal to motorists.

“That’s one thing we need to be doing more with is education, because people don’t understand how they should be using them,” Gentry said.

The crosswalks are a not really intuitive for drivers (or pedestrians).  And the fact that drivers do not always have to stop adds to the problem.  As URBN Tampa Bay points out:

Everyone knows a flashing yellow light is a ‘use caution’ signal, not necessarily a signal to stop. Which is why so many people don’t stop for RRFBs. To tell motorists to stop, that would either require a flashing red light, which is treated like a stop sign, or an actual red light, which is what they should be using.

Stoplights provide predictability and order to everyone, which, in and of itself, provides a level of safety.  The yellow blinking crosswalks simply don’t.

The reality is that in the vast majority of cases, the yellow crosswalks are 1) tacit acknowledgement of the poorness of local planning and road design and 2) tacit acknowledgement that cars still take precedence because putting a red light will annoy too many drivers.  We want a walkable area as much as anyone, but reliance on the blinking yellow crosswalks is not a substitute for decent planning and design.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

The federal government is giving out some money for transit projects, like in Seattle.

The Puget Sound region will receive nearly $1.2 billion in federal money to help build a light-rail line to Lynnwood, the Federal Transit Administration announced Thursday, putting to an end two years of uncertainty spurred by soaring construction costs and the Trump administration’s stated hostility toward funding transit projects.

The FTA announced the agreement — the largest transit grant it has awarded since President Donald Trump took office — and at the same time tried to push back on the idea that the administration has been reluctant to fund transit projects.

“This grant agreement represents the department’s commitment to Sound Transit and the Seattle region to help mitigate congestion in one of the nation’s fastest-growing areas,” acting FTA Administrator K. Jane Williams said in a phone interview. “The administration continues to advance projects through the program in accordance with the law.”

She said that the fact that most of Lynnwood Link’s $3.2 billion funding comes from local taxes helped move the grant process along.

You can read more here.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World

Previously we noted the introduction of hydrogen fueled trains in Germany.  Now, they are coming to the UK.

Silent, water-emitting hydrogen-fuelled trains are to become reality in less than three years on some main lines across the UK, under ambitious plans to convert existing diesel rolling stock.

Polluting diesel engines are to be stripped out and replaced with hydrogen tanks on as many as 100 trains, under the preliminary terms of the deal.

The arrangement between UK rolling stock owner Eversholt and French firm Alstom will convert existing Class 321 trains, which were built in 1988 and are used on the Greater Anglican network.

The new trains will have a top speed of 90mph and the project has been named “Breeze”.

As we also noted previously, there is a lot of potential hydrogen around here.

January 3, 2019

Because the timing of the holidays (and news cycle) this year, we decided to relax a little more.  Consequently, there will be no Roundup this week.

Happy New Year

December 27, 2018

There will be no Roundup this week.

Roundup 12-21-2018

December 20, 2018

Contents

Economy/Economic Development – Benchmarks

Westshore – Surprise

Governance/Planning/Transportation – Of MPO’s

Transportation – Grants

Hyde Park/South Tampa – Hyde Park House

Ybor City/Downtown/Channel District – For Sale

Downtown – Convention Center Expansion

Rays – Stuff

Port – Deal

St. Pete – Walk/Bike Pete

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State

— Brightline

— Miami

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

— OKC

— Texas Transit

Meanwhile, In the Rest of North America

_____________________________________________________________


Economy/Economic Development – Benchmarks

Last week we mentioned the Tampa Bay Partnership benchmarking study for this year.  We admit we still haven’t dissected it as fully as we would like, but others have written more about it.  Let’s start with a Times column looking the talent theme.

No doubt, we’ve made gains, long ago shedding the reputation of being God’s waiting room. We aren’t just a place outsiders want to visit for a week of sunshine and roller coasters. Fortune 500 companies were born here. One — The Mosaic Co. — decided earlier this year to move its headquarters here.

But measuring against our previous selves can lead to a lot of pats on the back, while the competition eats our lunch. It’s a given that we should be improving. The real test is by how much.

Does that last point sound familiar?

But back to the drilling down in the study. From Florida Politics:

But the number one risk factor for the region, according to Tampa Bay Partnership Director of Policy and Research Dave Sobush, is the region’s slow job growth rate. The region came in at No. 13 in that metric and it’s the third consecutive year of decline.

That means while the Tampa Bay area population is on the rise — it’s expected to jump from today’s 4.7 million to more than 5 million by 2023 — jobs are not keeping pace.

The region performs well in hospitality and retail areas, but its stature in emerging innovation industries shows room for improvement. Part of the reason for job growth stagnation might have to do with an opportunity identified in last year’s report shocking those who studied it — Tampa Bay’s talent pool is not where it needs to be.

High school graduation rates in the region are the lowest of all Florida cities evaluated at 81 percent. That number falls to just 74 percent among economically disadvantaged students. The region is second to last in all three post-secondary education areas including two-year, four-year and graduate degree attainment.

A bright spot — Tampa Bay falls in the middle of the pack nationwide for the number of certifications issued.

Still, it’s not enough to keep pace.

“We’ve got a market that’s growing with people, but not necessarily in value,” Sobush said.

The difference between the public statements of officials and what shows up in this report is very interesting.  (We haven’t heard a lot about job growth stagnation in recent years.) We understand that the report covers a large area and certain public officials may be speaking about a smaller area (like their jurisdiction), but the report shows the dangers of believing your own, or your officials’, hype.  In any event, back to the Times on talent:

The provocative report has a section just on talent. What leaps out? Tampa Bay couldn’t break the top 10 in any of the 12 talent indicators. Not one. It wasn’t even close in most of them.

Not in high school graduation rates. Not in associate’s or bachelor’s degrees. Not in how many working age people have a job or are looking for one.

The report kindly refers to these as “cracks” in our economic foundation. I suppose the Grand Canyon is a crack of sorts.

The challenges we face in attracting talent showed up in other parts of the report, like migration, demographics and affordability. Cities, for instance, are competing for the best and brightest of the millennial generation — young people who will start companies, fill engineering jobs, become doctors, install our electrical systems, put down roots, buy houses, be the leaders of tomorrow, if they aren’t already leaders today.

Want to dissuade millennials? Ignore your transit system and price them out with high housing costs compared to how much they get paid. Right there, that’s two strikes against us.

Tampa Bay ranked last among the 20 cities in transit ridership, thanks to our anemic system. We didn’t do much better in affordability, ranking in the bottom quarter when housing and transportation costs were compared to average incomes.

Seattle ranked third in affordability, despite sky-high housing prices. How? Workers in that city had the highest incomes, just under $75,000.

Yes, Seattle has Amazon, Microsoft and tens of thousands of Boeing workers. All those programmers, engineers and executives might skew the overall average, but what a good problem to have. Besides, the report shows that the Emerald City also pays its service-sector workers almost $49,000, more than any of the cities and almost twice what we pay here.

Pretty much (and that seems a bit different from this or this)  Here are some more details:

Talent: How we stack up

When compared to 19 similar metro areas in the latest Regional Competitiveness Report, Tampa Bay didn’t fare well on 12 measures of talent — who’s working now and how does the pipeline look. The area did not rank higher than 11th in any of the categories.

Measure | Ranked No. 1 | Tampa Bay’s rank

Share of 3- and 4-year-olds in school | Miami | 13th

High school graduation rate | Austin | 15th

High school graduation rate: economically disadvantaged | Austin | 15th

Share of 16- to 24-year-olds neither employed or in school | Raleigh-Durham | 17th

Academic/technical certificates per 10,000 residents | Phoenix | 11th

Associate’s degrees or higher | Raleigh-Durham | 19th

Bachelor’s degree or higher | Raleigh-Durham | 19th

Graduate or professional degree | Baltimore | 19th

Residents 25- to 34-year-olds ith a bachelor’s degree or higher | Raleigh-Durham | 19th

Labor force participation rate ages 25 to 64 | Minneapolis-St. Paul | 20th (last)

Associate’s degree production/10,000 residents | Phoenix | 15th

STEM* degree production/10,000 residents | Raleigh-Durham 12th

*Science, technology, engineering or math 

So what to do with all that?

The talent category stood out to Rick Homans, too. He’s the CEO of the Tampa Bay Partnership, which authored the report in collaboration with United Way Suncoast and the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay. There is an “obvious disconnect” between what employers need and how we are training potential employees, he told me. He also referred to our approach to building talent as “fragmented.”

But the data gives us the building blocks for progress, he said. It reveals opportunities, the levers to pull so we can be more competitive with our peer cities. Improving transit options, for instance, can help our poverty ranking by making more jobs accessible to more people. Retaining more college grads can push down the unemployment rate, in good times and bad.

He also sees potential in what some of our peer cities are doing. Many cities focus on luring companies, so that workers will follow. Dallas-Fort Worth, the report points out, has focused more on attracting skilled workers so that companies will follow.

Getting people who do not have other means of transportation to their jobs is necessary (though the “BRT” plan the Partnership is promoting will not do that).  But the bigger issue with talent and transit is choice riders, because the talent they trying to woo will have a choice.  If the best you do is give them a bad bus while other cities have good transit, why would they choose you?

More broadly, much of the discussion of talent to us seems to get stuck in the chicken and egg discussion.  (Do you attract talent first and that brings the jobs?  Or do you need the jobs first to attract talent?)

Honestly, you need it all.  And you need jobs that pay with potential career development and hopeful futures – not low incomes and lack of affordability.  And you need places to live with amenities that people want.

The bottom line hasn’t changed for a while. From the October 20, 2017:

As we said, there is nothing wrong with trying to sell yourself, as long as you keep everything in perspective (and don’t get too caught up in your own hype). But recycling old talking points in new media will only do so much. And every city is trying to build clusters and talent pools.

In other words, if you answer the question:

if a person can live anywhere (or almost anywhere) they want, why would they choose to live here as opposed to another area that already has so many amenities that we are still talking about?

with “we have no state income tax,” “we have beer” or “we can turn Monday into Funday,” maybe you should go back and reconsider.

What we need is to provide (and focus on creating and fostering) the amenities that people who can make the choice want to choose (which many of our competitors have or are much further along in getting) plus the possibility of significant career advancement.  Then our no income tax and water (and beer, of course) will really have an impact.  We are all for attracting and retaining the best talent and businesses, but you cannot do it on the cheap.

The reality is that even if we produce the talent we need, we still lose much of it to areas that already provide the things we are still debating (and, yes, even with the referendum, we are still debating transit, especially in the wider area) or fudging.  Yes, we are better than we used to be (and things like Water Street will make it better still providing that people can afford it and that people can get in and out of the area), but nowhere near where we should be.   How do we know that?

In compiling the report, Homans noticed that the other cities rarely use Tampa Bay as a benchmark. We don’t appear in their reports. Homans would like to change that. We should aspire to be a place other cities want to emulate, he said.

Exactly, though neither TBX/TB(n)X nor the “BRT” plan is really going to move that needle.  We can and should do better.


Westshore – Surprise

We have often said that Westshore Plaza is a little bit odd in that, over the decades, it has become denser and tended in a more urban direction (though it is by no means an urban design or layout).  It has been obvious for some time that the land could be used better and more profitably than just a mall with ample parking. Well,

The ownership of WestShore Plaza wants to replace Sears and a sea of surface parking with multiple buildings — including a few high rises — that could be home to anything from condos and apartments to office space to a grocery store.

