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Roundup 9-30-2016

September 30, 2016

Contents

Transportation – Willful Ignorance

— Tell Them Something They Don’t Know

— Excuses

— The Delegation

— Conclusion

— Meeting Reminders

— One More Thing

Transportation – Gandy Connector Developments

Downtown – Block Letter Project

Channel District – Finally

Downtown – Another Apartment Complex

Seminole Heights – Once More Into the Breach

Built Environment – How Not to Do Retail

Built Environment – Parking Diet

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

_______________________________________

Transportation – Willful Ignorance

— Tell Them Something They Don’t Know

There was a really odd article in the Times regarding the Howard Frankland Bridge replacement.

The Florida Department of Transportation plans to add a toll on one lane in each direction, creating “express lanes” that could cost as much as $6 to use. Drivers who don’t pay will have three lanes, instead of the current four.

State officials say this has been public knowledge for years, part of a controversial expansion plan called Tampa Bay Express, or TBX.

That was not the odd part.  This was:

But transportation activists and even top officials who voted on the proposal thought TBX would add new lanes to the bridge for tolls — not replace ones that already exist. After three years of presentations and meetings, even veteran urban planners who were involved in the process were stunned to learn that the state’s plan will shrink the number of lanes for drivers.

“I certainly didn’t think they were going to reduce the number of lanes,” said Tampa City Councilman Harry Cohen, who sits on the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization and voted to allow the project to proceed in June.

That is absurd.  Even more absurd is the number of officials who claim they did not know (to be exact, the article says they “thought DOT was adding an additional lane“), from a follow-up article:

State Rep. Ed Narain, D-Tampa, was surprised to hear DOT’s plan.

“I always understood it as there was additional capacity added.” He didn’t agree with the state’s characterization of how the outside lane is used. “It’s definitely not an auxiliary lane.”

State Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, felt mislead.

“I never thought they would be reducing the capacity of traffic. … It’s already bad enough. They don’t call it the Howard Frankenstein for nothing.”

Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-South Pasadena, never expected to lose a free lane.

“I don’t have a high confidence level in the plan if they’re going to cut down a lane.”

Hillsborough County Commissioner and MPO Member Sandy Murman, Republican, said this version was news to her.

She does not approve of tolls on the Howard Frankland. “I think that would kill our economic development efforts and our regional efforts.”

Pasco County Commissioner Jack Mariano, Republican, called the plan a “joke.”

“When they take these lanes and call them fancy names like managed lanes, they’re clearly trying to disguise something.”

State Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, wants DOT to pull the plug on the plan.

“It’s outrageous. It’s wrong. It’s not what will help this region.”

Tampa City Council member Lisa Montelione, Democrat, said no one on the Hillsborough MPO realized this.

“It is interesting that there are 16 of us and none of us caught that particular nuance.” 

How absurd is it that they do not know the FDOT plan?  We cited this Times article in our July 18, 2014 Roundup (See “Transportation – FDOT Giveth, FDOT Taketh Away” ):

The other huge project is the construction of a new northbound Howard Frankland Bridge. The state has rated the current bridge, which reopened in January 1993 after rehabilitation, as “structurally deficient,” said Ming Gao, state DOT planning manager. By giving the bridge that rating, the DOT is saying that it needs to be continually repaired or replaced by 2025. Gao estimated that the DOT is already paying about $2 million a year to maintain it.

* * *

When complete, it would have four lanes. It would also have a substructure strong enough to be widened and to support light rail or other such fixed guideway transit, should that ever be built.

One of the four lanes would be a toll express lane. The other three would be traditional lanes. 

Not to mention URBN Tampa Bay’s posting a page from a 2016 MPO meeting transcript clearly indicating the plan.  (See more here)

If we knew it and the Times knew it (not to mention the anti-TBX folks), how did local elected officials, including those who ended up on the MPO voting on TBX, and many other people who support TBX not know it?  Isn’t it the job of local officials who make decisions to know such things?

Setting that problem aside for now, how does FDOT justify taking away a free lane from the bridge?

FDOT administrators contend they have said all along that the new bridge will have one fewer free lane. They argue it doesn’t technically remove any capacity from the bridge because they consider only three of the Howard Frankland Bridge’s four lanes to be for “general use.”

The state calls the fourth lane, the one nearest the water, an “auxiliary lane.” Its purpose is to connect the on- and off-ramps in Pinellas and Hillsborough, officials say, not to carry through traffic.

But try telling that to the thousands of people who drive it every day.

It’s not a “breakdown lane” or a shoulder and is, in fact, the same length and width as the lane next to it.

And while official documents often refer to it as an auxiliary lane, they’re not consistent. Other records say the bridge has four “travel lanes.

“Nobody’s been duped,” said Debbie Hunt, director of transportation development for FDOT’s Tampa district. “I’m not sure why anybody thinks it’s different. I’m truly baffled.”

With all due respect, no, not duped – screwed.  (We give FDOT points for the bureaucratic newspeak which was probably used to avoid federal rules on tolling free interstate lanes, but everyone knows that there are four free lanes in each direction.) That is made abundantly clear when you consider that FDOT is building Pensacola a new $500 million dollar Pensacola Bay Bridge replacement without any tolls at all. (See “Transportation – FDOT MO”) But there is more:

Transportation activists say FDOT misled the public by promoting a more expansive version of TBX with four free lanes, two tolls and room for mass transit like a light rail connecting the two counties.

* * *

“The department has said that about all the other segments, that they’re not taking away a general purpose lane, that this is a new lane,” said Beth Alden, executive director of the Hillsborough MPO. “I think it would be really easy to have gotten a different impression about what this bridge is going to be.”

Setting aside that even the planners do not seem to know what is in the plan, you would have gotten that impression from FDOT only if you were not paying attention. The extra lanes were always portrayed in possible later phases – not the original project.  And this is made clear by this:

Not all were confused. Rick Homans of the Tampa Bay Partnership, a strong advocate for TBX, said FDOT made it clear to his group the plan was to convert the auxiliary lane to a toll lane. He said business executives care more about the bottleneck at Westshore, where four lanes currently narrow to two, than the number of lanes on the bridge. The plan aims to fix that by adding an extra through lane at the interchange.

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

Um, no.  The bottleneck definitely needs to be fixed, but the bridge has issues going the other way, too.  The fact is that it is already too small. And the only way one would not be concerned with losing a free lane is if one is planning on using the express lanes and don’t care about all the people who can’t afford $10+ each way twice a day on their exceptionally low incomes.

Others also said they knew:

St. Petersburg City Council member and Pinellas MPO member Jim Kennedy, Democrat, said he was “surprised at people being surprised.”

“They were very clear that what they’re referring to as an auxiliary lane … which I think everybody looks at as a through traffic lane on the bridge, was going to become a tolled lane.” He opposes the plan.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, Democrat, said the plan isn’t perfect but something needs to be done.

“I hate to see this be another project where we had an opportunity to do something and we turned the money down trying to wait for perfection.” He supports the plan.

Constricting traffic on the main link in the area is hardly “doing something.” First, instead of just accepting the plan, the Mayor of St. Pete could have rallied the legislative delegation and local politicians to get changes made to the plan.  Second, the fact is that St. Pete will be hurt more by the constricted access than Tampa – which has the airport, the Port and more people.

Clearwater City Council member and Pinellas MPO member Doreen Caudell, Republican, said DOT isn’t taking away a lane

“It does not slow down traffic or reduce lanes. … An express lane is still a lane.” She supports the plan.

Apparently she does not understand how express lanes work. Taking away a free lane is taking away a free lane and shoving traffic off of the express lane, which is the specific purpose of express lanes, will slow traffic. And, yes, it is taking away a lane.

The Mayor of Tampa, somewhat out of character, apparently has not said anything about the bridge, but is on record as supporting TBX.

— Excuses

Setting the last two quotes aside, of course there is an excuse for the confusion:

But even the master plan for the project, posted on FDOT’s website, shows a more expansive version of the Howard Frankland: four general use lanes and two toll lanes in each direction.

Again and again in the 172-page document, state officials refer to the wider bridge with no reduction in lanes. This is called the “ultimate” option.

It also refers to the smaller version of the bridge as a starter project, but much less prominently.

Hunt, of FDOT, said the ultimate goal is still this bigger version, but that will happen only after both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties agree on a mass transit system to cross the bay — an agreement that has eluded the region for two decades.

If that ever happens, the state will start construction on a third bridge — this time, with the extra lanes. The segment they’re proposing now would be used for mass transit.

Until then, drivers will have a choice: Sit in even worse congestion. Or pay up.

Nice try. First, as we said, the news has been out for years.  Second, for a while now, opponents of TBX have been saying that FDOT is not being forthright and that you have to read their fine print.  TBX supporters ignored them. Now we know that some people promoting and voting on the plan didn’t even know what was in it. Other politicians didn’t either. There is no excuse for such ignorance.  (We wonder if these local politicos knew, and, regardless, whether they support taking a free lane from the bridge )

But the even more interesting question is for the local officials and legislators who knew full well about FDOT’s plans and still supported the TBX plan: why are you ok with constricting the main artery of the entire area?  How does that fix congestion? (If the two answers above are any indication, the answers will be, shall we say, interesting.)

As for the “ultimate option,” if you think Hillsborough and Pinellas are going to come up with a unified mass transit plan any time soon, you probably haven’t been paying attention to transportation issues much.

— The Delegation

The fact remains that, while it has some good elements, TBX as a whole is bad for this area. And, regardless of whether people like express lanes or not, this area (and its legislative delegation) should be slamming FDOT for trying to constrict the main transportation artery of this entire area, among other things. No other area in the state is getting treated like we are (though a lot of that rests with local officials).

So what do members of the delegation say?

State Sen. Tom Lee, R-Republican, said he knew DOT planned to convert a lane, but called it “controversial.”

“I’ve also been under the impression that before the DOT pulls the trigger on any action there will be additional opportunities for dialogue.” He thinks the bridge is “probably not going to end up with toll facilities.”

* * *

State Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, said the plan is still changing.

“FDOT will build what we tell them to build. If the public wants additional lanes and additional capacity, then they will put on as much capacity as we fund them to put on.” He supports Tampa Bay Express, but his discussions with DOT about the proposed plans for the Howard Frankland Bridge always included adding capacity.

State Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, said officials and community members need to voice their concerns.

“To the extent we can put pressure on DOT to oppose, we will.”

State Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, urged residents to attend next week’s public hearings.

“I feel pretty confident there will be an outcry over this.”

Yea, there is an outcry, but what are you going to do about it?  And it is all well and good to say that FDOT will build what you tell them to build, but then you have to tell them to build something good.  So far there basically have been crickets, followed by a couple of statements to a newspaper (and whole-hearted support for TBX from one State Senator quoted above) Why didn’t you already do something?  For the delegation in this case, silence is has to be construed as assent.

There is one notable exception to the crickets, though still after the original Times article came out:

Florida Sen. Jack Latvala, R- Clearwater, wrote a letter to DOT District Secretary Paul Steinman conveying his “great concern” about the agency’s plan to add a toll on one lane in each direction, creating “express lanes” that could cost as much as $6 to use. Drivers who don’t pay will have three lanes instead of the current four.

“This would be an immediate impediment to creating a business environment uniting the entire Tampa Bay region,” Latvala’s letter said.

* * *

Latvala said he was told the bridge would also be an expansion and urged the agency to reconsider its proposal to put a toll on a free lane.

“In discussions with previous Secretaries from the Department of Transportation, they assure me that if express lanes with tolls were to be implemented, they would be new lanes, not taking already existing lanes and designating them as express lanes,” Latvala said.

They may or may not have said that, but they were pretty clear on taking a lane away, at least in the interim (of unknown duration).  Regardless, he is right about the plan being an impediment to the area.  Now, the delegation should hold their feet to the fire to change that.

— Conclusion

The reality is that we are not surprised that FDOT plans to take away a lane.  We are not surprised that local officials lined up to support the plan.  And we are not surprised that local officials now claim to have not known what was in the plan – either because they really didn’t or just for CYA purposes.  The real question is what they are going to do now.

Then again, as we said back in 2014, when we first discussed FDOT’s plan to remove a lane:

That’s ok, though, because, if you want to avoid crossing on new but shrunken Howard Frankland, you can just take the very effective regional mass transit system . . .

Welcome to Tampa Bay.

— Meeting Reminders

Once again, if you don’t like what FDOT is proposing, you can go to a meeting and tell them:

DOT is planning two public hearings on Oct. 4 and 6 to discuss proposed changes to the bridge. The first will be at the Hilton St. Petersburg Carillon Park; the second at the Tampa Marriott Westshore. Both are scheduled to start at 5:30 p.m.

Tell them what you think.  And feel free to contact your legislator.

— One More Thing

Interestingly, this week, we also learned this:

The Florida Department of Transportation is partnering with Florida Polytechnic University in Lakeland to create a new transportation testing facility.

SunTrax is expected to establish Florida as a transportation technology leader and serve as a high-tech hub for things like tolling, intelligent transportation systems and autonomous vehicles.

* * *

The facility includes a 2.25-mile track adjacent to the Polk Parkway outside the city of Auburndale.

And what is the first thing they will be working on?

The first phase of construction will include a toll testing facility on the track. It will include multiple lanes and will simulate parallel tolled express lanes.

Of course, tolling.  How about later?  Anything but roads and cars?

Future phases of the testing facility include less controversial components including space for automated and connected vehicle testing. Florida Polytechnic University students will be able to participate in research at the facility.

No.  Would you expect anything else?

Transportation – Gandy Connector Developments

There was a development in the Gandy Connector push:

The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce has come out in favor of a $192 million project to extend the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway to the Gandy Bridge via elevated lanes.

“As a community, we must begin to view ourselves as a region and shift our focus to regional transportation solutions,” chamber president Bob Rohrlack said in a statement about the chamber board of directors decision.  “This project is an initial step towards a robust regional transportation system.”

That’s something, but, given the absolute failure of local officials to do anything about transportation, the Chamber has been seemed ready to support any improvement, including TBX with its removing a free lane from the Howard Frankland.

The South Tampa and Brandon chambers already have voted to support the project, expected to start construction in December 2017. The Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority plans to extend the Selmon Expressway 1.6 miles from S Dale Mabry Highway to the Gandy Bridge. The elevated toll lanes will be at least 30 feet above street level and will be built atop pilings anchored in Gandy’s median.

The South Tampa chamber endorsing it is more important because it combats some of the long-standing opposition by a couple of neighborhood groups (whether they are representative of the residents or not is unclear) and some businesses on Gandy.  Still, there is a way to go on this and the proposal is not optimal (for instance, should be a full 4 lane road, though that is unlikely) – but at least the concept opens up a connection across the bay, unlike TBX.

Downtown – Block Letter Project

In July, the City put out an RFP for the parking lot across Florida from City Hall.  Three developers submitted proposal.  The City now has selected a proposal, but, before we get to that, let’s recall what we were told about this lot and the vision for the RFP:

Buckhorn has called the block, now home to a parking lot across N Florida Avenue from City Hall, “the most prominent undeveloped parcel” in downtown and said it could be “the new crown jewel of our skyline.”

Could be. So what did the City choose?

HRI submitted a bid to pay $7.5 million for 1-acre lot surface parking lot at 405 E. Kennedy Blvd. and build a mixed-use tower on the site — 21 stories that will include 225 residential units, a 223-room Hyatt Centric Hotel, 7,000 square feet of commercial space and retail space and a 408-car garage, the city announced Thursday.

HRI’s proposal estimates a total project cost of $120 million. The hotel would occupy floors six through 11 and will include 9,600 square feet of meeting space, a 22,000-square-foot rooftop pool, cabana, fitness center and poolside bar.

The residential units — built with condominium-level finishes and private balconies — will be built on floors 12 through 21.

From the Times - click on picture for article

From the Times – click on picture for article

Aside from paying a decent amount for the land, what is there to recommend this project? Well, the mix of uses are ok (though the amount of retail, which is key for the street, seems small).  And while the building looks ok, though it is quite squat, it is hardly a crown jewel of the skyline.  Frankly, from many angles, it will be hard to see (the rendering seems to demolish every building around it).  Moreover,

The ground level commercial space will be on North Marion Street and East Jackson Street and “will serve to further activate the North Marion Street pedestrian promenade and provide an additional destination stop along the Marion Street Transit Parkway,” HRI wrote.

Assuming the building in the rendering faces Kennedy, it will put essentially a blank wall and dead street directly across from historic City Hall (even if the building faces City Hall, most of what faces City Hall will be a parking garage, to go along with the one across Kennedy) which is quite poor. (Is that really what you want on that corner for the next 50 years?)

Second, while the proposal has the aforementioned mix of uses, it does not add anything that is not already being added or going to be added by the various project under construction or proposed. A few blocks away, the Lightning owner’s $2 billion project is moving forward.  Other projects are also moving forward.  And there are a number of other proposals. This project would not really change the nature of the area in which it is proposed. There is no need to stimulate development by getting rid of public land.

It is not clear why the City is determined to sell this land.  All that is going to happen if downtown develops is that this land will become more valuable – with more likelihood of a real signature project.  There is no reason to sell it for a project that can be built on any block downtown – including on the (mostly) parking lot across Kennedy from this lot or any number of other privately owned surface lots. (See this map)  The land is a public asset that will be more valuable held in trust for the future use.  It can always be developed later if a truly signature proposal comes along. (Frankly, the other two proposals are pretty bad too – especially how they push the tower portion right up to Florida and block views of City Hall. )

The bottom line is that this project were private, we’d probably say, except the awful the treatment of City Hall, it was tolerable filler  but nothing special unless they fixed the obvious deficiencies.  But it is proposed for public land (which makes one wonder why it is not just being proposed for nearby private land such as across the street and if there is a problem with land banking of private land downtown). There is no good reason to support it.

Channel District – Finally

After about 10 years of discussion and news reports, Channel Club (the latest name for the project), finally broke ground.

Construction work on the Channel Club, a 21-story apartment tower and Publix Super Markets Inc. store, began Friday morning on a vacant lot between East Twiggs and East Madison streets.

* * *

Ken Stoltenberg, a principal with Mercury Advisors in Tampa, declined comment Friday. Mercury Advisors has been working on this development for years.

From the Business Journal - click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

A developer declining comment is a bit odd, but whatever. While we think it could be more pedestrian friendly, it is good to get this project, and its Publix, finally going.  We look forward to watching it go up.

Downtown – Another Apartment Complex

There was news that another apartment complex downtown is moving forward.

A Charlotte, North Carolina developer has closed on a site near downtown Tampa’s Riverwalk where it plans to build nearly 400 apartments.

Crescent Communities paid $8.1 million for a 5-acre site at 109 W. Fortune St. in a deal that closed Friday, according to a Hillsborough County deed filed Tuesday.

It is not clear when the project may start.

We are all for more residential.  Unfortunately, as noted by URBN Tampa Bay, this project does not appear to have retail and does not seem to have any street interaction.    According to some comments on URBN Tampa Bay, this lot for some reason was exempted by the City regarding such things. If that is true, that makes no sense.  Regardless, we can do much better.

If Tampa is serious about having a solid downtown, it needs to insist on such things.  Remember, if one project can be exempted, so can any of the others (which would not be a unique occurrence in this area).

Seminole Heights – Once More Into the Breach

There was another project proposed for Seminole Heights (from URBN Tampa Bay):

A 5-story mixed use project has been proposed for 6000 N. Florida Ave. in Seminole Heights. The project features 84 residential units and approximately 7,000 square feet of retail space. The developer is Milhaus Development from Indianapolis.

The first rezoning hearing is set for January 19th.

From URBN Tampa Bay - click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay - click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

We admit that, from the rendering, you can’t tell that much.  However, the basic outline is it is an L shaped building that is on the west side of Florida with part facing Idlewild.

Based on past experience, there will be some opposition to this project.  Some will say it is too big.  Some will say that it is different architecturally from the area (though it is not in the historical district).  Some will object to the 56 foot height (though it will not cast long shadows into yards in the afternoon).

From what we have to look at, we tentatively support the project. (Another option, which we would actually prefer, for the lot is to have a wider 5 story building closer to the street without the part of the L stretching back closer to the houses.  That way the project still can have a decent number of units but less effect on the houses behind it.  However, that was tried with a previous proposal on another lot and was killed by opposition.)

First, the architecture does not bother us.  There is much worse on Florida.  We are not bothered by the height either.  It is not that we think Seminole Heights should be filled with huge buildings, but it is just not huge.  It is like a Main Street building, which is what Florida is for Seminole Heights.  There is retail on the bottom and residential on the top.  The most of the bulk of the building is away from the residential in behind it.  And it fits with what every envisioning of what Florida in Seminole Heights was supposed to be.  It will definitely not destroy the nature of the neighborhood or the plans that have been made for it.  It will not take the quirkiness and small business aspect away (unlike the Dollar General, and it ilk, which had no problem opening a store with the one story + parking model or the Wa-Wa on the hill).

Finally, as noted by URBN Tampa Bay:

Resident Concern #2: This project will gentrify and destroy Seminole Heights’ “charm.” There is absolutely no proof to back this claim up. The people that would be interested in moving into this project would be interested because they like Seminole Height’s charm an want to escape the land of cookie cutter chain restaurant suburbia. Many of America’s most eclectic neighborhoods have projects that absolutely dwarf this project. There is no correlation with project density and charm. If anything, denser neighborhoods tend to not be designed for cars and therefore be more eclectic in nature, not less. This project compares favorably to the SH Starbucks for example, in maintaining the charm of the area.

If Seminole Heights is ever to become a truly urban residential area (and we focus on residential area), it needs some density of Florida to support transit and street activity (this street could use more) and help support the amenities that the people who live there now want.  We do not see this as detracting from Florida at all.

We know that may bother some people, but that is how we see it.

But this all gets back to the simple question:

What really matters is that the neighborhood (and the City) needs to decide what they want.  Do they want to have a real, urban neighborhood in the middle of a city where the major commercial roads are activated and thriving or do they want to promote the status quo on Florida and Nebraska (which have improved but have a long way to go) and hope for a small town main street on a major thoroughfare (which is not the adopted plan)?  We have an opinion, but the decision is theirs.

Just know that if Seminole Heights rejects enough projects that bring an urban approach and try to activate Florida (which, as we said, is their prerogative), eventually, even if there are some small developments like the pharmacy/café under construction now, a good amount of the investment money, and the people, businesses, and energy they have, will go elsewhere.

That may be the choice Seminole Heights want, but make it with eyes open.

Built Environment – How Not to Do Retail

There was an interesting article in the Times about three outdoor marketplaces built in the late 1990s/early 2000s: Bay Walk, Channelside, and Centro Ybor.

Nearly two decades ago, real estate developers wanted to build open-air shopping centers in Florida.

Between October 2000 and February 2001, three of them opened in the Tampa Bay area.

With movie theaters, shops and restaurants tucked inside, shopping centers like Centro Ybor, BayWalk and Channelside Bay Plaza were meant to be bustling community centers, a draw to residents and tourists.

But in the 16 years or so since they opened, each has suffered more than they’ve flourished. Centro Ybor was nearly bankrupt by 2004 and is mostly office space today. St. Petersburg’s BayWalk was bought by hometown entrepreneur Bill Edwards, who spent millions to renovate the center and put it back on the market.

And Channelside Bay Plaza could be bulldozed if Port Tampa Bay’s board of directors approves a plan from Strategic Property Partners, the real estate firm owned by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Bill Gates’ Cascade Investment. The plan would raze the 230,532-square-foot nearly empty structure to make room for new waterfront development, which would include residential towers, restaurants, shops and a park.

They all came online with great fanfare and hype (though it should be noted that some questioned whether both Centro Ybor and Channelside could thrive with the other nearby).  In fact, for a period, all did ok, but then started to struggle.  Why?

“They were way ahead of their time,” said Paul Rutledge, first vice president with real estate company CBRE, Inc. in Tampa, of open-air shopping centers. “By the time they had enough people, it wasn’t the right design anymore.”

The retail industry is always evolving. And thanks to e-commerce giants Amazon and others, brick and mortar retailers have had to reinvent the role of the traditional store’s experience to keep customers coming back. It doesn’t help that BayWalk, Bay Plaza and Centro Ybor were built just before the Sept. 11 attacks and before the onset of the Great Recession, which squashed consumer confidence and dried up discretionary spending. 

Timing is one issue, though other areas have had such development do well.  And, yes, to some degree, they were ahead of their time.  The areas around them were not nearly as developed as now in terms of residents and businesses.  What else?

Analysts say these once ambitious retail developments failed because they were unable to adapt as shopper preferences changed and the market took a turn for the worst. Developers also overestimated the power of tourist spending — especially in a recession, said Faith Hope Consolo, chairman of the Retail Group for Douglas Elliman Real Estate in New York City. Consolo worked as a consultant at Sundial for a short time.

We would suggest that the last factor was the biggest, at least for the Tampa complexes. Both were built with tourists as a main contemplated market.  To be truly successful, such development must draw strongly from the local market.  Tourists come and go, and often never return (just because they are not around).  Repeat and consistent business must come from locals. At first, there were not enough locals in the immediate area.  (And then there was Channelside’s poor layout and bad management.)

We are not saying that a tourist focus was the only problem.  It wasn’t. (There was bad press, arguments about what Ybor should be, and other competition.)  And there is also the question about whether retail complexes are really what people want in an urban environment – as opposed to lively streets with retail on them that form a part of a larger urban area.  But, unless you are Disney, if you are planning a major complex based on tourists, you are probably going to have some very big issues (like the streetcar).

If you build something good that locals will enjoy, tourists will come with them.

Built Environment – Parking Diet

This week, we look at an article in the Guardian about parking.

The US has long been the world leader in building parking spaces. During the mid 20th century, city zoning codes began to include requirements and quotas for most developments to include parking spaces. The supply skyrocketed. A 2011 study by the University of California, estimated there are upwards of 800m parking spaces in the US, covering about 25,000 square miles of land.

“As parking regulations were put into zoning codes, most of the downtowns in many cities were just completely decimated,” says Michael Kodransky, global research manager for the Institute of Transportation and Development Policy. “What the cities got, in effect, was great parking. But nobody goes to a city because it has great parking.”

Increasingly, cities are rethinking this approach. As cities across the world begin to prioritise walkable urban development and the type of city living that does not require a car for every trip, city officials are beginning to move away from blanket policies of providing abundant parking. Many are adjusting zoning rules that require certain minimum amounts of parking for specific types of development. Others are tweaking prices to discourage driving as a default when other options are available. Some are even actively preventing new parking spaces from being built.