Washington Prime Group (NYSE: WPG) is asking the city rezone the entire mall from regional mall, mall anchor and restaurant uses to more specific uses to make way for a massive redevelopment on the northeast corner of the property.

What exactly are they proposing?

The total property will include 895,000 square feet of retail, which includes both street-level storefronts in the new buildings, the grocer and the existing mall. The following is a breakdown of what Washington Prime wants to add to WestShore Plaza:

The buildings listed reach as tall as 12 stories and, as you can see in the renderings below, some could have quite a bit of mass. (We are not sure why the 120,000 sq ft of medical is broken out from office.)

Here are some of the renderings:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

Site Plan:

 

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

You can get more information at the City’s handy Accela site (use 250 Westshore Plz as the address).

It is important to note that the exact mix of uses (and so presumably their design) is a bit unclear, but it will be mixed:

A supermarket would front North B street; restaurant and retail space would line the street level of 11- and 12-story buildings fronting Westshore Boulevard. The redevelopment also includes seven- and 10-story buildings, all of which will have all uses permitted.

It is also unclear when all this would be built:

It’s still unclear when Sears will close; Washington Prime writes in its filings with the city that “the project may be built in phases, however, there is no definitive time for commencement or completion of any phase.”

All that being said, we are very happy with the general idea of what they are proposing.  We like the mixed use.  We like the density.  We like them eating up parking lots.   We like that in some renderings it appears that the buildings overhang portions of the sidewalk to give protection to the pedestrians.  Something like this could significantly change Westshore the street and, to a large degree, the district, by potentially making a main part of it walkable (and will probably spawn similar changes in other parts of the road).

That brings us to a few things we did notice that should be addressed (with the caveat that nothing is fully planned yet). There are a few streets that could flow a little better, like the one that does not quite line up with the east mall entrance.  But, most importantly, looking at the renderings (the site plan is not detailed enough at this point to be truly helpful), it is unclear just what treatment the pedestrian areas along Westshore will get.  As we said, some of the renderings seem very pedestrian friendly.  However, in the more “wide angle” renderings, it is not at all clear that the actual sidewalks will change that much.

Yes, as we often say, renderings are notoriously inaccurate.  And, yes, the renderings are not very detailed regarding the street treatment.  Maybe the existing plan for pedestrians is great, but we just want to make sure it is great, including where the development interacts with the area around it. And it would be nice if they used shade tree rather than the palms pictured.

A hearing on the rezoning request is set for April 11.

We shall see how this progresses.  It is definitely very interesting. (And it emphasizes even more the poor choices the City made, and opportunities it lost, when relatively recently it approved silly designs with no real street action farther north on Westshore. And it sort of makes you wish the International Plaza developers chose to build the mall like it was actually in a city rather than about as far from the rest of the city as they could while making sure it was really isolated with a lake.)

As we said, done right, this project could be really help change the Westshore area.


Governance/Planning/Transportation – Of MPO’s

As you may know, after the reorganization of TBARTA, the next step in the proposed reorganization of transportation planning and governance in the area put forward by some was to merge Hillsborough, Pasco, and Pinellas’s MPOs.  Setting aside that the new TBARTA just keeps pushing the feeble “BRT” plan along, let’s check in on the MPO issue.  We start with a small case study:

Pasco County plans a public opinion poll next year to ask where it should connect the local road network in Wesley Chapel with streets in neighboring Tampa and Hillsborough County.

The early results already are in: Linking Mansfield Boulevard in the Meadow Point neighborhood to Kinnan Street in Tampa “makes absolutely no sense for Pasco residents,’’ said Pasco Commissioner Mike Moore.

His sentiment was echoed by eight speakers from Wesley Chapel who attended last week’s Metropolitan Planning Organization meeting in Dade City to object to the connection. They said increased traffic would be unsafe for children attending three schools on Mansfield, make navigating their own Meadow Pointe neighborhood more difficult and potentially reduce property values.

The commentary came as the Planning Organization — made up of county commissioners and elected officials from Pasco’s four largest cities — listened to the results of a preliminary study on three potential links between New Tampa and Wesley Chapel.

* * *

The MPO did little to advance the issue. By the end of the public hearing, the nine-member board lacked a quorum after three members departed and two others didn’t attend at all. Those who stayed, including Commissioner Jack Mariano and Zephyrhills City Council member Lance Smith, voiced support for the residents’ concerns.

That is nothing new:

Currently, red- and white-striped fence barricades, plus several paces of unfinished asphalt separate Mansfield and Kinnan. Getting from one spot to the other involves 11.2 miles of driving along five roads. The direct route has been blocked since the northern portion of Kinnan opened in Tampa in 2007.

Pasco County officials stymied a connection then, saying it wasn’t in the best interests of the county’s residential road network to accommodate increased traffic from Tampa. The issue resurfaced again in 2015 after an ambulance crew was slow to aid an injured Tampa man because of the road network. Additionally, Tampa City Council is considering a proposal to expand the nearby K Bar Ranch by 700 homes.

Which brings up an interesting issue.  Pasco has been uncooperative about this (and poorly planned) for a while.  Is a new MPO going to ram through a road against the wishes of Pasco?  Would Pasco then fund the change?  Or will the MPO ignore the needs of Tampa? And who will speak for the people in either Tampa or Pasco? What is the point of merger if two counties or entities cannot get along in the first place?

That brings us to a bigger issue: the “BRT” plan which does not serve the needs of Hillsborough at all but to a very large degree runs in it (and will use some Hillsborough money and land, foreclosing some other options).  Why should Hillsborough have to go along with the “BRT” plan, especially when Pasco can’t even connect a road that should have been connected long ago?

Which brings us to this:

Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp is warning constituents not to buy into claims that merging local Metropolitan Planning Organizations is a good idea.

* * *

Currently, Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties each have their own MPOs, but there has been a push in recent years to consolidate in order to promote better regional connectivity throughout the Bay area.

“Lack of local control tends to give more power to Tallahassee and the Florida Department of Transportation,” Kemp said. “That’s what they’re trying to do.

“There has to be a strong ability locally to push back at times and temper FDOT.”

She referenced specific projects FDOT is backing, including the Tampa Bay Next process that’s likely to include billions of dollars in highway widening projects and a 41-mile express bus route on Interstate 275.

* * *

“Hillsborough County is more diverse than Pinellas and Pasco,” Kemp added. “Combining our MPOs would muffle the voices of our population.”

She also said Hillsborough County’s population is significantly younger than that of Pinellas and Pasco.

“Young people want different things for transportation and we need to be responsive to that,” she said.

Here is the thing.  We get the idea of having an overarching authority to coordinate between jurisdictions.  Really, we do.  On a certain level, it makes sense.  However, the idea shows no signs of being born out of a concern for local residents or the needs and wishes of specific counties or areas.

Even if the merger idea came about for the best of intents, there are some issues. For instance, the issue of representation on a merged MPO raises some questions: Given that Hillsborough’s population is almost as big as Pinellas and Pasco combined (not to mention Hillsborough is at the center of the area), will seats on the MPO be distributed by population?  Will that representation change over time based on population changes (Hillsborough is still growing faster than Pinellas, which is not growing very slowly, or Pasco in pure numbers) or will it be fixed? Will Pinellas consent to lose more and more authority over time as Pasco and Hillsborough grow? Why should Hillsborough consent to a situation where Pinellas and Pasco potentially pass a plan that is bad for Hillsborough or hold up things that Hillsborough wants, especially because Hillsborough made a clear statement (lawsuit notwithstanding) that it wants to do something different from the other two?  What protects Hillsborough and its priorities especially if it keeps getting bigger faster?  If a Pasco Commissioner does not care about Tampa residents and their needs now, why should anyone assume a Pasco MPO member cares about ruining a Tampa neighborhood to get to the airport a little faster? And what stops Pinellas and Hillsborough from approving a SR54 elevated toll road over Pasco’s wishes?

Like we said, we get the general merger idea, but there are some serious questions (and TBARTA’s changes have not really done anything useful).  We think that, especially given the completely different priorities between the counties, the MPOs should be separate.  (The fact is that the counties are out of synch, and we see no reason for Hillsborough to move backward.)  Maybe one day a merger will be on terms and for needs that will make sense, but, as far as we can tell, today does not seem to be that day.


Transportation – Grants

Both HART and PSTA got a little spending money from the Federal government.

The Federal Transit Administration on Dec. 18 announced that it has awarded a total of $16.6 million to 20 organizations around the country, including HART and PSTA. The funds are through FTA’s Pilot Program for Transit-Oriented Development Planning, which assists communities that are developing new or expanded mass transit systems, according to the announcement.

That is not much money to go around.  What did they get?

HART will receive $800,000 for a planning study along a proposed fixed guideway transit corridor between downtown Tampa and the University of South Florida. USF is one of the highest activity centers HART aims to connect with among downtown Tampa, the Tampa International Airport, Westshore Mall, Brandon and MacDill Air Force Base.

Several HART routes and a MetroRapid route currently serve the USF area and connect at the nearby University Area Transit Center. At the transit center, HART connects its services to the USF Bull Runner, a free on-campus circulator service.

However, there is a lack of connectivity between major activity centers, including USF, that relates to the lack of east-west frequency in the system as a whole. Connections among these three areas have been studied extensively for years in the Tampa Bay area and it has been concluded that latent demand exists. The need has yet to be filled by fast-connecting, fixed-route transit, according to HART documents.

Setting aside that you don’t have to rely on HART documents to know that there is no fixed-guideway system from USF south (or anywhere), the grant seems reasonable if it is for real, fixed-guideway transit not the “BRT” plan, which could be portrayed as “fixed-route transit” (as could any normal bus) because anything with a route seems to fit the definition.  No money should be spent by HART on the “BRT” plan. (As an aside we wonder why, if east-west connectivity is an issue, HART apparently does not see the need to connect USF to the hundreds of thousands of people to the west of USF.  But anyway)

PSTA also got some money:

Meanwhile, PSTA will receive $1.2 million to plan for transit-oriented development along the proposed Central Avenue Bus Rapid Transit project, an 11-mile BRT line connecting downtown St. Petersburg to St. Pete Beach. 

Once again, reasonable, though waiting to build until they get $20 million from the Federal government seems unreasonable.  FDOT, St. Pete and PSTA should work it out.


Hyde Park/South Tampa – Hyde Park House

You may remember the Bayshore proposal (2103 Bayshore Blvd) a few months ago that came with a ziggurat massing image (here and here).  It has been updated.

The 21-story condo tower a South Florida developer proposed on Bayshore Boulevard is moving forward as Hyde Park House.

Kolter Group, based in West Palm Beach, has filed a site plan for the project with the city and anticipates a decision on the proposal from the Architectural Review Commission in early February, said Truett Gardner, a partner in law firm Gardner Brewer Martinez-Monfort who represents Kolter.

The tower will include 70 units, Gardner said, though the current zoning on the site allows for up to 90.

URBN Tampa Bay summed up the details:

The 21 story project is 261 feet tall and features 70 units. Elevations and a site plan are attached. 145 parking spaces are required, and 147 are proposed.

Here is a rendering of it facing Bayshore:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

And a site plan:

From Florida Future at SkyscraperCity – click on picture for post

The new version is not horrible like the ziggurat, but it is nothing particularly interesting.  We have no problem with the height.  But two things stick out immediately to us. First, there is a parking garage (screened but still there) facing Bayshore along the right half of the building.  That seems like a very dead use.  Second, the center of the top few segments of the building are quite bland with no windows, no balconies, very limited ornamentation.  In fact, the whole building, aside from the base (not including the garage) is pretty bland.

Generally, such things have not been enough to get a project rejected by the City Council (then again not much gets a project rejected by the City Council except, sometimes, public outcry.  The Council seems to have no standards of its own.)  The Architectural Review Commission might be a little different.

Like we said, what we have of the design is not horrible.  It is just a bit hulking and bland. It would not be that hard to fix it up a little.

We’ll have to see.


Ybor City/Downtown/Channel District – For Sale

There is an interesting development regarding the area between Ybor and downtown (no, not a Rays stadium plan):

A 10.7-acre piece of the Tampa Park Apartments, for years the focus of speculation as a potential site for a baseball stadium and, more recently, as a possible spot for a Brightline train station, is up for sale.

* * *

The sales brochure pitches the property’s proximity to the central business district, Ybor City, the Channel District, land that Port Tampa Bay plans to develop, Water Street Tampa and the proposed Ybor City location for a Tampa Bay Rays baseball stadium. But the ballpark site, several blocks east of the apartments, was taken off the table this week by the Rays, who say it is no longer viable because of unresolved questions about stadium financing.

The complex lies between the northern end of downtown Tampa and Ybor City. It is across Nick Nuccio Parkway from the 7.6-acre GasWorx property owned by investor Darryl Shaw. The Tampa Park Apartment land and buildings that are up for sale have an estimated market value of about $6.26 million, according to the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser’s Office.

“It’s a great parcel,” Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said. Asked about its potential, he said, “I think mixed use: residential, commercial, maybe activate Nuccio with retail. That parcel in its entirety or half of it represents a huge opportunity for somebody to develop.”

Buckhorn said the city owns a triangular piece of property where Nuccio Parkway and Nebraska Avenue come together, a point just south of the parcel for sale.

“We would be willing to talk to them about putting our portion in the deal,” he said.

We are not surprised the City would sell land.  (If the City would sell a prime downtown lot for a poor, stumpy, bait-and-switch project, why not sell this land?)

Maybe the owners just want to sell.  Maybe they want to sell to someone specific (but then why advertise).  We are not going to speculate, but it is an interesting lot at an interesting time.


Downtown – Convention Center Expansion

We have always had some questions about the design of the Tampa Convention Center. It is better than the Cadillac dealership that used to be there, but we have always wondered if developing the waterfront would not have been better (of course, the water is a selling point for the center, but a lot of the building just puts a wall to the water, which is not the best use).  But, more importantly, the center cannot be expanded easily (or really much at all).  It has water on two sides, a highway on one side, and the entrance (plus buildings) on the last side.  Given those restrictions, we suppose this from URBN Tampa Bay made some sense:

The Tampa Convention Center has filed plans for expanding with the city.

A Dec. 17 filing shows the center is seeking to add on two levels of meeting rooms at the Riverwalk side of the center, which are scheduled to start construction in July 2019. It also entails demolition of existing roof overhang which will be replaced with curtainwall glazing and precast trim.

A curtainwall glazing would make a section of the convention center have a translucent roof with the additional meeting spaces.

The two-level addition would create 16,000 square feet and 18 meeting spaces.

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

(If you want to check on Accela, search 333 S Franklin St.) It is a bit hard to discuss this proposal because, as noted in the picture, the design and materials are being finalized.  We understand the center needs more space, and it is hard to expand.  However, we also think the colonnade is one of the nicer features of the building.  Lowering it will theoretically provide a little more shade in the afternoon but probably will look too squat.  And there is a risk that slapping an unplanned for expansion on a building will not come out well (and if it looks anything like the picture provided, it will look bad).

But, that being said, we will stay open-minded because the center does need more space, designs are still being worked on (though if they are building in mid-2019, we doubt anyone will have a say on the design), and we acknowledge that waterfront conference rooms will have some appeal.

It is just too bad that, like the Skyway (and unlike the airport), no one seems to have thought ahead to the possibility that the facility (or, for the Skyway, facilities dependent on it) might be a success and needs increase.  They could have planned for growth and worked it into the design.


Rays – Stuff

We are not going to comment on all the Rays stadium stuff, but here are the links: it’s just business; It’s on St. Pete now, here and here; and Editorial.


Port – Deal

Last week, we discussed a proposed lease between the Port and Ardent Mills to replace the recently sold mill downtown.

Port Tampa Bay has agreed to enter into a lease agreement with Ardent Mills.

The board voted 6-0 on Dec. 18 to move forward with the lease during a port authority board meeting after there were no objections from a Dec. 7 hearing.

Great.

Meanwhile, over at the other port:

Port Manatee is expected to approve a Florida Department of Transportation grant on Dec. 20 that would pay for approximately 50 percent of the $1 million cold storage warehouse improvement project.

The project includes six new loading docks that will be used to efficiently move cargo from a shipping container into an over-the-road trailer without the need of warehouse storage. Having this cross-dock available at the cold storage warehouse provides the flexibility to move cargo either into the warehouse or into an over-the-road trailer, port spokeswoman Virginia Zimmermann said.

Back to the cold storage competition.   Obviously, the two ports should work together and not waste resources, but that likely won’t happen soon. In any event:

Port Manatee, which is the closest port to Cuba, has been breaking its cargo records. This fiscal year, it handled a record high of more than 9.3 million tons, up 19.1 percent from the previous fiscal year. It was due largely to a more-than-tripling of phosphate rock imports, and its dry bulk products rise 48.5 percent, reaching a record 1,970,340, while liquid bulk, the port’s largest sector, saw an 11.4 percent boost, to a record 6.2 million tons.

The more regional business, the better.


St. Pete – Walk/Bike Pete

St. Pete has come out with a plan to make its streets more pedestrian and bike friendly.

St. Petersburg has committed to a 20-year initiative that over the next five years would add 60 miles of bike lanes, trails and markings and about 92 pedestrian crossings to city streets.

That is an oddly constructed talking point, but we will go with it:

Most of those projects do not involve converting existing roadway to make room for bike lanes or transit options, as happened with King Street. In that case, the city replaced one traffic lane between Fourth and 30th avenues N with extra-wide bike lanes that run on both sides of the road. The project has received mix reviews.

* * *

The city currently has about 130 miles in its bike network — including the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail — and hopes to add 100 miles more in the next 20 years.

Conversions like King Street account for about 30 percent of the bike and transit projects the city has mapped out over the next couple decades.

Apart from King Street, the biggest example of this in the near future is taking about 12 miles of road along 34th Street S and First avenues N and S to make room for bus rapid transit lanes. Cars that are turning will also be able to use these lanes, but otherwise they will be for buses only.

That is also a bit oddly constructed.  Are the bike lanes arising in the bus lanes?  In any event, the real key seems to be this:

The majority of the projects showcased Wednesday are focused on making streets more accommodating for bicyclists and pedestrians by slowing speeds, adding shared lane markings (known as “sharrows”) and creating neighborhood greenways.

These greenways are the biggest initiative in the plan the city mapped out Wednesday night, outlining nearly 40 miles in the next five years. They do not include separate, dedicated bike lanes but instead are aimed at streets that already have low speeds and low traffic counts, Stacks said.

* * *

Additional separated bike lanes — either with a physical buffer or painted stripes — are planned for 16th Street, 28th Street, Ninth Avenue N and 18th Avenue S.

We are not big fans of sharrows, generally.  On the other hand, while they are generally useless unless you sell paint, sharrows can make a little sense when used in a neighborhood, where many people will ride in the street anyway. Of course, if St. Pete plans on pushing a large amount of bike traffic onto side streets, it might end up creating anticipated problems.  And, as regular readers will know, we are also not fans of just painting some lines on the road (better to build a better sidewalk).

On the other hand, we appreciate St. Pete’s interest in developing the bike infrastructure.  We just hope they go more to real trails and protected bike lanes on major roads.  Otherwise, as noted, many, if not most, people will stick to the sidewalks.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the State


— Brightline

There was news about Brightline’s Orlando connection,  From Florida Politics:

Brightline expects to start construction this winter on its planned, privately owned, higher-speed passenger railroad connecting South Florida to Orlando and envisions the first trains to start rolling into Orlando International Airport as soon as late 2021.

Patrick Goddard, president and chief executive officer of Virgin Trains USA, also known as Brightline and formerly known as All Aboard Florida, told the Central Florida Expressway Authority Thursday that train service connecting the company’s existing Brightline passenger train railroad in South Florida with Orlando should begin by late 2021 or early 2022, depending on how long construction takes.

He said the company hopes to give its contractors notice to proceed with construction in March 2019.

* * *

Goddard noted that the company has overcome several hurdles recently, including agreements with Martin County and Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida earlier this month. Those agreements remove some of their sternest opposition to the West Palm Beach-to-Orlando phase of the company’s planned expansions.

However, not all its opposition is gone. And during the past several years opposition has slowed All Aboard Florida’s plans since it first began talks to bring higher-speed train service to Orlando in 2012.

Obviously, they are getting to Orlando before they get to Tampa, so it is of interest to us.  We shall see how it goes.


— Miami

There was transit news of a sort from Miami:

Miami-Dade has been planning to build a rail line north toward Broward County for decades, and on Thursday a county transportation board voted to approve the concept of a 13-mile elevated route along Northwest 27th Avenue and to figure out how much it costs at a later date.

“I’m here once again to talk about the north corridor,” former Miami-Dade commissioner Betty Ferguson, who served in the 1990s, told board members as the afternoon’s first speaker in favor of rail. “You know the community has been waiting … The people really need this kind of rapid transport.”

The 25-member Transportation Planning Organization voted to stick with elevated rail as the preferred transit mode for the northern corridor, months after approving rapid-transit buses for the southern corridor connecting the Metrorail system with Florida City.

(You can read more here) Now that they decided on an idea, they have to find the money.  Miami passed a transportation funding referendum promising rail in 2002 but spent the money on other things. (One reason an oversight board is useful, like the one Broward’s referendum.)


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country


— OKC

Oil producing center Oklahoma City has opened its streetcar.

Oklahoma City’s new streetcar system has opened to the public, and rides are free for now.

Local public school student leaders and city and state officials were among the first passengers Friday after a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Transit officials expect 10,000 to 15,000 passengers this weekend.

Rides are free for three weeks and will cost $1 per ride or $3 for a 24-hour pass after that.

Construction of the $135 million-system took about two years. It covers about 7 miles through downtown and the Bricktown entertainment district.

* * *

Officials tout the streetcar as part of a mass transit plan that includes improved bus service and Amtrak service to the Dallas area.

By way of comparison, Tampa’s streetcar is about 2.7 miles and now is free (but had a $5 day pass before that). You can see a map of the OKC streetcar here.


— Texas Transit

There are more developments in Texas. Houston is looking at transportation, too:

The Metropolitan Transit Authority is expected to ask voters next fall for more than $3 billion in borrowing authority to implement its next wave of transit projects.

The 20-year plan laid out by Metro officials includes roughly 20 more miles of light rail, 75 miles of bus rapid transit and 110 miles of two-way HOV lanes along area freeways.

You can read the article here.

And there are similar going on in Austin:

In a milestone vote, Capital Metro’s board on Monday approved a conceptual map that envisions a regional mass transit system.

Though the vote only authorized Capital Metro to begin environmental and engineering studies of transit routes recommended in the Project Connect vision map, the decision gets the ball rolling toward what could be an ambitious 2020 transportation bond.