We are not going to get into the whole article.  You can read it here.

Of course, to make it work you would have to have a complete change in the mentality of development and transportation in this area. There are few signs of that.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

URBN Tampa Bay and Sunshine Citizens had an interesting post on their Facebook pages about the potential to use a tunnel for 275 through downtown rather than the massive and destructive TBX plan. While tunneling in Florida sounds kind of crazy, in the last few years, Miami opened a tunnel from downtown to the port – so it can be done.  And Miami is also looking, though it is still not clear how seriously, at a tunnel under the Miami River.  FDOT has even looked at putting tunnel through downtown instead of this “signature bridge.”

From Sunshine Citizens - click on picture for Facebook page

From Sunshine Citizens – click on picture for Facebook page

We are not saying it wouldn’t be expensive.  We are not even saying it is the best idea (though TBX definitely isn’t the best idea).  But if FDOT is going to spend $6-9 billion and still take away free travel lanes from most important artery in the area, FDOT can look at building a tunnel with a connective park above it – which would do a lot for downtown. (They could always focus on transit, but we know that isn’t going to happen).

Roundup 9-23-2016

September 23, 2016

Contents

Economy/Economic Development – Where Are We Really? 2016 Edition

— Per Capita GDP

— Incomes

— Conclusion

Transportation – TBX Meeting

Downtown/Channel District – The Big News

— Phase I

— Channelside

— Conclusion

Port/International Trade/Latin America – Cuba Calling

Transportation – Trial Ferry

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

___________________________________________________________

Economy/Economic Development – Where Are We Really? 2016 Edition

It is that time of year again.  The Bureau of Economic Analysis has released its GDP for metropolitan area stats, and the news reports are in. “Tampa Bay area among the largest economies in the U.S.” says the Business Journal.  Well, it better be.  From the Times:

Tampa Bay’s economic output rose from $127.3 billion in 2014 to $133.8 billion last year, a 2.7 percent rise that outperformed most other metros, according to government figures released Tuesday.

The bay area’s economy currently ranks as 26th largest in the country among all metros, just ahead of Cleveland and just behind Indianapolis. Miami has the 11th largest economy and Orlando came in at 31st.

Which sounds good, until you go back to the fact that we are 18th biggest metro area and Indianapolis has about a million fewer people than we do and is the 34th largest metro area.  That is why we have been much more interested in per capita GDP – it tells a more accurate story of how we are really doing compared to our competition. (You can see last year’s analysis at “Economy/Economic Development – Where Are We Really?”)

— Per Capita GDP

As with last year, we have gone to the BEA website and pulled up numbers for a relevant comparison on usual suspects around our size, regional cities, and areas in the state.  There is one caveat.  Some of the numbers from this year’s data set are a little different than last year.  We are not sure what the BEA is doing in all their calculations, but they are probably making corrections.  That is why we use this year’s data.  Even if the set is a little inconsistent with last year, it should be internally consistent, given a decent picture of what is going on.  Here is this year’s chart:

From the BEA - click on chart for bigger version

From the BEA – click on chart for bigger version

If you compare it to last year, you see a little shuffling of the cities at the top (and all over).  One thing you do not see is the Tampa Bay area rising any higher on the list (though that may be coming in a year of two).  We are still behind the major Florida cities (Miami and Orlando by a decent amount), regional cities, and usual suspects list.  We are still behind Jackson and Birmingham.  We are even still behind Buffalo.  We are nowhere near Nashville, Charlotte, and Austin.  Never mind Denver.

What are even more interesting are the growth rates.  While we hear a lot about employment growth – and it is there – the per capita GDP growth rates, while not negative, like some areas, is really lagging. Even Buffalo is growing faster.  And, remember, the areas growing faster already have higher per capita GDP.

And, as last year, we have done a chart of the Top 30 metro areas.  And, as last year, we are second from the bottom:

From BEA - click on chart for bigger version

From BEA – click on chart for bigger version

Not good.

— Incomes

Which brings us to a column in the Times last week:

We are poor. Thin of wallet and purse. Paycheck laggards. At least when it comes to the rest of the nation’s 25 largest metro areas.

* * *

The Tampa Bay metro area comes in last among its 25 peers with the only median household income below $50,000. Household incomes in some wealthy metro areas, like Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Boston, are so far ahead of Tampa Bay — as well as Orlando and Miami, which also rank poorly in the top 25 — that the comparison feels more like a First World versus a Third World country.

Even Detroit, the city that went bankrupt, is part of a metro area that enjoys higher household income than any of Florida’s three major metros.

Tampa Bay, Orlando and Miami rank 25th, 24th and 23rd in income among the top 25 U.S. metro areas.

How bad is it?

The Census Bureau pegs Tampa Bay’s median household income at $48,911. That’s $44,383 less than what the median household of $93,294 in Washington, D.C., the richest large metro area by this household income measure in the country. That’s an extraordinary gap.

Median household income means half the households in each metro area have income above this amount, and half have income below the amount.

And

Atlanta, for example, enjoyed a median household income of $60,219. That’s more than $11,000 higher than a Tampa Bay household.

Does that matter? Consider that prices of homes for sale in Atlanta and Tampa are currently very similar — the median home price in both markets is about $265,000. The sharp disparity in household income means Atlanta residents are in far better financial shape to afford a house than their Tampa Bay peers.

Worse, the Census Bureau numbers show median household income in Tampa Bay grew an estimated 4.3 percent in 2015 from 2014. Yet Atlanta’s income grew 7 percent.

So what do we do about it?

There is no easy “fix” for mediocre pay. Longer term, creating better-paying jobs is the key. Just remember: Better jobs demand a workforce with higher skills and more education. 

That is certainly true.  It is also true that we need to create the environment to attract and retain talent that brings better jobs and incomes.  We need real transportation solutions (not TBX).  We need to create amenities and provide lifestyles that attract that talent, which requires better planning and investment in more than just downtown (though investing in downtown is good).  We need to create an overall environment that is conducive to creating, attracting, and retaining the talent and jobs we need.  That very much includes elevating our governance and decision making as well as the political culture. And we need to do more than sell this area as a cheap place because if all you do is sell a low cost workforce, all you will get is low income employment.

The reality is that the bellwether of whether local leaders are serious about really improving the economy is whether they are really serious (that means more than just rhetoric) about having a true, coordinated, comprehensive transportation system and proper planning.  If they are not willing to invest in this area’s future and to make this area truly competitive, they are just not serious.  And, so far, for the most part, they have not been serious.  Given that the approach to economic development and infrastructure investment has not really changed, there is no reason to expect the economic results to change much.

— Conclusion

In short, it is not much different than last year, when we said:

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

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

Good things are happening – see below – but there is a message to local officials (and all those who are not satisfied with occupying the basement any longer).  What they have done in the past and are doing now is not enough.  Get to work on things like proper transportation, infrastructure, planning, and proper investment.  All of these things, plus education, are connected to economic development.  Local officials need to act like it.

The reality is that status quo is not acceptable. We can and should do much better than this.

Transportation – TBX Meeting

The foregoing leads to the question of how it makes sense to rely (at least at this point) solely on variable rate (“express”) lanes that charge our low income residents to try to get out of congestion (though it is questionable if that will happen) ever increasing rates – or, if they don’t pay, provides no relief at all.  And that would be the only transportation plan around right now: TBX. (Though the lack of logic extends statewide).

And it gets even worse – as we have noted before – the (at least interim) plans for the Howard Frankland actual take away a free lane and make it an express (toll) lane.

If you don’t like that idea – and we don’t – there is a meeting about it, from Sunshine Citizens:

Please attend FDOT’s public hearing for Segment 3 of the Tampa Bay Express project! This segment will rebuild the northbound span of the Howard Frankland Bridge, while converting existing lanes into variable rate toll lanes.
This project was previously funded as a life cycle replacement of the span, but the state government has turned it into a project to convert the bridge into a toll facility that FDOT will pocket the money from. We think it’s wrong for the state to impose this on the region with little meaningful input from the general public, who is scarcely aware of this, let alone understand the long-term ramifications to their commute and quality of life. This is why it’s vital we spread the word and get people informed!
The hearing is in an open house format. Doors open at 5:30pm, with a formal presentation at 6:30pm, with public comment after that. The event is scheduled to end around 7:30pm.
There will be an opportunity to speak and/or provide written comments. We encourage everyone who is able to attend.
There is also a corresponding hearing in Pinellas on Oct 4th. For more info, click here 

Maybe FDOT will say that the project has changed again.  Maybe it won’t.  You can find out at the meeting:

Thursday, October 6 at 5:30 PM – 7:30 PM in EDT

Tampa Marriott Westshore, 1001 N Westshore Blvd, Tampa, FL 33607

Go and see.  And tell them what you think.

Downtown/Channel District – The Big News

Of course, the big news this week was the unveiling of a couple of aspects of the Lightning owner’s plans.

— Phase I

First, there was a press preview of Phase 1 of the overall project.

While plans to redevelop downtown Tampa are still years in the making, the local real estate firm in charge of the $2 billion project is moving quickly to map out what goes where. That includes some new updates, like a 30,000-square-foot grocery store and a 150-room boutique hotel tower with 30 condominium units.

Strategic Property Partners is still drafting the blueprints for the 50-acre urban core owned by the company’s backers, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Bill Gates’ Cascade Investment. But the plans are coming together, said SPP CEO James Nozar.

What do they have to tell us now?

Here are the specifics of Phase 1 of vertical construction that Nozar shared on Monday:

Here is a map of the ground floor developments:

From the Business Journal - click on map for article

From the Business Journal – click on map for article

And here an overall of phase one:

From the Business Journal - click on map for article

From the Business Journal – click on map for article

Overall, it looks good.  We like the green space running through the project and what appears to be a lot of street activity, including what appears to be development right around the arena. One downside is that there are a few blocks (especially around Jefferson) that seem to be fronted completely by parking garages, which is bad for connecting the area to the rest of downtown.  With all the good they have done, surely they can make sure that dead space is avoided.  Still, it is a work in progress, so we shall see.

— Channelside

The second major announcement was their proposal for redoing the Channelside complex.

. . . developers want to tear the 230,532-square-foot plaza down and start all over.

James Nozar, CEO of Strategic Property Partners, the real estate firm owned by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Bill Gates’ Cascade Investment, wants to raze Channelside Bay Plaza to make room for new waterfront condos, restaurants and a park.

Nozar presented a proposal for redevelopment of the outdoor retail and entertainment complex to the Port Tampa Bay board of directors Tuesday morning. The port owns the land on which Channelside Bay Plaza sits and will need to approve Nozar’s proposal.

We have no problem with just scrapping what is there.  The question is what do they want to do?

The redevelopment will be done in four phases, Nozar said. View the renderings and site plans in the photo gallery for a visual tour of the redevelopment plans.

Here’s a breakdown of each phase:

Here is a site plan:

From the Business Journal - click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

And some renderings:

From the Business Journal - click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

From the Business Journal - click on picture for article

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

The new buildings would be pushed back 50 feet or so from the waterfront so the public could walk along a new seawall and docks there. Some of this access would be blocked when cruise ships were in port.

Nozar said the company chose to propose new development because Bay Plaza is outdated and hardly functional. 

The setback is a good idea for activating the waterfront, and there is no question the original design had issues from the very beginning (like blocking the area off from both the street and the water (some may remember that the access from Channelside was not in the original design).  Given that, we are for the rebuild. Once again, it looks good, if it is fully built out and built as presented.

Alfonso Architects and David Conner & Associates, both based in Tampa, have worked on the initial designs for SPP.

Which is a good sign the approach will continue into further design.  Those architects have done some very good work in this area.  And the Lightning owner’s team has proceeded in a very deliberate and well thought out way.

Of course, all this is just a proposal.

The port would have to negotiate a new lease agreement with SPP to oversee development, leasing and management of the new mixed-use project.

Members of the port’s board of directors had little to say after Nozar’s extensive presentation Tuesday.

As a general idea, it is not a hard issue, provided there are safeguards in the lease (which were not in previous leases). Of course, the devil is in the details.  On the other hand, it is another reason for the Port to focus on being a port on the rest of its land while this project and the Lightning owner’s bigger project get built.  It is not logical at all for the government to compete with private developers when there is ample desire by private developers to build.  Right now, there is no need for more.

— Conclusion

As has been the case for most of this project, we generally like what we see. If things proceed under the plan, ground could be broken on phase 1 of the Channelside rebuild at the beginning of 2018. On the overall project:

Vertical construction is expected to begin next year and the first phase of the project should be completed by 2020. 

We shall see, but it all appears very positive. Hopefully, the finish product will look as good as the renderings.

Port/International Trade/Latin America – Cuba Calling

There was a very interesting article in the Times about Cuba.

Before the embargo against the island-nation, Tampa and Cuba were major trading partners. Tampa primarily sent cattle and got tobacco.

Local leaders who favor normalizing relations are now pushing for a renewed trade relationship with Cuba. And they believe Port Tampa Bay has an edge over competing U.S. ports because of a century-old connection between Tampa and Cuba that includes the use of Ybor City by freedom fighter José Martí as a staging ground during his War of Independence against Spain in the 1890s.

Port Tampa Bay is indeed a preferred partner for Cuba’s Port of Mariel, according to a statement to the Tampa Bay Times by TC Mariel, the company that runs the container shipment operation there.

But access to Orlando is the reason, not any shared history, according to the statement, forwarded to the Times by TC Mariel’s managing director Charles Baker.

Orlando is coveted because it is a destination for tourists and home to many regional distribution hubs for inbound cargo that would prefer their containers land in nearby Tampa rather than Miami.

Setting aside that we are not sure why we are not coveted, that is an interesting idea.  And, while it should not be the case, being a port that the Cubans apparently want to use may lead to some complacency here, until you realize that Port Canaveral (on the other side of Orland) also wants to grow its container business, so even if they avoid Miami, there is competition. (Not to mention Port Everglades or Jacksonville).  Nevertheless, there are some issues:

Even as the embargo endures, according to the TC Mariel statement, the Port of Mariel and Port Tampa Bay still can prosper from a relationship if Congress or the president repeals a separate federal rule — one prohibiting ships from any country that dock in Cuba from docking in the United States within 180 days.

Direct trade with Cuba would still be forbidden in the United States because of the embargo, but a repeal of the 180-day rule might allow other nations to send cargo to Tampa through Cuba.

That echoes what Baker recently told the U.S.-based global trade publication, the Journal of Commerce.

“If you allow transshipment to take place from Mariel to U.S. ports, you could open up service to Tampa, which is the closest port to Orlando,” Baker is quoted as saying.

The Port’s entire container strategy is based on being at the end of spoke of the transshipment business and to serve all of Central Florida, so this would seem to be exactly what they wanted. Whether Congress would cooperate is an open question, but it is still an idea that should be pursued.

The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved an amendment to the 2017 financial appropriations bill to repeal the 180-day docking rule.

If the amendment fails, the 180-day rule can still be worked around, said John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.

By order of the president, the Treasury Department can issue a general license allowing cargo ships to sail between the United States and Cuba as frequently as needed.

Let’s say that happens, what has the Port done to really push this business?

This falls in line with efforts by Port Tampa Bay to market its facility as a gateway to Central Florida, made possible through the recent purchase of two giant gantry cranes to help grow cargo container business and by the state’s construction of the Interstate 4 Crosstown Connector that moves traffic quickly from the port to Interstate 4 and on to Orlando.

“Port Tampa Bay is Cuba-ready and we are open to any legal opportunities,” said Edward Miyagishima, the port’s vice president of communications.

A delegation of Cuba’s port leaders is expected to visit Port Tampa Bay within the next few months.

Not much.  Being “Cuba-ready” just means that they have the ability to handle ships.  They still have not done much to get the business other than wait for the Cubans to come here.  Why?  Who knows?  The Port should be actively pursuing the opportunity to get a jump on all the other ports in the state.

Tampa-based international public relations firm Tucker/Hall will lead a separate delegation of local maritime officials to Cuba in October to speak with maritime counterparts there.

“If Mariel picks Tampa Bay as its priority entry point to the United States, it will be transformative for our region,” said Bill Carlson, the president of Tucker/Hall. “We will have access to the world’s markets.”

Right.  And the Port should be actively working with them and going to grow their business.  It’s not like the container docks are so overflowing that they could not use more business.  The last thing this area needs is complacency and inaction.

Transportation – Trial Ferry

The information on the ferry trial between downtown St. Pete and downtown Tampa is now out at its own website, here.

You can check out the whole site on your own, but we will note the times:

Monday – Thursday

St Pete Departure            7:00 am

               Tampa Departure              9:30 am

St Pete Departure             3:00 pm

               Tampa Departure              5:15 pm

Friday

St Pete Departure             5:00 pm

               Tampa Departure              6:30 pm

St Pete Departure             8:00 pm

               Tampa Departure            11:00 pm

Saturday

St Pete Departure             1:00 pm

Tampa Departure              2:00 pm

St Pete Departure             5:00 pm

               Tampa Departure              6:30 pm

St Pete Departure             8:00 pm

               Tampa Departure               11:00 pm

Sunday

St Pete Departure             5:00 pm

               Tampa Departure              6:30 pm

St Pete Departure             8:00 pm

               Tampa Departure            10:00 pm

See here

Remember that it is $10 each way.

While we are all for the trial, the times and the cost do not make it a real test of the potential ridership or viability of ferry service as a form of transit.  It also does not connect to a proper transit system on either end.  So, the trial is fine, but we are not sure what exactly it will show.  We also still wonder why the more practical ferry from South County to MacDill seems to have faded from view and why the Port opposes it.

So go ahead and ride the trial ferry, but it should not distract from the real questions about why transportation is still not being systematically addressed.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

With all the talk of the Lightning owner’s project this week, it is interesting that the New York Times featured Orlando – and not just Orlando but “wellness” development – in an article entitled “Orlando’s Latest Theme Park Is a City for Wellness.”  The wellness aspect of the Lightning owner’s project has been well documented, though we haven’t discussed it much because we think it is low on the list of actual selling points for a well-designed project (which the Lightning owner’s project shows all the signs of being, so far).

An important part of Orlando’s emerging presence as a mature and innovative city is the 14-square-mile Lake Nona project, which is being built on land that only a decade ago was mostly pasture.

Once finished, the development, being built by Tavistock Development Company, will resemble a city in everything but name, with hospitals, hotels, office buildings, schools and colleges, recreational and sports training facilities, retail centers, entertainment spots and, ultimately, about 11,000 homes and more than 25,000 residents. More than 10 million square feet of construction has been completed at a cost of more than $3 billion.

“We didn’t want to pave over this project with a bunch of production housing — we wanted to do something greater,” James Zboril, president of the company, said over the summer in the project’s Laureate Park Village Center. Nearby, children splashed in a large pool and adults worked out in a state-of-the-art gym, facilities built for the residents.

Beyond the normal, profit-driven imperatives of brick-and-mortar projects, Lake Nona has an additional purpose — wellness — a notion that is intended to permeate virtually every aspect of the community, Mr. Zboril said.

Lake Nona is not a downtown area, so what are they getting at?

About 13 percent of Lake Nona’s home buyers work at a Medical City institution, and 11 percent work elsewhere in the area. An additional 13 percent are employed at Orlando International Airport, which is northwest of the project and within sight of much of it, and 27 percent work from home. At-home workers benefit from a high-bandwidth infrastructure that delivers internet service at one gigabyte per second.

Mr. Zboril said that, in an effort to build a place that inspires and helps create good health, Tavistock invited Lake Nona residents — about 11,000 people so far — to consider themselves a “living laboratory” and participate in formal health studies run by on-site institutions over many years. In the shorter term, residents are offered free activities like bike races, tai chi and yoga. Trails in the area will eventually total 44 miles.

To encourage what they describe as “environmentally conscious” lifestyles, the developer is limiting the community’s use of nonrenewable resources like gasoline by installing electric vehicle chargers. The developer is also minimizing the project’s impact on the environment by applying “green” construction practices, reducing energy and water use and reducing waste.

“There’s not anything like this in all of North America,” said Mayor John Dyer of Orlando, who said the city had spent more than $80 million to build roads and other infrastructure in and around the development. “Lake Nona is a great expression of what Orlando is all about,” said Mr. Dyer, who is known as Buddy. “It wasn’t just a place where someone was going to build tract housing. It was a place that was going to be an economic engine for the area.”

You can read the whole article for the glowing discussion.  Lake Nona may not have a wellness certification, but it has already gotten the media coverage.  That is not saying anything about the Lightning owner’s efforts, but it is a reminder that competition never ends.

Roundup 9-16-2016

September 15, 2016

This week’s Roundup is being posted a little early.

Contents

Transportation – Another Editorial

Downtown – The Proposals Are In

Transportation – Small Steps

Westshore – Closer, But Not Clear It Is There Yet

Downtown/Channel District – Updates Here and Coming

Transportation – Vestigial Government

Downtown – The Jackson Conundrum

Economic Development/Transportation – What Is the Market

— One More Thing

Meanwhile, in the Rest of the Country

— Related Art

— You Can Make It Walkable

List of the Week – Hooray, Beer

_______________________________________

Transportation – Another Editorial

With more transportation moves comes another good editorial from the Times.

The new transportation plan that Hillsborough County commissioners have approved is fine as far as it goes. There is nothing wrong with setting aside more money over the next decade to repair roads and redo dangerous intersections. But make no mistake: This is a road plan, not a transit plan, and the biggest transportation challenges remain unaddressed.

* * *

But this has to be only a modest start to address a much larger transportation issue. The county’s backlog of unfunded transportation needs is already $10 billion to $12 billion, up to 20 times what this move would raise, and that price tag will only increase over the coming decade. This is not even found money. The commissioners simply agreed to set aside this money from existing streams of revenue and to pool a variety of sources — from sales and fuel taxes to grants — to meet the targeted amount.

* * *

This approach only reinforces Hillsborough’s reliance on roads. And it carves the cities and HART, the county’s mass transit agency, out of the decisionmaking process, which inflames the urban-rural divide over transportation policy. This is exactly the wrong lesson from two failed efforts in the past six years to modernize the county’s transportation system.

Pretty much.  As we said last week, they are just doing what they should have already done as part of routine maintenance.  They have not addressed the actual transportation problem.  The editorial then lists some other ideas floating out there – the City tax (which we oppose) and a petition drive (which, depending on the plan, we support) – to try to address transportation for real if the Commission does not get to work.  They conclude with this:

Commissioners may have made a modest down payment on road maintenance, but they have not begun to address the larger state of the transportation network. This is a conversation that needs to happen before the cities, the business community and the next generation start to look at cutting the commission from this debate altogether. 

Exactly.  The County Commission collectively has manifestly failed to do its job (and it is not alone).  We need a comprehensive, coordinated, systematic transportation plan.  We do not necessarily expect someone to have one in their back pocket (though by now they should have a pretty good idea), but we expect them to actively work to create one, even if they have to wait for the transit studies to finalize it. Instead, the Commission has given us a road maintenance plan that they can change at any time without any consensus that there should be something more (though, as we noted last week, at least one Commissioner noted there needs to be more).  We would rather they do their job and that there be a county-wide plan, but if it is not careful, the Commission’s inaction may lead to it being irrelevant.

Downtown – The Proposals Are In

As we noted a few months ago, the City issued an RFP for the parking lot next to City Hall on Florida between Kennedy and Jackson.  Now the proposals are in.

Four proposals were received for the surface lot at 405 E. Kennedy Blvd. — a 1-acre city block that is north of Jackson Street, east of Florida Avenue, south of Kennedy Boulevard and west of Marion Street.

One of them, however, was deemed ineligible because it was submitted too late. The deadline was 4 p.m. on Sept. 9.

Here are the developers who submitted the proposals under consideration:

Unfortunately, despite this:

Buckhorn has called the block, now home to a parking lot across N Florida Avenue from City Hall, “the most prominent undeveloped parcel” in downtown and said it could be “the new crown jewel of our skyline.”

the public will probably not have any idea what the proposal are because of this:

The proposals themselves are exempt from public record for 30 days or until the city makes a decision, said Bob McDonaugh, the city’s economic development director.

McDonaugh said the city is aiming to make a decision before Mayor Bob Buckhorn leaves for a trip to China on Sept. 16, pending clarification on questions the city has on the proposals.

Which is not really much time to consider the proposals. And then the City Council would have to approve – though the public would have no idea if it is the best deal, project, group or anything else, really.

So what do we know about the companies?  We can look at websites.

-Mill Creek (website here) does not seem to build too many “signature skyline” projects.  They seem to be mostly decent but not particularly interesting, urbanish, midrise apartment buildings (though they appear to be building one decent sized building in midtown Atlanta).

-HRI (website here) seem to be rehab specialists, which is fine but this is not a rehab.

-Framework Group is the company that won (as the sole proposal) the RFP for the building next to the Straz that then partnered with another developer and were supposed to break ground in the summer.  (Though earlier reports put the start date much earlier.) They also won (again as the sole proposal) an RFP for city land in Ybor. (In both cases, Framework had looked into developing the property before the RFPs.) They are building 500 on Harbour Island right now.

Because we will likely not see all the proposals, we can’t really comment on them, except to say we think the public should see all the proposals-especially if it is such a crucial property.  None of the developers have history of building truly iconic, new buildings (and the “mixed use” in the RFP is a pretty vague phrase.  Just having a little retail on the street, while positive, is not really mixed use).  You can judge for yourself, on the slim information available, who you think will win.

The bigger question is whether, will all the other projects proposed for downtown and the surrounding area by private developers on private land, it really is the time for the City to sell this land.  If all the other projects get built, the property just becomes more valuable. And there is no need to stimulate development downtown. If the demand is not there for all the other projects, this project will just compete with the others.  And if the land is held by the City, it can used for other needs in the future (or sold).  Certainly, if the proposals are not “a crown jewel in our skyline,” the city should just hold off.

Regardless, we assume the process will go forward, so we will just wait for the choice. (As of this posting the results were not released)

Transportation – Small Steps

The first step in making the Streetcar a normal transportation element (rather than a tourist ride), there will be a test of early morning service.

Beginning September 26th, the TECO Line Streetcar will begin operating at 7 a.m. for commuters in Downtown Tampa, the Channel District, and historic Ybor City!

The TECO Line Streetcar System operating hours will look like this:

Monday – Thursday:

 Friday and Saturday:

 Sunday:

The morning service is a 6-month pilot to gauge demand for morning service hours along the streetcar line. Tampa Historic Streetcar, Inc. and HART will review the ridership, costs, etc. following the end of the pilot on March 24, 2017.