* * *

The long-term Project Connect plan foresees color-coded, crisscrossing routes that extend from downtown Austin to several suburbs. It proposes new, high-capacity transit routes, including a commuter rail Green Line that could extend to Manor; a Blue Line winding from Austin Community College’s Highland campus through downtown and east along Riverside Drive; and an Orange Line moving along North Lamar Boulevard, Guadalupe Street near the University of Texas and South Congress Avenue.

The price for such a transit system remains unknown, but the plan is to develop a substantial voter bond proposition that would be up for election in November 2020. As with the failed 2014 rail bond, officials have said any bond money would be supplemented by federal grants.

On Monday, the Cap Metro board approved the basic concepts of the Project Connect map and $11 million for the program’s management, as well as environmental and engineering studies of proposed corridors. The board selected HDR Engineering, based in Omaha, Neb., to manage Project Connect and authorized the negotiation of a $6.38 million contract.

If you are curious, the Project Connect website is here.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of North America

URBN Tampa Bay highlighted a Facebook post by a new County Commissioner who linked to an editorial in a Toronto newspaper (yes, that is convoluted, but so be it).

This article about distracted driving and walking shared by Hillsborough County Commissioner Kimberly Overman caught our eye. The summary in particular is on point.

– “Our car-centric cities and suburbs too easily become killing fields for those navigating them on foot, especially the elderly. The problem is cars, not people negligently walking into them.

If you want to save pedestrian lives, slow down the vehicles. Install more crosswalks. Add speed bumps. Lower speed limits. Widen sidewalks. Narrow roads.”

You can read the editorial here.

The real point is that the list above pretty good but is missing something very important (and includes speed bumps which are almost always unnecessary).

You can take all the measures listed above, but if you do not change how the buildings are built on those redone streets, you will end up with even more inadequate sprawling roads. People will be forced to drive (and get very angry and distracted doing it).  If the buildings are all sprawling and car-centric with large surface parking lots by the street, large distances between them, and poor pedestrian and biking connectivity, people will still not walk and drivers will still want to speed.

Building better streets is definitely needed, but so is building better buildings. Urban design brings walkability (and crosswalks, stops, lower speeds, etc).   In other words, you will not really have walkable streets without walkable buildings.  (And put in curbs where they do not exist so that cars don’t just drive onto the sidewalk (as happened twice to us in one day last week). It is all connected.

And it should not be lost on readers that the actual editorial was about distracted walking.  To be safe, it is incumbent on pedestrians and cyclists to actually follow the rules, too.

Roundup 12-14-2018

December 13, 2018

Contents

Referendum – Opinion

Economy/Economic Development – Benchmarks

Rays – Nothing Yet

Seminole Heights – Milhaus Revisited

Downtown – Renovate

Downtown – Still No

Airports – Growing

USF – Here and There

Downtown/Channel District/Port – The Flour Mill

Hard Rock – Topped Off

Housing – Going Small?

History – Where is that Confounded Spring?

Meanwhile, Back at the Pete

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

_________________________________________


Referendum – Opinion

The Times ran an opinion piece by the Commissioner who sued regarding the Referendum.  The piece mixes legal arguments and political arguments.  We are not going to get into legal arguments.  Whether the referendum followed the law will be decided in court.

However, there was a political point we want to address, again.

This issue is bigger than Hillsborough County or any individual’s philosophy on new taxes. It’s about protecting our system of government, which empowers the everyday citizen. If the judicial branch of our government agrees that these charter provisions are unlawful, I will work diligently with the citizens of this county and with my fellow commissioners to search for a meaningful plan that benefits citizens across the county, to address our transportation needs. If the judicial branch rules the charter initiative should stand, I will dutifully and faithfully implement these provisions.

As we noted last week, the referendum process empowers everyday citizens when their elected representatives fail to act.  The transportation referendum itself was born out of a failure on the part of the County Commission to serve the everyday citizen by putting forward a meaningful plan for transportation, including transit.   In fact, we would love it if the Commissioner had presented a meaningful plan to benefits citizens across the county regarding transportation.  If he had, we wouldn’t be in this situation now, we’d be moving forward on said plan.  But he didn’t. (If he had a plan, why didn’t he present it?)  And neither did his colleagues, which is why there was citizen initiated referendum.   Regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit (which addresses a completely different question), the needs are still there.

That is the politics. We will see what the Courts say about the law.


Economy/Economic Development – Benchmarks

The Tampa Bay Partnership’s yearly benchmark document is out (here).  Good for the Partnership for actually laying these thing out instead of just engaging in cheerleading and hype.

We did not have time to look at it in depth, but the Times had an article on it:

The Tampa Bay Partnership released its second annual Regional Competitiveness Report on Wednesday. It measures the Tampa Bay area against 19 similar metro areas. Not the biggies like Los Angeles or New York. Think Nashville, Denver, Dallas, Seattle and Orlando.

The report uses 55 measures to dig deep into a half-dozen categories, including innovation, talent, civic quality and infrastructure — the types of things that help attract companies, retain workers and make an area a vital place to live and work.

Bottom line, we have a lot of work to do to keep up, let alone overtake, some of our peer cities. We’re improving in many areas including how much our universities spend on research and development and the share of 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in school. But we’re already behind and losing ground in too many others.

Sounds familiar.  So how did the Times summarize the findings?

The Good

Our commutes may not be relatively horrible (for everyone) now, but, given that we are growing, they will only get worse.  (And, by the way, you will see below that the cost of our transportation is not low.) Now is the time to rearrange the model we have.

The Bad

None of that is a surprise (except Orlando being the #2 in economic output from advanced industries.  We knew it would be higher than we are, but did not think it would be that high.).

We think we can and should do much better. And it is clear that there many in the area who see it the same way.  Unfortunately, there also seem to be many, including a number of elected officials (and presumably their supporters) who through their actions and often, though not always, words seem perfectly content with the status quo.

We will probably say more about the report when we have time to review it more closely.


Rays – Nothing Yet

This is why we have not spent much time recently writing about the Rays:

Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg said today the plan to build a stadium in Ybor City is no longer viable but the team remains committed, for now, to looking again for a new home in the Tampa Bay area.

Sternberg said the lack of details and progress for the planned $892 million stadium in Ybor City that was to open in 2023 made it clear it was not going to work and thus there was no point in asking for an extension on the Dec. 31 deadline with St. Petersburg to look. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred earlier today sent a letter to Tampa officials saying the framework of the deal was lacking too many details.

* * *

“While the momentum and progress are real, we are not close at all to a workable framework,” Sternberg said, referencing the fundamental issues that Manfred cited as not being addressed including financing, costs, timetable and site control. “We’ve had a long time. Three years is a long time.”

Sternberg noted the hours and “many millions” the team invested in the Ybor project and said the failure was not due to a lack of effort on any party.  

We do not know if this is fully serious or a negotiating strategy.  And it does not really tell us much, except the Rays did not like what they saw.  And we are not sure why the MLB Commissioner gave his opinion rather than leaving it to the Rays to speak:

Hillsborough County officials hoping Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred would help consummate the deal for a new Rays stadium appear to have struck out.

Manfred, in a strongly worded letter sent today, said the framework of the deal lacks specific details necessary for him to “understand the merits and feasibility” of the proposal as well as “the actual level of commitment” from the public side.

While the Commissioner did not see the commitment from the public side, there was one detail in the framework: the amount the team would put up.  All the other details are logically contingent on it, and we still do not know what that is.  While the Commissioner may not know the commitment from the public side, the public does not know the commitment from MLB or the Rays.  That’s what talks are supposed to be for.  In any event,

Sternberg said they are are a “pretty resourceful” and “pretty determined” group and remain optimistic about finding a new home in the Tampa Bay area, with no plans to try to leave the area before the end of 2027 use agreement at the Trop.

But he also acknowledged that at this point any new stadium in the Tampa Bay area wouldn’t be ready until 2024, and at some point they have  to start thinking about where they would play in 2028, when they potentially could relocate with permission from MLB. New stadium construction requires four-five years lead time. Montreal, Portland (which recently unveiled stadium plans), Las Vegas, Charlotte and Nashville are all considered potential sites for a team.

And if you are interested in getting into the nitty-gritty, the Times had an interesting article regarding some of the issues that arose here.

A Times columnist summarized the situation thus:

Here are the calculations that must be made:

Are the Rays worth enough to St. Pete, and is the urgency to develop the Trop land high enough, that the city gives the team a sweetheart deal to begin building a new stadium in the next few years?

Is Tampa so tired of seeing a Major League Baseball team from a distance that business executives and a new mayor finally come to the plate with a deal that has a little more substance and a little less projection.

And is Rays ownership really as committed to Tampa Bay as they say, or will they decide there is more money to be made by selling the franchise to the highest out-of-town bidder?

Those are your three scenarios.

Eventually, someone will blink.

Or not.

We are Rays fans.  We like baseball.  We like going to games.  We want them to stay.  Hopefully, something will get worked out.  We shall see.


Seminole Heights – Milhaus Revisited

There has been a change to the Milhaus Nebraska project.  From URBN Tampa Bay:

Milhaus has modified their proposal for 6307 N. Nebraska Avenue in Seminole Heights. Apartments are now featured along the ground level of North Street (before it was parking on the ground floor along North Street) and the leasing/club space now takes up a larger portion of the project’s frontage along Nebraska. The number of garages integrated into the building, as well as space for bicycles and motorcycles have all been increased some. The project now includes 112 units, 1,220 square feet of office space, and 113 parking spaces.

And, because we find little to disagree with, here is their take:

We particularly like what appears to be an indoor room for resident bike parking. However, as we have stated before, we support the request for rezoning, but continue to oppose this particular plan. Nebraska is the immediate neighborhood’s only commercial corridor. It should not downzone into a residential street, else it will preclude Seminole Heights becoming a true mixed-use urban neighborhood. The Nebraska frontage needs to feature ground floor commercial, with no apartments fronting Nebraska.

The neighborhood needs a commercial corridor which better serves their needs, and which helps create the sort of daytime economy that can support the influx of new restaurants and shops. It is vital that Seminole Heights’ fairly limited supply of commercially zoned land retain its commercial use during redevelopment per the neighborhood’s vision plan, or this diversification of Seminole Heights’ economy cannot occur, for lack of places for it to occur.

* * *

Edit: Something we forgot to mention earlier… this project is on the east side of Nebraska, where the afternoon sun from the west can be withering. Where’s the awning, canopy, trees or other source of shade for peds?

We like the general idea of this project and want Nebraska to reach its potential as a thriving, urban area.  The problem is that this project just skips the good urban design part regarding street action.  Hopefully, they will tweak it and get it right – including some awnings.


Downtown – Renovate

URBN Tampa Bay had news of a new renovation on Franklin Street.

This new rendering/drawing has been released for Lit Premium Cigar Lounge’s new location at 908 N. Franklin St in Downtown Tampa. The proposed project will renovate the vacant, historic, yellow building next door to The Franklin Manor.

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

This is the building now:

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

Especially given that so much of it has been demolished, it is nice to see what is left of downtown’s historical fabric being brought back to life.


Downtown – Still No

The attempt to get an 11-story storage building built downtown continues.

We have new color elevations and a site plan for a proposed 11 story storage facility proposed for 802 East Laurel Street in Downtown Tampa. The project includes 113,499 square feet of storage space and a private recreation deck on the top floor.