From HART - click on picture for blog

From HART – click on picture for blog

This is definitely needed, though the actual streetcars need to be speeded up.  And it is just a trial run with no promise it will continue. Nevertheless, it is a welcome start.

Westshore – Closer, But Not Clear It Is There Yet

There was a new proposal filed for 4606 Boy Scout in Westshore (thanks to URBN Tampa Bay posting the site plans) for a 13 story building with apartments, a hotel, and retail.  This is one of the site plans (URBN Tampa Bay outlined the tower portion)

From URBN Tampa Bay - click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

First, the good: it is mixed use, it has some height, and there is retail on the ground level that appears to be on the street (and retail on the second floor).

Now, the question: Setting aside the big parking lot (which, at least, is not on the street and includes a garage), does the retail open to the street or to the parking lot?  If you look closely at the diagram, it appears that the retail opens to the parking lot, which is ok provided it also opens to the street.  However, such an opening is not clear, and that would be too bad.  This proposal is at the corner of Boy Scout and Trask.  Just to its east are a large number of relatively new apartments without any retail.  In other words, there is a ready-made market for any retail within easy walking distance.  By opening to the street, the retail would immediately bring an (admitted small, but it is a start) urban, walkable character to the area, which is something Westshore really needs and would be a first.  However, if the retail only faces the parking lot (even with a cut-through under the tower, which appears to be there), it just wouldn’t.  Yes, people could walk, but it just would not be as good.

Like we said, it is not clear from the diagram if the retail would face the street.  We hope it does (and, if not, we are not sure why the City does not require it). If Westshore is ever to reach its potential as an urban area, there are going to have to be some projects that actually encourage walking for more than exercise.

Downtown/Channel District – Updates Here and Coming

Next week should be interesting:

The CEO of Strategic Property Partners will provide an update on redevelopment plans for Channelside Bay Plaza next week.

A presentation by James Nozar, CEO of SPP, is scheduled during Port Tampa Bay’s monthly board meeting on Tuesday. Nozar said previously the presentation would include an update on the beleaguered waterfront mall.

Almost all the initial steps by the Lightning owner’s project have been encouraging, but the actual plans are what really count. We will be curious to see what they have come up with for Channelside.

In other news,

Publix has officially signed a lease for a downtown Tampa location at the corner of E. Twiggs Street and N. Meridian Avenue, as part of a new residential development with Mercury Advisors. The grocery will likely break ground on the store on Oct. 7, said Brian West, spokesman for Publix. Mercury Advisors announced in December that a 37,600-square-foot Publix would be part of the 21-story apartment tower known as the Channel Club development, but West said Publix did not officially sign a lease with the developer until recently.

Publix will fill a void for a much needed and much urban grocery store in the Channel District when it opens next year. 

Great. Hopefully dirt will be moving soon.

Transportation – Vestigial Government

We have written much about the PTC and how it is a protectionist anachronism that should be disbanded.  This week, it was supposed to vote on new ideas for rules for ridesharing companies that included fingerprinting, car checks, limited number of drivers, mandatory wait times, and mandatory prices. Then, it seemed as though they would cancel that vote and just talk because they failed to notice the meeting properly.  Then, that was “clarified”:

UPDATE: Early Wednesday, Victor Crist offered additional clarification to what to expect at Wednesday’s Public Transportation Commission meeting. The board may vote on furthering a version or multiple versions of rules but it won’t be a binding decision.

Eventually is was decided the meeting was properly noticed and they could vote.  Which tells you how firm a grip they have on proceedings. So what did they eventually do?

Despite appeals and petitions from hundreds of Uber and Lyft drivers and riders, PTC board members voted 5-2 to move ahead with new regulations that mandate fingerprinting for drivers — a requirement that led the two rideshare market leaders in May to stop operating in Austin, Texas.

Other new rules include annual vehicle inspections, a ban on price surging during states of emergency and a 10-year limit on the age of vehicles.

Board members did offer some concessions to ridesharing fans, dropping two controversial rules that would have set a $7 minimum fare and a seven-minute minimum wait.

Dropping the two most ridiculous provisions is a start.  The ban on surge pricing is probably covered under Florida law anyway.  And we are not sure why the car has to be less than 10 years old if it has to have yearly inspections, unless the inspections aren’t actually very useful.  But, anyway, it is not over:

The vote, however does little to actually further the PTC’s quest to implement a regulatory framework for the industry. That’s because the PTC is still going to have to hold a public hearing on the issue at its Oct. 13 meeting to satisfy state law requirements that allow the affected companies to request one. Uber and Lyft both intend to ask for that public hearing.

During the public hearing the rules could again be modified, so the framework approved Wednesday is still fluid.

Of course, the PTC’s coming under increasing pressure (and it is even bi-partisan):

A coalition of Democratic and Republican lawmakers are the latest to come out against proposed strict rideshare regulations ahead of a critical vote by the Public Transportation Commission Wednesday.

In a letter to PTC board members, House Majority Leader Dana Young urges PTC board members to reject the proposed regulations that include fingerprint background check, vehicle inspections and a 7 minute minimum wait time.

She also pledged that the state will pass a statewide regulatory framework for ridesharing in the 2017 legislative session and that the PTC should suspend any action on regulations until then.

Uber, the nation’s biggest rideshare firms has warned that the rules the PTC is considering may force it to abandon the Hillsborough County market.

“The current proposal currently under consideration by the Public Transportation Commission is plainly designed to be an anti-competitive attempt to push ridesharing companies out of Hillsborough County,” Young wrote. “If this occurs, our constituents will pay the price by losing a safe and reliable transportation option.”

The letter is signed by state House Speaker Designate Richard Corcoran, state Sens. Jeff Brandes, Bill Galvano and Wilton Simpson, and by state Reps. Larry Ahern, Danny Burgess, James Grant, Shawn Harrison, Jake Raburn, Dan Raulerson, Darryl Rouson and Ross Spano.

The mayor and some business leaders also came out against the PTC’s rules.

On Monday, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn called the PTC a dinosaur and its proposed new rules draconian. He was joined by local business leaders who said losing ridesharing would affect Tampa’s ability to attract new businesses.

That is true, but it has been true all along and has had no effect.  And, given the vagaries of local politics, it is not clear that the Mayor’s involvement is helpful.

Nevertheless, the real key is the legislature because they have real power over the PTC because they can abolish it or preempt any rules the PTC comes up with.  And to show that the PTC is afraid of the legislature, the board approved getting an attorney if there is a legislative move to abolish the PTC.  Why?  Given that the legislature made the PTC and can abolish the PTC, to lobby to protect a the board’s powerbase – which is legacy cab and limo companies.

The fact remains that, even if you like the ridesharing rules, the PTC has no reason to exist other than to protect legacy companies.  It is the only commission of its kind in the state.  The legislators should just abolish it so we can start being like a normal county.  There still may be rules, but, hopefully, there wouldn’t be this circus.

Downtown – The Jackson Conundrum

Usually, we get on FDOT for being car centric (because they are).  However, this week, there was an interesting article about Jackson Street.

Think bike lanes. Does the Florida Department of Transportation come to mind?

Maybe not. But when the FDOT began looking at Jackson Street in downtown Tampa ahead of an upcoming $2.5 million resurfacing and rehabilitation job, it seemed clear the existing bike lane wasn’t enough.

Jackson has a single eastbound bike lane. There’s nothing on Kennedy Boulevard, the westbound road that, together with Jackson, forms a parallel two-way pair through downtown.

So after some discussions with the city of Tampa, FDOT began looking at creating a two-way, protected-from-traffic bike lane on Jackson Street — something similar to what City Hall has put in on Cass Street.

But there’s a problem. Putting in that kind of bike lane could mean taking out a lot of on-street parking along Jackson Street.

Not surprisingly, businesses objected.

True, no surprise.  The west part of Jackson is a slightly odd road to put a two-way bike lane because the link to the Kennedy Bridge is already, shall we say, awkward.  It seems to us that it might be not the best place to add a lot of bikes. But, in the spirit of supporting good bike infrastructure, which we do, and acknowledging that the east part of Jackson is a good place to connect to the Channel District, we’ll just set that aside for now.

“They didn’t want to lose all their parking spaces,” Tampa development official Bob McDonaugh told the City Council. One version of the plan “would remove virtually all the parking spaces along Jackson Street, in some cases on both sides.”

There also was a concern that adding the protected bike lane could reduce Jackson’s capacity. Jackson currently carries about 10,000 cars and trucks a day, about half of the number using the westbound one-way part of Kennedy.

While FDOT has a reputation as a road agency, its standards increasingly have emphasized and required more than lanes of pavement to but accommodations for cyclists, pedestrians and transit riders, too — an approach called “complete streets.”

“We don’t often find ourselves in this situation where we’re arguing to put in more bike lanes and take capacity off,” said Stephen Benson, government liaison administrator for the FDOT district office that includes Tampa.

But, after working with the Tampa Downtown Partnership to identify businesses and building managers with a stake in the project, FDOT has held a series of meetings to try to revise its plan.

Setting aside that such input is much more than they have done for the neighborhoods involved in TBX, what did they come up with?

FDOT’s earliest version of the plan called for keeping the existing spaces, but converting the parallel parking on the street into a through-lane during peak traffic hours. Orlando has some off-peak parking and has not had any problems with it, said project manager Tana Johnston-Schultz.

But FDOT officials said the city, which manages the on-street parking, said thanks but no thanks to a change that would mean preventing people from parking in certain spaces at certain times or making them move their cars ahead of busy hours during the morning and afternoon.

We agree with the City on that.  It sounds like it would be a mess.  Anything else?

At one point, FDOT was looking at eliminating up to 40 spaces along Jackson. Under a plan being discussed now, half of them would remain, Johnston-Schultz said.

We don’t know the details of this plan, but it sounds awkward to us, but we could be convinced.

Work on the project is not expected to start before fall 2017, so nothing is imminent, except for more discussion. A public information meeting is scheduled in October. Depending on the feedback, state officials said they could go with a hybrid plan.

So why not just not take a lane away, save the parking and add the bike lanes?  Why is it fine to take a lane away from Platt, Cleveland, and Ashley but not Jackson (as though no one speeds down Jackson)? If it is ok to squeeze traffic coming into and out of downtown (where you really want efficient flow), why not actually in downtown (especially since there is only one garage that faces Jackson)? If it is good enough for the Lightning owner’s project, why not Jackson? If road diets are so good, why not put Jackson on a diet?  We realize that FDOT would have to buy in, but it does not even seem to be an idea.  What makes Jackson so special?

The fact is that land is limited.  There have to be trade-offs.  Either there is parking or there are traffic lanes or there are bikes (or the streetcar – don’t forget – we don’t know where the streetcar is going if it is expanded, unless the City has already chosen a route).  We are not sure that taking a lane away makes sense on Jackson (or that this is actually the optimal time for determining the final design), but it makes as much (actually more) sense as Ashley. And, going back to last week, the conditions are clearer than Palm Avenue.  Why not consider it?

Economic Development/Transportation – What Is the Market

There was an interesting column in the Times about Enterprise Florida this week.

Be careful what you wish for. Enterprise Florida’s had it nose bloodied on a number of fronts in recent years. Most recent CEO Bill Johnson fled in a hurry this past June after a series of poor political decisions involving no-bid contracts. Incoming House Speaker Richard Corcoran, citing Enterprise Florida’s failures, wants to strip the agency’s taxpayer funding.

The blowback follows an unsuccessful bid by Gov. Rick Scott to secure $250 million in additional state funds he wanted the agency to use to bolster incentives to lure more and bigger companies here.

It gets worse. Enterprise Florida is now the target of a free-market-or-bust advocacy group known as Americans for Prosperity, founded by billionaire businessman and conservative/libertarian activist David Koch.

“Not only is Enterprise Florida a cesspool of corporate welfare, but it’s also long on promises and short on results,” Chris Hudson, Florida state director of Americans for Prosperity, wrote in an opinion column last month in the Tampa Bay Times.

Hudson’s right on many points. Enterprise Florida has been a sloppy, self-indulgent organization that needs better accountability. Departed CEO Johnson’s tenure only fueled the ire against the organization. As a “public-private” partnership, Enterprise Florida’s funding base is supposed to be shared between private and public sources. That mix is skewed, relying heavily on taxpayer money — a big reason that Scott’s $250 million ask got nowhere with legislators.

Indeed.  Enterprise Florida has done questionable things.  But there is another point:

Ending incentives and going “free market” — Legislature leader Corcoran’s mantra — may sound righteous. But Floridians may not like it when the state starts losing job recruiting contests — especially the big ones — to states still sweetening relocation deals with taxpayer money.

That’s the trick. If Enterprise Florida goes cold turkey and ends taxpayer incentives, why will corporations looking to expand bother to seriously consider this state? Yes, there’s no state income tax here. Yes, our winters are nice.

Hate to break the free marketeer’s bubble. Those virtues won’t win many corporate job expansions here if North Carolina or Texas or any number of other states continue to wave incentive money. Just ask the site selection advisers whose job is to tell corporate clients which deal is best.

As long as incentives are fundamental to job recruiting in most other states, Florida’s purist obsession to end them here will simply make the Sunshine State look silly.