The current rule in Downtown is that the square footage of a storage facility cannot exceed 40% of the floor area of a project. This development is seeking a special use permit (SU-2) to have 91% of the floor area of the project as storage facility.

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

We cannot overstate just how poor this proposal is.  The building is not only a bland use (and it really is single use), it is just plain bad (basically like this).  It has no street activation.  It has no design to speak of.  It is against the downtown plan and the existing rules (which are already too lenient).  Simply put, this does not belong downtown (or most places in the City, really).  It does not belong right next to Encore.  It does not belong right next to a possible Brightline station.

The Burger King drive-through was bad enough.  This will definitively tell you what the vision of every member of the City Council is.


Airports – Growing

There was news from the Airport:

The Hillsborough County Aviation Authority Board of Directors on December 6, approved a $66 million contract for construction of new facilities and site preparation of 35 acres at the Airport’s new SkyCenter development area. 

* * *

The construction contract, awarded to Hensel Phelps Construction, enables the company to develop the SkyCenter site, which is located just west of Tampa International Airport’s new Rental Car Center.

The company will also build a 40,000 square-foot atrium and 230-foot long pedestrian bridge that connects it to the SkyConnect station at the Rental Car Center, a new 650-foot commercial curbside, a 230-foot extension of the Rental Car Center’s remote curb that serves county buses, and reconfiguration of the Cell Phone Waiting Lot including new restrooms and Flight Information Display system.

* * *

Construction is expected to begin in January 2019. The site development and construction of the atrium and walkway are expected to be complete in 2020. Future plans for SkyCenter include a hotel, retail space and at least one office building.

That contract does not include the hotel and office building, the developers of which remain to be picked.

The Aviation Authority Board is scheduled to select a developer for a nine-story office building at SkyCenter next to the atrium early next year.

In additional news, the design-build contract for the UPS facility was also posted.  At pages 45 and 80 of the pdf, among others, you can see the plan for the layout of the UPS facility (see pdf here).

There was also expected news from St. Pete Clearwater Airport.

The St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport has hit a new passenger growth mark, breaking its all-time annual record already.

This November was the largest November in the airport’s history with 173,316 passengers, a 1 percent increase over 2017, according to the airport’s monthly passenger report.

Year-to-date passengers are up 11 percent over 2017. The airport has had more than 2 million passengers thus far.

Which is very good, but the problem remains the same: the dependence on one airline.


USF – Here and There

There was USF news this week.  First,

Even after 1,200 stores, Publix is still is finding new firsts.

Thursday ended what’s been a decades-long wait for University of South Florida Tampa students and alumni when the grocery chain opened its first-ever store on a college campus. USF President Judy Genshaft said the dream and demand for an on-campus grocery store has been on the top of students’ request lists for years.

“Not beside, not across the street, but on our campus,” Genshaft said from a lectern set up outside the store ahead of its early morning ribbon-cutting ceremony. “This a change-maker in our community and we can’t be more proud.”

It is a nice amenity.  While a bit sprawling in design (but USF’s campus is still sprawling), it is easily walked to from the new dorms, which is good.

But there was bigger news:

Consolidating three separate University of South Florida campuses is proving to be a mammoth task, so the Board of Trustees is taking baby steps.

We have not really commented on about consolidation before except to say that the consolidation move seemed to lack enough consultation with the areas involved, and what we really cared about was the students.   That is still true.  However, we have to say that over the years we have felt that the entire saga of regional campuses, separate campuses, amputated campuses, consolidating campuses, etc., seems far more a symptom of local political officials wrangling for points and seeing USF as a development tool than looking for what benefits the students, the area overall, and the school. (Though some things seems pretty obvious like it would be odd to have marine biology related programs based in Tampa given that the Tampa campus is landlocked and the St Pete campus is on the bay.)  We have no favorite model; we just want USF to provide the best education for the students and do useful research.  In any event, consolidation is on.

Consolidation is now required for USF, after Gov. Rick Scott signed the Florida Excellence in Higher Education Act of 2018. Currently, each of the institutions is separate and has different requirements: students need to apply to all three schools separately and each institution has its own standards and practices. The three USF campuses — Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee — will consolidate under one umbrella by July 1, 2020. However the Board of Trustees needs to make its final recommendations in March.

We don’t really care if this process sets up one “college” with two “schools” for the various colleges/departments as contemplated for the college(s) of business, or some other combination.  In the era of online classes/web-learning and innovative automobiles that can transport professors to different locations, we just do not see why it is so hard to have essentially the same offerings in most programs at the various campuses, even if a department is officially based on a different campuses.

We just hope the Board gets all the technical stuff worked out so the university can focus on what it is supposed to be doing: teaching students with a side of research.


Downtown/Channel District/Port – The Flour Mill

There was news about to where the flour mill downtown will be moving now that the land has been sold.

Port Tampa Bay is moving forward in a lease agreement with Ardent Mills after its property was bought for the Water Street Tampa project.

* * *

According to the lease agreement between the port and Ardent Mills LLC, which had a public hearing on Friday, the flour mill may be moved to Berth 302 at Port Redwing in Gibsonton.

The initial term of the lease for the 10 acres of land would be for a period of 40 years with four lease extension options every 10 years.

The port’s staff will make a recommendation on the lease agreement to the port authority’s board of commissioners on Dec. 18. The agreement states that the annual rental rate during construction would be $12,500 per acre, and for the initial year of the operational period it will be $24,000 per acre.

It also states that Port Tampa Bay would construct additional rail improvements to the main rail line at Port Redwing. Ardent Mills would pay for the rail improvements. Ardent Mills will also be responsible for all utilities, real estate taxes, site improvements, insurance, maintenance and movement of minimal tonnage.

During the operation period, the annual tonnage must be 450,000 tons, 100,000 of which must be by vessel over a Port Tampa Bay dock. 

We do not have all the detailed language, but in general we have no problem with the idea (assuming Ardent Mills builds the new mill, as indicated in the meeting notice).  It keeps the business here and frees up the land downtown.  That looks like a win-win.

On a side note, it is always amusing to us how some things just seem to magically happen in this area (with little to no public input) while other things languish for decades.


Hard Rock – Topped Off

We have not written about it much but the expansion at the Hard Rock has topped off.

That, however, is what’s going on at the Tampa Seminole Hard Rock & Casino at Interstate 4 and Orient Road. There, the tribe on Tuesday marked a key milestone in its $700 million expansion. As hundreds of late-morning gamblers played video slots and poker inside, workers outside hoisted the uppermost beam into place atop a new 15-story hotel tower, expected to open in mid-2019.

* * *

The new tower will give the tribe about 800 rooms on its Tampa property, including 88 suites (79 of them new). The hotel tower’s top floor will offer a private gaming parlor for VIP guests, with a similarly exclusive check-in and private elevators to the high-end suites.

An expanded deck the size of a football field will include three pools and a 120-seat restaurant, plus a 25,000-square-foot spa and salon nearby. There also will be a 200-seat Italian restaurant, a 30,000-square-foot event center with a large ballroom and 700 more parking spaces. The number of places to shop will more than triple, and the casino will be renovated, ending up with 5,000 slots machines and nearly 200 gaming tables.

We are all for the expansion, but it is too bad that the complex is so isolated.


Housing – Going Small?

We have recently been discussing affordable housing.  Not coincidentally, there was an editorial in the Times regarding housing.

In twin discussions recently, the council heard concerns over city-supported home-building projects and proposals for building affordable homes from storage containers. About a dozen residents complained that a city contract to develop about 85 parcels in east Tampa would be cost-prohibitive – with homes selling between $180,000 to $224,000 – and lead to residents being pushed out of the predominantly black, low-income neighborhood. In a later discussion, executives from a Tampa company that builds homes out of storage containers told the council they could build a smaller home for about $83,200. That piqued the interest of east Tampa residents, who said the five-figure price tag was more in line with their definition of affordable.

Plainly, the City could have done better than that deal.  And we are all for looking at alternatives to traditional single family neighborhoods (though we are not completely sold on containers or tiny homes, especially in Florida.  Of course, there are other options, like allowing more density and multi-family housing, especially not the sprawling kind. (If you are looking to make things affordable, sprawl is not the best path. Sprawl is not an efficient use of land or infrastructure, and it is not economical for those living in it.)

Tiny homes could be part of the solution, but the city will need a much broader strategy – rethinking its land development code, easing parking requirements and other regulatory changes to welcome a new type of residential mix. The city will also have to protect the traditional neighborhood setting. Housing costs, low inventory and rising rents have already prompted many home owners to rent out rooms in single-family homes. Three front doors and five cars in the yard is a dead giveaway. The housing crunch is putting pressure on property owners and creating challenges for code enforcement to protect the neighborhoods. As Tampa continues this discussion, the candidates for mayor and council seats in the March election need to flesh out an agenda that stabilizes housing and accommodates future growth.

The last sentence makes a good point.  There are a variety of steps to try to mitigate the problem (we don’t think it will be fully alleviated). Elected officials (and those who want to be elected officials) need to deal with the issue and be open to new alternatives – and speak to details not generalities.  (And, of course, one thing that would help would be if there was robust transit so people did not have to drive, did not have to park, and had more money to put towards housing.)


History – Where is that Confounded Spring?

There was an interesting and amusing article in the Times regarding Government Spring.

Still unknown is the location of Government Spring, one of downtown Tampa’s first sources of fresh water. But people with an interest in the Sixth Avenue construction project think they have the answer, and it lies nearby. They just don’t agree on where.

Daryl Shaw, who owns the property under development, says the historic spring is on the land next door at 1234 Fifth Ave — and the owner of that land, attorney Dale Swope, concurs.

But Gerry Curts, an Ybor City architect who sold Shaw the parcel a year ago, says it’s on Shaw’s land.

Anyway, it is interesting, and you can read it here.  While it is not surprising that some infrastructure could get lost, Tampa really is not that old that such things should disappear (or people not know what tunnels, which are not really common in this area and which were apparently maintained as late as the 1980s, might be for), the one part of the article that really caught our eye was this:

Spring mysteries abound, Anastasiou said.

What Tampa celebrates as Ulele Spring is a pool at the end of a pipe. The spring feeding it lies either under the road or a parking lot.

“We’ve never been able to find the exact location,” he said.

It takes nothing away from the location or the restaurant, but that is just odd.


Meanwhile, Back at the Pete

There was some interesting news from St. Pete this week.  First,

On Wednesday, the city’s Development Review Commission unanimously approved a $69-million, 20-story tower that would replace several quaint old apartment buildings that are home to Olsen and dozens of others. The unanimous vote came despite complaints that St. Petersburg’s stock of affordable housing is rapidly disappearing.

“I’m probably going to have to completely move out of the area,” said Olsen, a retiree who lives on her Social Security income.

Illinois-based Inland National Development plans to demolish seven apartment buildings, some dating to the 1920s, on Fifth Street N and Third Avenue near Mirror Lake. They would be replaced by a U-shaped tower with nearly 10,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space.

City staffers recommended approval of the tower, which would add another 270 units to the more than 2,000 recently built or under construction in and near downtown St. Petersburg.

This is a complicated issue.  We are all for (properly designed) new buildings, but we prefer it to fill up surface parking lots (of which St. Pete still has many) rather than replacing used and useful buildings. Part of the impressive success St. Pete has had in its downtown is reinvigorating the old buildings and adding to them rather than (at least in most cases) ripping up the original fabric and replacing it.