To put it another way: the market for relocations is different from what is normally thought of as “the market.”  When people usually speak of “market principles” (though on certain people tend to usually speak of “market principles”) they are talking about business without government intervention or activity (which pretty much never happens, but that is a different issue).  In relocations, corporations are the consumers.  States, cities, etc., are to a large degree the sellers.  Corporations are looking for certain features and amenities. As long as some sellers (states, cities, etc.) are giving incentives, part of “the market” for relocations will be incentives.  You may not like it, but that is how the market works.  If other factors outweigh incentives, so be it.  And if a location does not want the relocation enough to give incentives, so be it. But they should know that without the incentives, they are at a disadvantage. If a consumer wants A and you only offer B, they are going to buy from someone else. If those looking to move want something and you do not provide it, they will go elsewhere.

The same principle of supplying what the consumer, in this case companies or talent, wants goes for transportation (just ask the Lightning owner. See here and here), and, while this has been known for a really long time, this area better finally take productive notice (especially since other areas provide the low costs and taxes that we keep trying to sell). The County Commission can fiddle about with this and that idea, but until they get beyond simply funding repaving work (which they should have funded anyway) and actually develop a real plan for a coordinated, comprehensive transportation system that provides the options others do, they will inhibit our competitiveness in the market for relocations and retention.  They are just not providing enough quality in what they are selling. (And it’s not like they are devoted to the market anyway.  The mess with it by, among other things, subsidizing sprawl, subsidizing retail developments, and, of course, the PTC).

As with all markets, the relocation market has supply and demand. If you are not selling what people want, they won’t buy it (unless, like many people already living here, that is what they are stuck buying.)  Moreover, a proper transportation system, a opposed to the County subsidizing sprawl, is not an incentive, it is an investment that helps meet the needs for the people who live here and people who will live here. (Paying for roads for specific developers or projects or defraying the cost of fees that should be paid because of such projects is an incentive.  Building general infrastructure is not.) A proper transportation system maximizes efforts to grow and retain jobs, to increase the tax base, to develop the area and amenities for people who are already here.  Spending on infrastructure enhances life and helps grow the economy and attract and retain jobs and talent to lift the economy.  And a proper transportation system is necessary for the proper functioning of the all sectors of the economy that is here and that we want to see.  The return on investment is not just monetary but in quality of life.

We’ll ask it again: If someone can go anywhere, and with other places that already provide amenities that they want, why should they come here? Hint: the answer isn’t “because we found money to maintain our existing roads.”

What those who provide half-ideas, half-measures, and gimmicks and nothing more are simply saying, in deeds that contradict their words, they do not really care about economic development.

— One More Thing

Finally, before someone tries to take what we just said as justification for all incentives, it isn’t.  First, as we said, a proper transportation system is not an incentive. Second, we do not even support business incentives unless they are limited, really targeted at higher paying jobs and/or truly desirable industries, and have safeguards to protect the public from non-performance.  (We support flight incentives provided they are also properly targeted.)  But if, while others keep putting out an updated product, you do nothing to improve your product to meet the consumers’ desires and think everything will be fine, you do not understand how a market works.

Meanwhile, in the Rest of the Country

— Related Art

This week, we go to New York City, where the Related Group is building a very large project called Hudson Yards over, as you may guess, a large rail yard.   As part of this mega-project (which is pretty much waterfront, something to remember when you hear any hyperbole about waterfront projects), is a large interactive work or art (sort of) called the Vessel.

From the New York Times - click on picture for article

From the New York Times – click on picture for article

Big, bold and basket-shaped, the structure, “Vessel,” stands 15 stories, weighs 600 tons and is filled with 2,500 climbable steps. Long under wraps, it is the creation of Thomas Heatherwick, 46, an acclaimed and controversial British designer, and will rise in the mammoth Far West Side development Hudson Yards, anchoring a five-acre plaza and garden that will not open until 2018. Some may see a jungle gym, others a honeycomb.

But Stephen M. Ross, the billionaire founder and chairman of Related Companies, which is developing Hudson Yards with Oxford Properties Group, has his own nickname for “Vessel”: “the social climber.” And the steep price tag Mr. Ross’s privately held company is paying for Mr. Heatherwick’s installation? More than $150 million.

Yes, you read that right $150 million for the thingy, which is a cool thingy, but a thingy nonetheless.  To put that into perspective, as far as we can tell, there has only been one building sold in downtown Tampa for more than that, ever (Though another may have been close).  It is also more than any of the three projects Related has built in Tampa cost to build.

Still, that is public art.

— You Can Make It Walkable

For those who know Atlanta, you know Dunwoody is not exactly in the urban core (more akin to the I-75 corridor), though it does have a MARTA station.  Well,

A developer for the High Street mixed-use development in Dunwoody said the project hopes to break ground in early 2017 and finished in three years.

Boston-based GID Development Group’s Vice President of Development Jeff Lowenberg gave a presentation of the plans for the project at the Dunwoody Homeowners Association’s Sept. 11 meeting.

The development on some 36 acres in Dunwoody at the intersection of Hammond Drive and Perimeter Parkway is designed to be an “urban area” with easy access to the Dunwoody MARTA station, Lowenberg said.

* * *

Phase one of the project includes construction of one 30-story residential tower, a 12-story office building, two seven-story residential buildings, two eight-story residential buildings, a 12-story residential building and several three-story townhouses. All residential buildings will have ground-floor retail.

* * *

A 3/4-acre park is part of the first phase. The park will include a central lawn area with four corners to be used for a dog park, a children’s park, an open-air reading room and an adult game area for ping-pong and bocce ball.

Total residential units in phase one will include 500 apartments at more than 552,000 square feet and 75 condominiums at more than 237,000 square feet. Retail space totals 130,000 square feet and office space totals 250,000 square feet.

This is a rendering of phase one:

From Reporter Newspapers - click on picture for website

From Reporter Newspapers – click on picture for website

We don’t know if it will actually get built, but it shows what other areas are thinking.  And the MARTA station was not put there for this project, but it certainly is helping bring development like this to Atlanta.  Kind of like this State Farm project which is right next to a MARTA station. (see also here)  Even the skeptics around Atlanta now seem to want to have some transit.

It is all a matter of choices made.

List of the Week – Hooray, Beer

Our list this week is wallethub’s best Octoberfest celebration.  The methodology is here.

Coming in first was Cincinnati, followed by Pittsburgh, Portland (OR), Minneapolis, Orlando, Denver, Tampa, Miami, Madison, Boise, Scottsdale, St. Louis, Columbus, St. Paul, Buffalo, Colorado Springs, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and New Orleans.

For those who did not know that Oktoberfest was really a thing in Florida, apparently it is – or at least as much as it is anywhere.  The methodology is kind of suspect, and the list quite irrelevant, but we did well, so have a stein-full.

 

Roundup 9-9-2016

September 9, 2016

Contents

Transportation – Of Roads, Bigger and Smaller

— TBX Crossing

— Road Diet

— Conclusion

Transportation – Persistently Accomplishing Nothing I, Cont Some More

Transportation – Just a Thought

Economy – Low Unemployment, Low Wages

Governance/Politics – Act Before Knowing

— Water, Water

— More Half Measures

Transportation – Red Light Cameras

TIA – One More

— ULCC’s

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

__________________________________________

Transportation – Of Roads, Bigger and Smaller

As usual, there was news of roads this week.

— TBX Crossing

There was a report in the Business Journal about FDOT’s talking tour on TBX.

The Florida Department of Transportation did not address a major point of contention in its quarterly update on the controversial Tampa Bay Express project to the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization.

A presentation Tuesday listed “mitigation” as a key concern among residents, but failed to highlight strategies for limiting the number of homes and businesses demolished to make way for highway expansions.

We don’t really want to get into the whole article.  You can read it here. Our interest is mainly in this:

During a recent community presentation at Robert Saunders Library in Ybor City FDOT staff described the meetings as an opportunity to update residents on the plan’s progress and to show how the department has responded to community concerns over aesthetics and noise. Participants were given a short form to offer any additional comment.

FDOT’s update Tuesday also exposed some new concerns. Its expansive plans to activate space beneath the interstate could be a burden to the City of Tampa.

“The city does take a double hit here,” said Tampa City Council member Lisa Montelione.

On one hand, the city is losing property tax revenue from properties FDOT acquires to pave the way for TBX. On the other, it is being asked to foot the bill for ongoing maintenance costs associated with additional public space.

Montelione also pointed out that even though FDOT slides depicted underpasses cast in literal light with glowing images of skate parks and public art, the walls surrounding the interstate make for a “dirty, dingy and unwelcoming” space.

The revised TBX plan includes at least two key connections reconnecting neighborhoods near Robles Park. One underpass would connect the neighborhoods on the east and west of I-275 for vehicular traffic. Another would connect it for bicycle and pedestrians. It solves a problem long criticized by the creation of highways – that splitting neighborhoods leads to the impoverization of some areas.

First, we don’t know what road they are going to reconnect near Robles Park, but we can look at the connections there now.  This is what Floribraska looks like today.  Note that TBX will make the highway wider.

Maybe they will make the whole road elevated so it is not a claustrophobic (though that would be really expensive and very disruptive).  A fully elevated road would be similar to the area near Franklin, which looks like this.  That is a bit better but hardly inviting.  Also note that this part of the interstate will be twice as wide under TBX.

Theoretically, they could raise the whole thing by about 20 feet to make it a little more inviting, but that is unlikely and will be incredible disruptive (not to mention getting into view corridors).  More likely, the cut-through will be like Central Avenue, which looks like this.  (And if you want to see what the beautified underpasses look like, this is Armenia under construction – though note that the median where the sunlight comes in will be covered by TBX. )

Note that all those connections are already there today – and none of them are inviting or really bustling right around the interstate because that is not what interstates do.  Second, as we said, the interstate is slated to be about twice as wide, so less inviting in all those places.

As we have said many times, the interstate in the Tampa Bay area needs upgrading.  (We also think FDOT should be looking at an east-west road in Pasco and focusing on making the whole Selmon-Gandy-275 connection a real highway).  A fully elevated road is better than simply walling off the city with a highway, like this in Tampa Heights. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that a few extra overpasses will not mitigate the damage from increasing the width (sometimes doubling) of the interstate, especially as it does not even double capacity (far from it will express lanes designed to limit capacity).  How that enhances the urban areas of Tampa and fits the InVision Tampa plan is beyond us, unless the InVision Tampa plan is fatally flawed.

And, of course, there is no transit in the TBX plan.  Yes, there is a study:

Montelione also raised concerns over one of the only transit-oriented solutions in TBX. Critics complained the plan is too roads-focused. FDOT officials pointed to a premium transit study it was funding for the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit authority as well as a fortified portion of the Howard Frankland Bridge that could be used for future transit options like light rail.

But the build roads first/plan later idea is not the same thing as a coordinated, integrated transportation system.  Yet, once again, the real fault lies with local officials who, through inaction, have allowed this situation to come to pass.

— Road Diet

Which brings us to Palm Avenue.

In a city that often grapples with gridlock during rush hour, construction crews are busily narrowing four-lane Palm Avenue, a main thoroughfare connecting Ybor City to the neighborhoods along the Hillsborough River.

Workers are creating grassy medians and adding left turn lanes, bike lanes and mid-block pedestrian crosswalks along Palm from Nebraska Avenue to Tampa Street.

In a separate project expected to begin this month, workers will add on-street parking, crosswalks and bike lanes on Palm between Tampa Street and North Boulevard and install roundabouts at the intersections of Highland and North Boulevard.

The redesign of Palm is an attempt to even the playing field in the tug-of-war between motorists and their slower fellow travelers: pedestrians and bicyclists. It’s one of a number of streets around downtown Tampa undergoing a makeover to slow traffic and make the roads safer for walking and bicycling, a process called “road diets.”

Though:

“We’re not trying to congest or slow down the traffic to where it’s bumper to bumper,” said Jean Duncan, director of Tampa’s Transportation and Stormwater Services Department. Rather, she said, the road designers’ aim is to keep cars from exceeding the 30 mph speed limit.

Which is hard to square with this:

As to the “road diet,” research has shown that when motorists see pedestrians, bicyclists and even grassy median strips, they tend to slow down. Drivers see they are now in a residential environment, Duncan said, and become “more cognizant of how they’re driving.”

And driving slower.  Slowing traffic is a major part of the whole road diet idea. If they want people to drive slower, then say it.  If they don’t, don’t choke the roads.

Setting aside the rhetorical mess, we are not against road diets, provided there are the proper conditions and there is a comprehensive plan with real transit (buses will just clog up a road with one lane in each direction).  However, that is not what is going on.  There is a push to bring ever more people into the area (including the Heights).  There is TBX to dump more cars into the area, at least in theory, as well as push people to surface roads, which are already congested.  And there is no good access road for all the people who will live and work in the Heights (provided it gets built), and no one knows what the real requirements will be if and when that gets built.  In other words, the proper conditions for a road diet are not there now (they may never be met), so why do it now?

Brad Matthews, who lives in Longwood but grew up in the neighborhood, said he doesn’t understand why the city is narrowing the road. Once the river area is fully developed and those residents want to go back and forth to Ybor City, “it’s basically going to be a traffic nightmare,” he said.

“When it comes to that point, they’re going to have to change it and turn it back into a four-lane.”

Stephanie Gallego, who works at busy Palm Avenue Sandwich Shop, said it takes a lot longer to make the eastbound trek along Palm from Florida Avenue when coming to work in the morning.

“Everybody’s going everywhere, and they’re all stuck,” she said.

Told that the purpose was to get cars down to 30 mph, she said, “right now we’re under 20 (mph).”