And,

Merhige also raised concerns that affordable apartments would be knocked down for a project that might never get built.

“We saw what happened in 2005, 2008,” she said. “It’s gonna happen again, there’s boom now but there’s going to be a bust.”

City officials said the developer would be required to submit “full and complete” construction plans but no proof of financing before demolition permits were issued.

In other words, it could be a replay of the Maas Brothers Building in Tampa (that would probably have been renovated by now if it hadn’t been demolished and then turned into surface parking.)

Or as URBN Tampa Bay put it:

Perhaps in another year, the developer will figure out that they are about to knock down a block worth of the fine grained development that makes St Pete the sort of urban neighborhood people are flocking to. 

Perhaps, but most likely not.  We doubt they will care at all, especially if St Pete doesn’t.

In other news:

Nearly 230,000 gallons of wastewater spilled from a tank Monday at one of the city’s water treatment plants.

Those are just the latest of nearly 2 million gallons of wastewater to gush from city infrastructure in the last three months.

You can just read about it here.  Instead of getting all worked up about Tampa’s idea of converting wastewater into drinking water , maybe St. Pete should look into adopting it.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

A new report discusses the increase in value of land around SunRail stations in the Orlando area.

Property values around the first 12 train stations increased by $2.4 billion — 63 percent — from 2011-2017, and FDOT estimates that $1.19 billion of that is directly attributable to SunRail, according to a report in GrowthSpotter.

Each station has drawn new development, and most experienced a sharp increase in property values that outpaced their surrounding areas by nearly 23 percent.

The research team from Florida State University first analyzed the property value impact of SunRail in 2015, but at that time, the system had only been operational for two years. Now, with three more years of data, the team determined that property values in the station areas are escalating at a higher rate as the system matures.

That is no surprise to us.  We would expect rail transit stations to help increase property values.  But there is even more to it, which URBN Tampa Bay highlighted quite well:

It’s important to note that SunRail is a bare bones commuter service that is not well integrated into other local transit offerings.

There’s a strong case to be made that converting the CSX tracks here in Hillsborough County to mass transit service, would yield a significantly greater impact than doing the same has yielded in the Orlando area. Particularly since Hillsborough County now has the funding in place to do better than a bare bones set up. We can design and build high quality bus, ped and bike infrastructure to tie directly into the rail stations. We have a BOCC and presumably a city council in place who will reform their development codes and fee structures to facilitate walkable development where these infrastructure investments are made.

A key to that happening is for the state Legislature and FDOT to give the Tampa Bay area the same level of investment they have already given South Florida and the Orlando region with TriRail and SunRail. Here, the state wants to basically screw us with a cheap express bus plan run along the interstate, where the service is beholden to traffic conditions. Worse, it’s not even a good plan, and would dump hundreds of millions of taxpayers dollars into parking garages in neighborhoods where the last thing residents want is another reason for drivers to jam their streets coming and going to the highway.

Note the last point. The “BRT” plan features a large number of parking garages, apparently based on the assumption that people will drive to the interstate, pay to park their car, then ride a bus on the interstate (rather than drive their own cars in a more direct route) to their destination.  First, that seems unlikely.  Second, no one has asked the revitalizing areas where some of these garages will be built (and which have vigorously opposed FDOT’s plans to cram more highway into their neighborhoods) if they want hulking garages (or, maybe, big surface parking lots) built there instead/as well.  (And the “BRT” plan has been touted by some of its own proponents as lacking permanence, which also means it lacks a key quality for the “BRT” to make the land around the stops more valuable for large investment.)

It is also important to note that the State bought the CSX tracks for SunRail, which is something it should do here, too (though we favor a local rail use on the rails, not commuter rail).  Simply “fixing” the interstate is not comparable, and we deserve better (note FDOT is also “fixing” I-4 in Orlando, so even to the State it is not an all or nothing idea).  There is no reason the State should buy the rail in Orlando (and give insurance guarantees) and not do so here (though probably the biggest obstacle is locally elected officials).


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

This week Walk Bike Tampa (as opposed to Bike/Walk Tampa Bay, which is something different) held a forum for mayoral candidates regarding, you guessed it, walking and biking issues. (You can read about it here. )   Baltimore has adopted a complete streets program.

Baltimore officials celebrated Thursday the passage of the “Complete Streets” law, a broad set of regulations requiring the city’s Department of Transportation to design roadways, sidewalks and bike lanes in a way that promotes walking, bicycling and public transit, beyond just cars.

Mayor Catherine Pugh signed the bill into law late last week, and Councilman Ryan Dorsey, who sponsored the legislation, held a news conference Thursday at City Hall Thursday to commemorate it.

Dorsey said the law will set up Baltimore for success and improved equity in the future by encouraging “designing for a more human-scale city.”

In addition for prioritizing use by pedestrians, bicyclists and others in street design, the law requires the transportation department to spend the next 13 months implementing the new guidelines, developing community engagement plans and drafting a Complete Streets manual outlining street design and investment priorities.

If the City (or County) is really committed to moving beyond relying solely on cars, they should do something similar here. (You can read more about it here.) The problem is that in the vast majority of places in the area, the buildings are built to promote cars over people. For real change to happen, that also needs to change.

Roundup 12-7-2018

December 6, 2018

Contents

Transportation – All Over the Place

— Referendum Lawsuit

— Howard Frankland

— Playing Nice With Others

— Have Your Say

— Ferry

— Brightline

Port – Finally

Airport – Diversifying

Tampa Heights – Not Good Enough

Channel District – Elevé 61

Rays – Money Talk

Downtown – Bank It

Ybor City – Diversifying

Housing – A Follow Up

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

____________________________________________


Transportation – All Over the Place


— Referendum Lawsuit

In what should not surprise anyone, someone has sued over the transportation referendum.

A Hillsborough County commissioner will try to prevent the county from implementing a one-penny transportation sales tax, approved by voters in November, based on a claim the independent citizen committee overseeing the $9 billion investment usurps elected county commissioners and therefore violates state law.

Commissioner Stacy White confirmed to 10Investigates he intends to file the suit Tuesday, seeking a declaration from the courts as to whether the county should proceed with implementing the tax on Jan. 1. Hillsborough voters approved the 30-year, one-cent increase in the county’s sales tax by a 57-43 margin on Nov. 6.

* * *

. . .White said the citizen oversight committee, created by the referendum and appointed by local elected officials, would not be directly accountable to taxpayers and could actually veto funding for certain transportation projects approved by county commissioners. The county commission appoints four of the 15 members.

He says the citizen oversight committee conflicts with state statute Florida state statute 212.055(1), which gives county commissioners the power to allocate sales surcharge tax revenues. He is seeking clarity from the courts as to whether the county would be violating state law by complying with the charter amendment.

The statute can be found here.  You can find the lawsuit by searching here using “Hillsborough County” as the business name and for after December 3, 2018.

We prefer to avoid commenting about the specific substance of lawsuits and, as we have said before, regarding the referendum, we are even more reluctant to comment on legal issues. So we will briefly comment on the politics.

What did the Commissioner say about the suit?

“This is a fundamental governance issue,” said White, the commission’s most conservative member, representing the eastern and southern sides of the county. “This is about the little guy in Hillsborough County, because what we’ve seen with this referendum is perhaps a select few attempting an end-around (past) the people’s duly-elected officials.”

That may be what he thinks (or it may not)  Regardless, it is weak.  First, given that there was a county-wide vote, even if a “select few” came up with the idea (an arguable point, but whatever), the approval of the referendum was not done by a select few.  While it is true that the referendum was not initiated by elected officials, it is only because the elected officials did not do what the majority of voters wanted, and the referendum process is a democratic process created for just such a purpose.  Moreover, regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit, it is not about the “little guy” (kind of like the outgoing Commission did not act for the “little guy” when it ignored what the Commissioner in question said his constituents wanted regarding Mosaic).  It is about the allocation of power among politicians. (If the “little guy” is the concern, supporters of the lawsuit would oppose variable rate express lanes that intentionally price the “little guy” out.)

But setting that aside, in many contexts, the Commissioner in question often makes points we agree with (including the Mosaic issue), for instance this from an article on the need for more fire departments:

It’s one of many ways that the county’s growth isn’t paying for the cost of providing services to new residents and businesses moving and starting here, White said.

The remedy, White said, is finding ways to curb sprawl and encourage more sustainable land use — a frequent plea of his.

White noted that the county meets its goal for response time in rural areas more often than in the suburbs and urban corridors.

“When we grow, it’s supposed to increase our tax base and we’re supposed to be able to do more things, and people argue with growth comes enhanced quality of life,” White said. “But it would almost appear … there’s an adverse quality of life in urban areas.”

While we do not have the figures in front of us, we don’t doubt the possibility that response times are lower in rural areas, especially given the poor planning and lack of proper investment by the County in built up areas.  And we have no argument with his favoring a rural lifestyle.  In fact, we want to preserve that lifestyle, too.  People should have choices in how they want to live.  Of course, up until now, the County has not really provided choices – it has worked to create a specific model of car-centric sprawl and subsidized it.

Proper urban (and suburban) development (including infill) in an enforced urban service area is the best way to avoid sprawl and preserve rural areas.  And a good way to promote proper development in urban (and suburban) areas is to provide proper transportation options and amenities giving people options aside from sprawl.

Of course, if you want something you have to pay for it, including protection from sprawl in a growing metropolitan area.  The referendum is a way to pay for it.  And, as the Commissioner has at least tacitly acknowledged, the urban (and suburban) areas need the investment, so that is where the Commission should focus.

The bottom line is that the Commissioner has a right to file a lawsuit if he wants.  However, that is not the end of the story.  And, while the lawsuit may be filed, the Referendum has passed.  Until we are told otherwise by a competent authority, it is part of the County Charter.  And until told otherwise by a competent authority, the Commission should follow it (as it seems most members want to do.) and take the necessary steps to implement it.

There is a lot more that could be said, but we will leave it at that for now.


— Howard Frankland

The Times had an article about the half-fixes (literally) of the Howard Frankland bottleneck.

The bottleneck driving north on the Howard Frankland Bridge is one of the most frustrating and rage-inducing in Tampa Bay.

The interstate drops from four lanes to two at the West Shore interchange, causing backups that can span the length of the bridge. The traffic leads to missed flights, late work arrivals and profanity-laced rants.

But state officials say it’s about to get better — just give them two years.

The Florida Department of Transportation will start construction in about six months on additional lanes that officials say will bring relief.

More specifically

A third through lane will help those continuing on the interstate toward downtown Tampa, while additional lanes on parts of the exit ramp should improve the ride for drivers getting off at Kennedy Boulevard and those heading left toward the airport or the Veterans Expressway. The lanes should be open to drivers in late 2020, officials said.

“It will help those people immediately once it’s done,” said Richard Moss, the department’s director of transportation development.

The extra lane on the interstate, which will be added in each direction, will increase capacity 50 percent. The change should bring “pretty substantial improvement,” district transportation secretary David Gwynn said.

Setting aside that, as we have noted a number of times, there will still be a bottleneck (4 lanes to 3 is still a bottleneck), it raises an interesting point.  If adding one free lane will bring “pretty substantial improvement,” wouldn’t adding another (4th) free lane bring so much more relief? (They could even add two free lanes, rather than the planned two variable rate toll (“express”) lanes? FDOT says the express lanes may be express lanes, but we have no reason to think that will happen.)

There are a couple of possible answers.  One is “yes,” free lanes would be just fine.  There is no reason to punish residents by forcing most of them to inadequate free lanes while really only focusing on building variable rate toll lanes most drivers really cannot afford.

Another possible answer is that free lanes (or all lanes) induce demand, so that the more lanes you build, the more traffic you create and, after a possible short period of relief, the road will become congested again.  We are not going to get into the large number of studies that have found this.  The entire theory of variable rate toll lanes – to charge people so much that many people will not use them – is tacit acknowledgement of induced demand: if new lanes will not become congested, there is no need to charge excessive tolls to keep people out of them. (Of course, variable rate toll lanes are not a solution to congestion, just a way for those who can afford it to try to buy their way out of it, sometimes.)

It is not that we don’t think the bottleneck should be fixed.  It should be – really fixed.  There is no excuse for it, especially when FDOT fixed the bottleneck on the other side of the bridge years ago.  But we do not buy that variable rate toll lanes are a solution to congestion. (Frankly, we do not think fixing the bottleneck will eliminate congestion.  It will make it better, at least for a while, but it will not eliminate it.)  What we really need is more options not involving vehicles on the interstate.


— Playing Nice With Others

Speaking of FDOT, it has gotten a lot of bad press in recent years for trying to essentially impose plans without regard for the opinion of local residents.  Much of that is well deserved.  This week, the Times had an article about FDOT’s efforts to address that.

The Florida Department of Transportation has an image problem, and new hires within the agency are trying to fix it.

For years, the department was known for its antagonistic relationship with the public, which peaked with the Tampa Bay Express highway expansion. That project was quashed after a public outcry, and multiple leaders were replaced. Now, the agency is trying to move forward and rebuild trust in the community.

A new district secretary who is viewed as more open helps. So do events like a listening tour the state organized in West Tampa on Friday. Department heads and engineers boarded a bus with community members in hopes of developing relationships and learning more about the neighborhood.

Those steps are positive.

“This was an agency that came to us with a prepackaged solution and no real room for discussion,” said Rick Fernandez, president of the Tampa Heights Civic Association. “We were little more than an afterthought in a grander scheme.”

That’s changed in the past two years, Fernandez said. The state announced a “reset” of Tampa Bay Express and in 2017 rebranded its efforts in the area as “Tampa Bay Next.” The new name came with more than half-dozen staff changes, including the arrival of district secretary David Gwynn, who took over in July 2017.

“They do seem genuinely interested in trying to listen,” said Tampa Bay Express opponent Kimberly Overman, who was recently elected to the Hillsborough County Commission. “Which is light-years away from the FDOT we used to know.”

The article then gets into some details of a bus tour of West Tampa, followed by some comments:

“A lot of the times we’re looking at aerials, but then you get down here and see and hear the history of it,” Gwynn said. “As we get closer with some of these concepts, it might be good for us to come out again and talk a little more.”

Yes, it is good to know the area where you are planning projects.

In 2016, members of the county’s transportation planning group requested the state do more to engage the public. But those meetings, too, had a tone of dismissal. When people made suggestions that didn’t fit the state’s already crafted plan, they were told those ideas would go in “the parking lot.”

We acknowledge that there has been some effort, but

The state agency has made strides since the Tampa Bay Express backlash, but some are worried it could turn at any point.

Fernandez said each morning he wakes up, he’s still afraid a Google Alert will notify him of some change in the department that hurts the community.

“As of late, it seems as though we’ve kind of gone back to, ‘Here are the white boards of what we’re going to do. Take your choice,'” Overman said. “It’s not as much of a conversation.”

Some in the community will always be skeptical of the state’s intentions and willingness to work with the public, Overman said. Still, she believes officials have made a greater effort at transparency. She said she sees less aggression in how the state interacts with the public.

“There was a level of arrogance in the past that I think has either gone away or at least subsided,” she said. “There’s now at least a desire for greater collaboration with the communities.

We are happy that FDOT seems more open to outside input.  Of course, the really important thing is not bus tours or pleasant discussions (though those are important) but what is what actually planned.  So far, most (but not all) of the outreach we have seen is still far more FDOT telling people what is planned (which has not changed that much) and why people should like it rather than making plans people actually want.  That may be changing, and you have to start somewhere. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating, as they say. While style is important, it is trumped by substance. FDOT should be judged on their plans.


— Have Your Say

There is news about the streetcar expansion, from URBN Tampa Bay:

If you know people who may be interested in this, please share… There is a key meeting for the Tampa Streetcar extension coming up at Julian B Lane Park on Dec 12th.

This meeting will show a draft proposal of what the extension could look like when built, going into considerably greater detail than previous public events.

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

The extension ideas really deal with Tampa Heights.  Looking more broadly, while we are willing to consider the streetcar a (not optimal) possibility for extension to Westshore and the airport (mostly because our choices were more limited), we think it would be optimal is if the streetcar were modernized and expanded as a local, central Tampa service that was connected to a CSX track based system (that is extended to Westshore).  That would smoothly move people through the larger city and beyond while having a streetcar as a circulator for local, Central Tampa movement.  That is not to say the streetcar should not be modernized, expanded and sped up, but it would be inefficient to have everyone going through downtown to another destination to have to disembark and switch lines.

Go to the meeting.  Tell them what you think.

And, just so you know, with the streetcar going free, ridership was up 98% year on year in October (see pg 98 here)


— Ferry

The County Commission reversed the previous Commission’s last move on the MacDill-South County Ferry idea.

Less than one month after Hillsborough County commissioners scrapped a proposed MacDill passenger ferry project, the new Democratic majority commission has breathed new life into the project.

Commissioners voted 6-0 Wednesday to reverse a November decision that terminated the county’s public private partnership agreement with ferry company HMS Global Maritime and the South Swell development group.

The vote doesn’t guarantee the proposed service will be built between southern Hillsborough and MacDill Air Force Base, but it restarts the next step in the process: a $774,000 contract with a consultant to conduct a ridership survey and a study on where to build a ferry terminal. 

We are quite neutral on this.  The ferry idea is interesting, but the project has been languishing for years with seemingly no one gaining anything but the consultants and no one explaining why that is.  And it is unclear whether this ferry would ever serve more than just MacDill, which is a problem.  In any event, the past Commission should have left any decisions to the new one, so reversing that aspect makes sense.

Interestingly, this time the vote was unanimous because:

Republican Commissioner Sandy Murman, whose district includes the Schultz property, said she would reverse her November vote but still has substantial doubts the project is viable. The water agency’s demands and rising costs could mean the project will end up costing as much as $50 million, she said.

“I’m trying to look for the light at the end of the tunnel on this project,” she said.

Fellow Republican Commissioner Stacy White also reversed his vote but said he remains opposed to the Schultz preserve being used as a terminal, which would include large parking lots.

“There is a perception that a lame duck board took action and the other party didn’t get a fair hearing,” he said. “That was certainly not my intent.”

That perception exists because a lame duck board did take action without giving the new Commission the chance to discuss it, but the mistake has been corrected.  That does not change any of the issues with the project.  Now, the punting needs to stop, and there should be a full accounting and assessment of this idea.


— Brightline

Brightline is rebranding to Virgin Trains, but for clarity, at least for now, we will call it Brightline. For those who are interested, you can read their proposal document here.


Port – Finally

There was big news from the Port.

Port Tampa Bay is pleased to welcome COSCO Shipping’s announcement that it will add Port Tampa Bay to its Gulf of Mexico Express (GME) Transpacific service, with the first vessel M/V COSCO PIRAEUS scheduled to arrive Tampa on January 28, 2019.  COSCO Shipping is one of the world’s largest container carriers with services calling at 267 ports in 85 countries and regions throughout the globe.  A member of the Ocean Alliance, COSCO Shipping is a leader in the transpacific trade.  The new GME service port rotation will be Shanghai-Ningbo-Xiamen-Yantian-Houston-Mobile-Tampa.  Import transit time to Port Tampa Bay from China will be 31 days, and export transit time from Port Tampa Bay to China will be 27 days. Connections on the new service will be provided to/from markets beyond China throughout Asia.

It is important because:

“This will allow us to cut time to get cargo direct from Asia closer by a third to half the time and will allow us to reach out to more customers who are now going to look at our port for further growth,” Anderson told TBBJ. 

That is good for both exporters and importers. The Port’s container business has been growing but it is still quite small.

For the 12 months ending in September, more than 87,500 shipping containers moved through Port Tampa Bay, a 55 percent increase over the year before.

It is not clear how big the weekly ships will be over time (they will be limited by the Skyway height and the channel), but, according to the Port, the first ship will be M/V COSCO PIRAEUS which can handle 4250 TEU, which is the standard 20 foot container. Of course, not all those containers will be coming here (note the multiple stops).  Nevertheless, weekly service to China without having to go through a cargo hub (service on to other points in Asia would go through a Chinese hub) is a major development.  Though there are differences, we view it in a similar way to the airport getting an international flight.  It opens up new possibilities to retain business and develop more.  So, congratulations to the port, and hopefully this is the first of many new services.


Airport – Diversifying

There was also interesting news from the airport:

A simulation training operator that works with Lockheed Martin wants to expand to the Tampa airport.

Tampa-based defense and security firm CAE USA Inc. is currently in a facility just two miles north of Tampa International Airport, but needs more room to expand and increase its sufficiency.

CAE, which is part of CAE Inc. (NYSE: CAE) headquartered in Montreal, operates a training center for Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules aircraft and constructs simulators to look like the cockpit of a C-130.

The Tampa training center was not immediately available for further comment on the expansion, however, CAE was previously seeking incentives from Hillsborough County to create an additional 100 higher-wage jobs and to retain jobs for an expansion of a new, purpose-built facility on Tampa International Airport property.

Where exactly is it going?

CAE is seeking approval of a ground lease for 19.33 acres of the airport’s property in the Drew Park area, according to the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority’s Dec. 6 agenda.

The lease is for the construction, operation and maintenance of flight operation simulators, offices, storage and devices.

The ground lease agreement, if approved on Dec. 6, the first year rent would be roughly $200,000 with monthly payments of roughly $16,419 in addition to taxes.

We are all for diversifying the aerospace business around the airport and redeveloping Drew Park.  Both the Airport and the Port can/should serve as hubs for businesses related to and/or requiring their services, which will help develop and diversify the economy.  It’s a good week for the two entities.


Tampa Heights – Not Good Enough

URBN Tampa Bay reported on a new proposal for Tampa Heights.

A 3-story, 10-unit town house project has been proposed for 2802 North Florida Ave. in Tampa Heights. The project includes 23 parking spaces.

Frankly, we find 10 units on 0.57 acres to be too low of density, and we think there should be commercial uses on Florida. Also, notice how none of the units actually face Florida. Instead, Florida will get the sides of two town homes and a curb cut for the development’s driveway.

In short, this may be a nice project somewhere else nearby, but not on this site fronting Florida Ave in a rapidly transitioning part of town.

You can see the lot here.

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

As you can see from the lot itself, there is a large amount of Florida frontage.  To do what is described in the URBN Tampa Bay blurb above (and the site plan) is really not acceptable. Designing a decent building that addresses a major artery is not that hard.


Channel District – Elevé 61

Elevé 61 is up for an approval.

A 36-story condominium tower proposed in downtown Tampa’s Channel district will be up for a key approval in early December.

Eleve 61, which will include 61 luxury units at 858 Channelside Drive, requires a height variance from the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority because of its proximity to Peter O. Knight Airport.