Exactly.  There are almost no transportation options for the Heights or others in the area traveling east and west (or even to get to north-south roads).  There is no real transit, not even a firm plan for it.  (And even if the City would like to put the streetcar near Palm, it is not going there anytime soon, so why spend the money just to change it later?)  There are not the conditions for and really no point in a road diet right now. (But there is this streetscape under the interstate.)

What makes sense is developing a proper transportation plan then creating the conditions to implement the plan. Then changing Palm may make sense.  Now it doesn’t.

— Conclusion

Building the whole of TBX without considering that has happened in the last 20 years makes no sense (and the full TBX makes no sense period).  Doing a road diet without considering the conditions necessary to make a road diet work (and coincidentally express lane theory and road diet theory both really require proper transit to really work) makes no sense.

We will say it again: what we need is a comprehensive, coordinated transportation system.  We are nowhere near that.

Transportation – Persistently Accomplishing Nothing I, Cont Some More

Speaking of not having a comprehensive, coordinated transportation system (or even a plan for one), there was more from the County Commission this week:

A Hillsborough County commissioner whose vote has helped sway the fate of several major transportation proposals this year is now offering a last-minute alternative of his own to pay for much-needed road work.

Once again – just road work. So what is his idea?

Commissioner Al Higginbotham wants the board to commit $600 million of the county budget over the next 10 years to transportation, starting with $35 million in 2017 and increasing the amount by $5 million each year after. Safety projects and back maintenance would get top priority.

* * *

While it would mean less money over the next decade if approved, Higginbotham’s proposal would put more toward transportation initially — $120 million during the first three years. Murman’s proposal would bring in about $820 million, but more than half would come in the final three years of the 10-year plan, according to county projections, and about $90 million in the first three years.

Under both scenarios, future boards could vote to override these transportation allocations. Higginbotham, though, requires a supermajority of commissioners, five of seven, to deviate from his plan.

In other words, this is just another gesture without substance (though it takes 5 of 7 Commissioners to not spend the money, but if that gives you comfort you have not lived here long).  If the County wanted to spend money, they could have just spent the money.  Nothing was stopping them but them – which is the giant flaw in this “plan.” to spend money on road safety, just spend money on road safety.

In the event, of course, the Commission passed the “plan.”

Hillsborough County commissioners voted unanimously Thursday to dedicate $600 million to transportation spending over the next decade. 

Of course, this dedication is not exactly firm because they can always not spend the money next year or any year after that.

And it certainly wasn’t this:

The vote is the culmination of three years of debate on how to pay for billions of dollars in transportation needs here. Earlier this year the county rejected a half-cent surcharge in the sales tax that would’ve raised an average of $117 million a year, or $3.5 billion over the next 30 years.

Right, years of debate and all we get is a hollow gesture.  Even if they allocate all the money contemplated, it does not really cover much more than the costs of maintenance and resurfacing of what we already have. To quote the Go Hillsborough executive summary (that they all worked on) @ pg 5:

With the existing ½ percent CIT now nearly fully committed and only two cents of every County property tax dollar committed to transportation, there is $750 million in unmet road maintenance and safety needs.

That is telling.

Really, we have no problem with resurfacing and maintaining the roads.  The County should have been doing that for a long time. It is basic maintenance that the Commission has neglected for years.  (The real question is what have they been doing with that money all this time?) The problem is that Commissioners will try to hold this out as actually fixing transportation, when it is doing nothing of the sort. All the problems are still there. There is nothing about the continuing deficient planning, lack of transit, and overall lack of vision. (Not to mention the amounts under discussion is only a down payment on the problems the Commission has created.)

“This is a short-term solution,” Murman said. “We all know where we’re heading when you get the premium transit plan back. We have to go to the voters at some point with this robust, multimodul transit plant that’s going to come in front of us.”

Actually, they probably have no idea where they are going.

Then again, there are no excuses (at least not good ones) to not dedicate any other transportation funding to transit.

Transportation – Just a Thought

Way back in the 1980’s, when the Harbour Island people mover (which was actually more a horizontal elevator) was built, there was an idea floating around to build a monorail in Tampa as a transit system. To some degree, the idea made sense.  You cannot not build a subway (at least not without breaking every bank) because of the water table and soil, and it is always better to get out of traffic – which makes transit faster and safer.  And there was the example of Disney to always look at.  In fact, the County even held some public meetings, though we cannot find any record of them online.  Eventually, the idea went away – at least publicly.

This week, there was a column in the Times that brought it up again.

I also recently had a chat with Tom Hall about all that. He is the co-founder of the giant Tucker/Hall public relations firm, and despite the critics — or maybe because of them — he isn’t afraid to think big. We need more of that.

He talked about a monorail system that would link downtown Tampa to St. Petersburg, Brandon, USF, south and east Hillsborough, and so on.

“We will never solve our problems if we don’t get people out of their cars,” he said.

We interrupt this column to deliver paper bags to some of the more excitable readers, who I am certain now are getting ready to hyperventilate. You know the ones I mean.

I get Hall’s point, though. Since the demise of “Go Hillsborough” — the ambitious but flawed proposal for a transportation sales tax referendum — nothing should be off the table.

It is time to consider everything — one rail, two rails, a whole bunch of buses and, yes, extra roadways.

That includes the Florida Department of Transportation’s $6 billion TBX plan, which I don’t particularly like because of the proposed express toll lanes that most folks won’t be able to afford. Parts of the plan might work, though.

It’s worth noting that Hall isn’t alone in his interest in monorails. Feasibility studies are under way in three suburban cities around Atlanta to see if they would work. Monorails are common throughout China and other nations.

Could it work in Tampa? It is worth at least investigating — maybe with a private developer.

I think that’s what voters were saying, too. They were saying we need people in charge willing to tune out the noise from those who take joy in thinking small and shouting what can’t be done.

Among elevated rail systems, the one built in Miami (elevating heavy rail) is about the most expensive and we do not favor that.  Monorails should be cheaper and have a smaller footprint on the street, which means they can go more places.

Setting aside the political issues (like local officials do not seem particularly interested in really solving our transportation issues), there is a question of cost.  It is actually quite hard to find out how much it costs per mile to build a monorail.  Part of that is because there have not been that many built in the United States. (You can see some monorail news here).  Also, monorail is a relatively vague term that can include a number of technologies (and many people use it for systems that are not monorail).  You can go here for a list of various costs per mile/kilometer for a number of systems over a number of years. The range is from maybe $20 million/km to $88 million/mile, but because of the time, geographic, and other factors, it really is not dispositive.  (Honolulu is building an elevated train – it does not look like a monorail – that is very expensive. )

If, and it is a big if, the cost of monorail were around $100 million/mile, that would be in line with the $480 million downtown to Westshore (because it is probably only going to the Westshore multimodal center rather than the airport) concept the City raised with Go Hillsborough.  It would be faster, out of traffic, not stuck in the median of the interstate, and more readily expandable (and it can always be built at grade where practicable).

We are all for thinking big.  However, we are also cognizant that there are cost issues.  Obviously, if there is a way to build a system that is within the normal range of cost but gives you the benefits of being out of traffic and surface restrictions, that would be great.  We are not sure if you can do it, but it should be investigated.  But whether the present officials, who seem less than serious about studying anything involving transportation, will do anything is another question.

Economy – Low Unemployment, Low Wages

There was an interesting report in the Times that just made clearer something we already knew.

Often the key benchmark used to assess the strength of the labor market is the unemployment rate.

But in a Labor Day-timed snapshot on how Florida workers are faring, researchers at Florida International University zeroed in on two other numbers: $39,099 and $28,236.

The first is the average annual salary in Florida; the second figure is the median annual salary in the state, meaning half of Floridians make more than that amount and half make less.

In a report being released today, the researchers say the huge difference between the average and median salaries shows that there are some high-wage earners skewing the results. It may mask just how many people are in the low-wage category statewide.

Turns out about 65 percent of workers earn less than the average salary of $39,099, with many of them facing “limited opportunities for economic mobility in their existing professions,” the report concludes.

As we have noted over and over, having low unemployment is good. And we are creating more higher paying jobs, but higher is relative.  When your base wages are so low, you don’t need that much to have higher wages.  As with so many things, we are doing better, but we are way behind.

Governance/Politics – Act Before Knowing

In the last few weeks, the City Council has done some interesting things.

— Water, Water

First, the Council finally began to address the stormwater drainage issue that has plagued, and basically been ignored by, Tampa for decades.

Hurricane Hermine didn’t keep the public away from the public hearing, so the City Council late Thursday night approved a new yearly fee to pay for better drainage citywide.

* * *

With the approval, the new assessment will show up for the first time on property tax bills scheduled to be mailed by Nov. 1.

The new fee starts at $45 per year for the owner of a medium-sized home, ramping up over six years to $89.55 annually. Owners with smaller homes and less pavement will pay less. Those with bigger houses, larger pools and more expansive decks will pay more. Businesses pay the fee, too.

The fee will stay in place for 30 years, financing a $251 million drainage improvement program.

Doing something about the awful drainage is definitely necessary, especially in South Tampa, though the focus on South Tampa is, to some, problematic.  While it may be necessary, the drainage issue appears to many like taxing the less wealthy to pay for the benefit of the wealthier.  You can argue about that from many angles – and we are not going to get into it, but that certainly is one issue, which may account for part of the reason this issue has festered. (Perhaps much more CIT money should have been used to fix it a while ago.)

Nevertheless, there is now a plan. And there were some odd things in it:

Exempt from the fee will be areas like New Tampa, Harbour Island and MacDill Air Force Base, which already have drainage systems that do not discharge water to the city’s storm sewers.

Which is at once both reasonable and not in keeping with the tax everyone for the benefit of the city as a whole idea.

And there is this:

As part of the new fee, the city is creating a hardship program to pay the fee for older homeowners who are disabled or are disabled veterans, who live in homes assessed at less than $100,000 and whose incomes do not exceed set limits.

The city also has tried to make it easier for property owners to apply for a mitigation credit to lower either fee because their property was designed to keep water from flowing into the street.

Still, the mitigation policy is flawed, said Gina Grimes, an attorney for four car dealerships that will pay $1 million over the assessment’s 30-year term. Property in New Tampa and Harbour Island pays nothing, she said, but property owners elsewhere in the city can’t get a credit of more than 10 percent, no matter how good their on-site stormwater systems are.

“Is that fair and reasonable?” she asked.

City officials said that work to refine the mitigation policy is already under way, with an engineering study and recommendations due to the council in March.

A hardship program makes sense, though there are other ways to do it.  And it also seems odd to pass a tax (fee, whatever) before you know what you are going to do or what is fair.

Charlie Miranda and Frank Reddick voted no. Reddick said the fee would hit the poor and elderly too hard. Miranda said no one could say how much relief it would provide.

“The good people who live in this city deserve a better plan than this to solve this problem,” he said.

That seems to be true.  This problem has been around for decades and still the fix and its effectiveness is unclear?

The most interesting thing about all this is how it has taken so long to fix something has for decades been an obvious problem.  The weakness of local politics can be seen in that.  The delays have not made it any cheaper to fix, and it is not clear it will really get fixed now (though it might get better).  Sounds a lot like transportation – and this was just the City government.

— More Half Measures

And it is not the only time recently that the City Council has passed an odd law that they admit will need to be changed.  Just a few weeks ago, they passed a noise ordinance that included a very strange provision for South Howard.

The noise of people talking across desks and bustling around an air-conditioned office registers a “comfortable” 55 decibels, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

That also just happens to be the upper noise limit that late-night SoHo bars and restaurants must not exceed if they want to remain on the right side of Tampa noise regulations.

Which is pretty silly, and brought this:

Council members voted 6-1 to adopt the new law but acknowledged they have some work to do to accommodate the concerns of SoHo residents with the area’s vibrant dining and bar scene.

They plan to hold a workshop at the end of September to figure out if they need to make changes to noise limits. 

In other words, act first, ask questions later, which is just as odd as doing nothing (if not odder).  It does not solve the problem of balancing South Howard and the residential areas around it.  It answers nothing going forward. It is just a planning mess.

And it makes one wonder what will happen in other areas of the city that are just now developing – like “North Hyde Park.”  Does anyone actually have a real vision or are we just going to revisit all these same messes perpetually?

Transportation – Red Light Cameras

While the red light camera issue has been out there for a while, we have refrained from commenting for a variety of reasons.  This week, there was news that Tampa’s contract is due to be renewed.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn is expected to face an uphill task in getting Tampa City Council members to extend the city’s red-light camera program.

To help sweeten the pot, city attorneys have negotiated a new deal with camera provider American Traffic Solutions that should give the city a bigger share of fines paid by motorists who run red lights.

The city uses its share of the $158 fines to cover the cost of the cameras and the cost of ticketing motorists, and keeps any revenue that is left over. The new contract would guarantee the city an extra $75,000 per year regardless of how many citations are issued, officials said.

Just how much money does the City get?

Ending the program could also cut off a significant revenue source. After a decline in 2014, red-light violations are back on the rise in Tampa, with the city on track to issue 65,000 citations in the 2016 fiscal year that ends Sept. 30. The city’s share of that could add up to about $2 million.

Maybe, the recent numbers are thus:

But the following year just 41,600 citations were issued. With the state taking an $83 cut of every ticket, that left just $680,000 for the city after it paid the camera company about $2.3 million.

Still, the flat rate contract means the city does better when more motorists are caught.