The variance is recommended for approval, as it isn’t expected to interfere with air traffic.

We have no problem with them getting the height variance.  The big problem with this project is not at the top (though the eastern façade is quite bad), it is at the bottom, where there is no street interaction and that blame for allowing that rests firmly on the City.

Mercury Advisors, the Tampa-based developer of Eleve, secured a development loan for the project in July.

Unfortunately, it appears the present plan is going to move forward, and the City does not really care.


Rays – Money Talk

The Rays stadium issue is now starting to get interesting again.

Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill says the next move in the effort to build a Ybor City ballpark belongs to the Tampa Bay Rays.

Merrill sent a memo to county commissioners late Friday outlining the framework of a possible deal.

On Monday, he said the county needs to know what the Rays think. Do they approve or disapprove? Do they have a counter-proposal? What do they want to change and what do they want to keep?

“We’re kind of at that point,” Merrill said. “Our mission was to build a framework for a deal and this is the best we could come up with. We really need to hear from the Rays.”

URBN Tampa Bay posted a link to a County Commission agenda memo that seems to be the outline of said framework (here).  The main points seem to be these:

The following describes the key elements, but not all of the complicated transaction details, of a feasible framework for the siting and funding of a stadium.

1. The stadium site preferred by the Rays is situated in a census tract within Ybor City that qualifies for private Opportunity Zone funding.
2. The Rays would bear 50% of the cost for the acquisition of land and construction of a stadium.
3. The remaining 50% funding  would come from some, or all, of the following sources:

a. Private investment via an Opportunity Zone Fund,
b. Private investment by Ybor land owners via a Community Development District(s) authorized by the City of Tampa; and,
c. Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) property tax increment revenue generated by new development in the two existing Ybor CRAs established in 1988 and 2004 by the City of Tampa. [NOTE: CRA tax increment revenue is required to be spent only within the boundaries of the CRAs and would not be available for use by the County to fund other government services].

4. Construction cost overruns would be borne by the Rays.
5. Depending on results of future negotiations with private investors, a future guarantee provided jointly by the Rays, City of Tampa and County (estimated to be less than $50 million in total) may be necessary. Such guarantee, if called upon, would be reimbursable to the Rays, City and County.6. The Rays would be required to make annual rent payments.
7. The Rays would be required to fully fund and maintain reserves for stadium repairs and maintenance, as well as for future capital improvements to the Stadium.
8. As is the case with Raymond James Stadium, Amalie Arena, and Steinbrenner Field, it is expected that the Rays stadium would also be immune from property taxes (except for the private portions of the Stadium controlled by the Rays). This immunity can only be accomplished by a vote of the County Commission.

The foregoing summary of a stadium financing framework (some aspects of which had been discussed with Commissioners in previous one – on -one briefings) is not intended to be comprehensive or final. There are many aspects which have yet to be worked out, and many of the foregoing framework elements are subject to other conditions being met. However, this framework forms a basis for possible future negotiations of a Term Sheet that would be presented to The County Commission, City of Tampa and Tampa Sports Authority no later than April 30, 2019. Such Term Sheet, if approved by all parties, would be binding and would trigger the drafting of detailed transaction documents that would be approved by the parties.

As noted, the Rays have not responded.  Whether they will pay $450 million or so is an open question.  Until we know, it is not even worth getting into the details, though it is interesting that the only tax money involved is CRA money, which would have to be spent in the area of the CRA. (The CRA’s in Ybor are a little confusing, but we’ll cross that bridge if we ever get to it.)

“The first step is for the Rays to tell us that they’re willing to work within the framework outlined … as a basis for negotiating,” Merrill said.

In advance of those talks, Hillsborough leaders plan to create a negotiating team that will include: County Commissioner Ken Hagan, the county’s designated point person on a new stadium deal; Tampa Sports Authority President and CEO Eric Hart; a representative from the city of Tampa; and New York attorney Irwin Raij, who specializes in stadium deals.

Raij had been working with the county as a go-between between the county and Rays. Now Merrill said Raij will report to the Sports Authority, which has been the conduit for past Tampa stadium deals including Amalie Arena, Raymond James Stadium and the Yankees’ spring training facility.

“They’ve all been done through TSA,” Merrill said.

The new arrangement with Raij means that the city will help pay his legal bills, Merrill said. Most of the authority’s funding comes from the county and city.

Hart could not be reached for comment. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn presumably would be his city’s representative on the negotiating team.

Merrill’s memo listed April 30 as the tentative date to finish hammering out a stadium deal. Buckhorn leaves office the next day, May 1.

Though, later he said:

“If we can’t come up with term sheet by March of next year we’re basically done anyway,” said County Administrator Mike Merrill during a report to county commissioners.

Of course, arguably

For negotiations to begin, perhaps as soon as early next year, the Rays would likely have to negotiate with St. Petersburg to extend the expiring agreement that allowed the team to seek a Hillsborough stadium site. That extension would have to be approved by the St. Petersburg City Council in 2019 and could cost the team a substantial amount of money.

We’ll see what happens.


Downtown – Bank It

There was a land deal downtown.

One of the largest landowners in downtown Tampa has added a full city block to its portfolio.

John and Jason Accardi, the twin brothers who own Seven One Seven Parking Services Inc., paid $5 million for the vacant lot at 602 E. Cass St., according to Hillsborough County property records.

The 1-acre site is directly across Cass Street from the Le Meridien parking garage, which the Accardis acquired in October. The brothers said in a statement that the property was once home to Coca-Cola Bottling Co. and has operated as the Cass Street Parking Facility for several decades.

Interestingly,

It’s also a prime future development site. The approved site plan includes the following entitlements, according to the Accardis: up to 369 residential units; 7,566 square feet retail; 11,642 square feet of office within a gross building area of 503,631 square feet within a 36-story structure with eight stories of a 588-space parking structure.

“We are very excited about this acquisition as it accelerates the growth of our downtown Tampa real estate portfolio and is the ideal addition to our recently acquired Le Meridien Parking Garage directly across Cass Street,” John Accardi said in a statement. “Its strategic location is positioned to immediately serve downtown’s growing parking demand and its entitlements provide for unique long-term development possibilities.”

We do not really care who owns land downtown, but we do care if good use is made of that land.  Unfortunately, there is a lot of land banking downtown (made even easier by the local tax system). And this particular land seems destined to be a surface parking lot for the foreseeable future.   We hope the City does not inexplicably eliminate even more street parking spaces around surface lots, like it did on Tampa Street (see here).


Ybor City – Diversifying

There was Ybor news other than the Rays stadium.

Masonite International Corp. is sticking close to its Ybor City roots.

The designer and manufacturer of interior and exterior doors had an existing office in the city that housed many of its corporate employees and will soon have a headquarters campus for the employees to work more closely together.

The groundbreaking for the 56,000-square-foot building was held Thursday morning at 1309 E. 6th Ave. Its previous building is 47,000 square feet at 201 N. Franklin Street. The new headquarters will be ready for move-in roughly by late December 2019.

* * *

The new space will house about 400 employees. The company, which has been around since 1925, moved its headquarters from Toronto to Tampa in 2004. It serves more than 7,000 customers in 65 countries.

 

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

It is an ok, if not exciting, design, though it is really on the edge of Ybor.  It would be nicer if it did something on the street, especially since it may end up right next to the Rays stadium.  Nevertheless, it is nice to get more offices in Ybor.


Housing – A Follow Up

A few weeks ago, we discussed a report about the problems with getting affordable housing built in this area.  (“Economic Development/Politics/Built Environment – Someone Has to Pay” ) One of the issues raised in the report were “fees.” (But just for this area).  So we were interested when we read this discussion about trends in home building.

Since the housing collapse 10 years ago, home builders have been largely focused on serving the high end of the market, building larger homes for deep-pocketed buyers who are more likely to qualify for a mortgage, if they need to get a mortgage at all.

The lack of entry-level construction has often been cited as one of the causes of the current housing affordability crisis, but recent construction data from the U.S. Census suggests that things may be changing.

According to analysis by the National Association of Home Builders, the average and median home sizes have been steadily falling for the last few years, indicating that builders are turning their focus to more entry-level home production.

With that background, this is the main point:

But these numbers may say more about who is buying houses than individual home size preferences. In the aftermath of the housing collapse in 2008, many homeowners lost their homes, their jobs, and had their credit wrecked in the process. With the economy in tatters, the only reliable homebuyers were the wealthy.

Homebuilders responded in kind by producing housing for this demographic, and it shows in the home size data. By the summer of 2011, the one-year moving average and median home size had matched pre-crisis peaks, and the next four years saw home sizes reach new all-time highs.

Mortgage lenders have been historically cautious since the financial crisis. More than 95 percent of mortgage originations are sold to government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Ginnie Mae, and those entities have strict guidelines for what they’ll buy. This means people with even a slight credit problem may not qualify for a mortgage.

At the same time, the cost of home construction has risen rapidly, as have the prices of lumber, gypsum, construction labor, and land. Shortages of lumber have been a common complaint among homebuilders thanks to a years-long trade dispute with Canada over softwood lumber. Although it’s dropped in recent months, lumber prices have been steadily rising for years.

These issues have contributed to home builders focusing on the high end of the market, and the precious few entry-level homes that were often bid up because they were so scarce. This has fueled to the housing affordability crisis that’s kept many would-be homeowners out of the market.

When you add in that our area has low incomes and was badly hit in the housing crisis of the 2008 recession, it all fits together.  Complaining about fees will not change any of the real factors.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Among planners (and other interested people) there is a lot of talk about reducing or removing parking minimums, like this from Ottawa (thanks to URBN Tampa Bay):

Interestingly, cities in the US are starting to look at this seriously.

San Francisco is poised to become the first big U.S. city to no longer require developers to include at least some parking in their housing developments.

Legislation introduced by Supervisor Jane Kim strips the planning code of a minimum parking requirement that is already largely circumvented in practice by providing other alternatives like bicycle parking. San Francisco’s minimum parking requirements date back to the 1950s.

“It would not prohibit parking in any redevelopment. It would merely remove the requirement that a developer would have to build a minimum number of parking spaces,” Kim said during Monday’s Land Use and Transportation Committee hearing.

* * *

She noted that it would make San Francisco the second city in the United States after Hartford, Conn. to eliminate minimum parking requirements and the first big city to do so.

The proposal was seen as being beneficial to the environment, but it could also help reduce construction costs.

“There is no good reason for the city to force the private market to produce parking spaces for every housing unit built,” said Arielle Fleisher, a representative for public policy think tank SPUR. “Eliminating minimum parking requirements reduces the cost of producing new housing and enables us to use our land more efficiently by replacing spaces for cars with spaces for people.” 

You can read more about San Francisco here.

Another city looking at it is Minneapolis.

Minneapolis 2040 believes the solution is simply more: more construction, more high-rises, and more triplexes. The comprehensive plan update would create new zoning categories across the city. In addition to allowing triplexes, the new rules would allow developers in most residential areas to build four stories high. It would also eliminate off-street parking requirements, which add to the cost of a new project without increasing density.

As you can tell, the Minneapolis idea is part of a larger planning rethink. If you are interested, you can read more here.

We do not think that parking will somehow magically not be needed in this area.  However, the entire issue needs to be revisited, especially in urban areas and as we move forward developing transit.  What we really don’t need is vast parking lots surrounding developments (or surface lots like for the Midtown Whole Foods).