The increase in violations this year has already seen the city take in $1.2 million after paying $1.5 million in costs to the camera company.

So this is the crux of the debate – is it a revenue source (for the local government and the companies pushing it) or a safety measure?  If it is a safety measure, it seems to be failure.  First, tickets are up, so the cameras may not be changing behavior, except in this way:

The credibility of the cameras also took a knock from a Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles study released in January that found that intersection crashes at monitored intersections rose by almost 15 percent after cameras were installed.

The study included eight Tampa intersections, where the number of rear-end crashes rose from 17 to 26 after cameras were installed — a 52 percent increase.

That does not seem to be making life safer.  And, if the cameras are a revenue source, there is a potential conflict of interest if the City is relying on safety violations to raise money?

Our view is this: the entire program risks looking like a way for a company to make money by selling their product as a safety measure and making it attractive by getting municipalities to get addicted to the revenue.  From the point of view of citizens (rather than officials), without being able to conclusively show that safety has increased, we are not sure what the point of the program is.

TIA – One More

Not a huge deal, but nice nonetheless:

Frontier began flying its new non-stop flights between Tampa International Airport and Las Vegas Tuesday.

The flights will be taking off daily from Las Vegas in the evening at 9:50 p.m. and arriving at TIA at 5:15 a.m. The flight then departs from TIA at 6:50 a.m. and arrives in Las Vegas at 8:50 a.m. local time.

The more the merrier.  Good for the airport.

— ULCC’s

Those who follow such things know that there are a new batch of ultra low-cost airlines in the trans-atlantic market.  Some, like Norwegian, are already serving in Florida markets, like Ft. Lauderdale and Orlando.  This week there was news from South Florida:

WOW air, Iceland’s low-cost transatlantic airline, announced Thursday it will begin the first-ever nonstop service between Miami International Airport and Reykjavik, Iceland — plus connecting flights to Europe — in April 2017.

Service to Reykjavik’s Keflavík International Airport will be available three times a week from MIA for as low as $99 one-way — about a tenth of the cost of current flights to the Nordic country. The airline will offer connecting flights via Iceland to London, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Frankfurt, Dublin, and Copenhagen from $149 one-way, including taxes.

European routes will also be added at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport beginning next year, in August 2017.

Budget carrier Norwegian Air Shuttle announced Wednesday it will offer twice weekly flights from Fort Lauderdale to Barcelona, Spain’s Barcelona-El Prat Airport from $189 one-way, including taxes. That’s a discount of more than 25 percent over current fares.

We could use some of that kind of thing, even if you have to pay extra for food and all that.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

As part of our continuing survey of the rest of the country, we feature to another city, Oklahoma City, which can hardly be considered a bastion of liberal thinking (see here) to see that rail transit is not a left/right issue.  Not only is it conservative, it is in the heart of oil/natural gas country.  But it is still building a streetcar.

Construction of the 4.6 mile streetcar line is to begin later this year and when finished in late 2018 will connect downtown’s central core with Bricktown and Midtown.

* * *

A presentation from engineers at Wednesday’s meeting stated construction of the streetcar maintenance facility was scheduled to begin next month and rail would begin to be laid in the street as early as November.

Portions of the route in Bricktown, along Broadway and in Midtown would have overhead wires. But the streetcar will run on battery power through the downtown core where the route will be wireless.

From Oklahoma City - click for website

From Oklahoma City – click for website

And not only that, but there is an idea to cover the interstate through downtown OKC to connect a revitalized neighborhood (they call it an “innovation district”) with downtown.  The idea is in its embryonic stages, but it points to this:

“We look at I-235 as a barrier,” Miles said. “It’s a very well developed north-to-south corridor, a major interstate that moves through the city. The problem is, it’s a divide. Pedestrian traffic now wants to cross it, and it wasn’t made for that. It was made for vehicular crossing.”

Which definitely is not accomplished by doubling (or more) the width of the interstate, a la TBX.

As we have noted over and over, good planning and good transit is not a left/right issue.  It is an issue of good governance.  Other areas seem to easily get it.  You have to wonder why this area finds it so difficult.

Roundup 9-2-2016

September 2, 2016

Contents

Transportation – TBX, the Presentation

— And One More Thing

Transportation – Persistently Accomplishing Nothing I, Cont Some More

—  And Yet

— Conclusion

Downtown/Channel District/Transportation – The Shuttle

West Tampa-ish – Down By the Park

TIA/Latin America – Cuba Flights

USF/Transportation – CUTR

Transit – Blame Canada

_________________________________

We hope everyone rode/is riding out Hermine well and stayed pretty dry.

Transportation – TBX, the Presentation

FDOT is back doing public outreach on TBX, which is not really about public input, but whatever.  I also apparently does not provide some really important information, at least if you are going to lose your house.

There’s still no update on exactly which homes and businesses will be affected by the controversial Tampa Bay Express road improvement and expansion project, more commonly known as TBX, but the Florida Department of Transportation kicked off a series of public meetings on Monday night to offer updates on the plan.

The meeting at the Robert Saunders Sr. Library in Ybor City featured a video presentation of plans to enhance the aesthetics of interstate underpasses, retention ponds and other aspects of Interstates 275 and 4. It also laid out a series of additional underpasses aimed at connecting communities long ago split when the interstate was created.

And there are a number of other meetings.  You can see the schedule in the article.  But what exactly is FDOT saying?  Well, according to their website, this is the video presentation they are giving:

You can watch it all yourself, but we wanted to highlight a few things.

Setting aside the fact that the narrator seems to be talking into a speakerphone while sitting across a long table, the first thing we want to highlight is this slide, which has three pictures.

Screenshot from FDOT YouTube video @3:43 – click on picture for bigger version

If you notice the top picture, it shows a bus (presumably an express bus) in the express lanes.  All, and we mean all, the other traffic is in a big traffic jam in the free lanes.  We are not sure that this is FDOT’s vision of how the express lane concept should work, but we would not be surprised if it was given that the entire purpose of express lanes is to price people out of using the lanes to push them into the free lanes, allowing a relatively small amount of traffic to, in theory, move.  But what about all those taxpayers stuck in the traffic jam?  It is just their choice to not pay the excessive tolls (or maybe they can’t). Declare victory and go home.

Next, the article tells us:

The presentation did address some potentially key issues in areas where residents are most concerned with the projects. Most visibly, underpass projects would widen the space beneath the interstate at key points to accommodate both traffic and pedestrian and bike traffic. It would increase lighting to provide additional safety and aesthetic appeal as well as provide potential space for public art and improve landscaping. Other underpass projects could include recreational activities like skate or dog parks.

Which you can see in this slide, which sought to explain how FDOT would reconnect neighborhoods cut by the original construction of the interstate:

Screenshot from FDOT YouTube video @4:41 – click on picture for bigger version

The first thing you notice is that the three streets listed are all in the Westshore area and, even if the interstate cut them, it had no real effect on a historic neighborhood – or really any neighborhood at all.  While we are in favor of connecting those streets, that does not really address the issues of Tampa’s urban neighborhoods.  We assume that FDOT is considering reconnecting some of the streets in the urban neighborhoods, but this update really does not say much about that.  And, if FDOT did reconnect the streets, it would involve not just building new lanes but rebuilding a significant portion of what’s there already especially adding bridges, which would be years of fun.  We are at the point that details are in order.

Moving on, FDOT then tells us that it has spent upwards of $275 million on locally on transit in recent years.

Screenshot from FDOT YouTube video @5:45 – click on picture for bigger version

The first thing you should notice is that they include $194 million for the people mover at the airport.  They are not clear, but we assume that is the Sky Connect which does not leave airport property (yet).  One day it may go to the Westshore multimodal center (though there is a question how multimodal that will be), but we do not consider that transit spending. FDOT should be funding the improvements at the airport.

That leaves $81 million. More than half of that is for the Westshore Multimodal Center land, which is also fine, but we are not completely sure what that will be or when.  Then there is a bunch of money for studies, most of which still need to be done.  That is also fine, but any highway plan should integrate the results of the studies to form a comprehensive, coordinated transportation plan.

Yes, we know that FDOT tells us to run Express buses in the express lanes but they do not pay for them.  And the medians which can be used for transit are already in the interstate (though there is nothing going north of downtown).  TBX provides nothing in that regard.

FDOT also tells us that transit really depends on local decisions (and federal money) and says we need to get our act together like Charlotte and Orlando.  There is no debate there.  Our local officials have failed.

Finally, the video tells us this plan has been in the works for 20 years.  Which gets us back to the main problems with the TBX.  Yes, there have been highway improvement plans for 20 years – because improvements were needed, and still are.  We definitely need a Howard Frankland replacement (though we do not need to lose a free lane), we need a 275/SR60 fix and a Malfunction Junction fix.  We probably need another lane on the interstate.  However, the express lane idea is a relatively recent (and poor) change.   And a 20 year plan does not address changes that have taken place over that time to the area and to attitudes.  Finally, the plan does not really address transit.

We are not against fixing the interstate (and building roads that should have been built years ago like through Pasco County or the Gandy Connector) – we are against ramming a one size fits all (namely express lanes in massive highways) approach to interstate building into our area.

— And One More Thing

The video tells us that TBX is consistent with the City’s In Vision Tampa plan which is either not true (though the Mayor supports it) or an indictment of the InVision Tampa plan.

The fact is that other areas realize that interstates may be needed but are also damaging to the urban fabric. As we have been following for a while, and URBN Tampa Bay noted this week, in Atlanta there are various moves to cover highways with public park areas – see here and here  (like Boston did.) Then there is the idea to deal with 175 that St. Pete’s planners are thinking about  – though we shall see how seriously.  The people proposing, working and building those understand that the interstates rip the urban fabric – which is why a 24 lane interstate should not be consistent with an urban redevelopment plan.  And any plan that thinks it is instantly becomes questionable.

We understand that some of those interstates are sunken rather than above the street, but that is something that has to be dealt with.  It does not change the basic point that, while highways are necessary, they also cause harm.  Before we spend billions on a very disruptive plan that does not even provide transit (just the theoretical possibility of some express buses), we need to really consider it.  There is no reason we cannot pick the good parts and leave the bad parts (24 lanes and express lanes), except that FDOT does not want us to.

But, then again, that comes back to the failures of local officials to plan properly and advocate well.  FDOT is being FDOT.  The local officials are the ones letting the area down.

Transportation – Persistently Accomplishing Nothing I, Cont Some More

There was an article in the Times about how the County’s premature and questionable plan for a countywide TIF would cut cities out of the money.

City leaders who were invited to the table to discuss how Hillsborough County should fix its gridlock are likely to walk away from the conversation empty handed.

A proposal that Hillsborough commissioners are considering to pay for transportation needs doesn’t include any guaranteed money for Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City.

Also left out is the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, the agency that runs the county’s bus system.

Indeed.  Left out is any plan for transit, especially because the county plan is not a plan at all, it is really just a statement about an idea about an aspirational goal that may or may not ever amount to anything.  It is not binding in any way.  Therefore, as accurately noted by the Mayor of Tampa, you can’t really bond the revenue.  Of course, that is irrelevant to the County because they are not serious about transportation.

Instead, county commissioners are weighing a new plan to dedicate one-third of any growth in property and sales taxes to transportation. If approved on Sept. 8, it would eventually raise about $800 million for road repairs and other fixes over the next decade.

As explained above, no it wouldn’t.  The entire process is just to pretend to do something.

Murman, though, acknowledged that it could be a few years before the county can afford to distribute a lot of its new transportation money. Under the proposal, the county would make 2015 a baseline year. In subsequent years, as the county population grows and home values increase, one-third of any sales and property tax revenue collected that exceeds the 2015 benchmark would be set aside for transportation.

Once again, this idea will not actually designate any money for transportation; it just says the Commission would like to do so if everything else works out.  And it provides no money for transit. It does nothing for our economic development or competitiveness.  It creates no comprehensive, coordinated, transportation system. It is really an abdication of responsibility.  It is all for appearances.  The Commission should reject it and get to work actually trying to do something useful about transportation.

—  And Yet

Amazingly, among all the silliness, the County Commissioner who proposed it actually made a decent point, but it requires some background.

None of that, though, is earmarked for HART or the three cities. However, Commissioner Sandy Murman, one of the architects of the new plan, has said city and transit authority leaders could ask the commission to help pay for a project each year when the county passes its budget.

“We’ll have some pretty healthy revenues to give to projects like the streetcar and HART,” Murman said. “I’m very supportive of helping the cities and HART as much as we can.

* * *

That strategy would produce about $17 million next year and $29 million in 2018, far short of a county maintenance backlog that runs in the hundreds of millions of dollars. It wouldn’t produce more than $100 million, according to projections, until 2023.

Having to ask the county for money each year presents other challenges. Katharine Eagan, chief executive officer with HART, said it would be difficult to expand operations without a guarantee the money will be there next year to fund it.

Similarly, Eagan and Buckhorn said, it’s unlikely the federal government will view those dollars as a dedicated revenue stream required to land federal grants for transit infrastructure.

Setting aside that there is no guarantee it would actually raise any money, all that is true. So what are the options?

Buckhorn said he and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman will ask the Legislature for the authority to put a sales tax referendum on the ballot for city voters to decide. It won’t be an easy sell in Tallahassee, where Republicans dominate government, he said. 

Pretty much – so why the focus on that?

Meantime, Murman had another suggestion.

“The cities can do what we’re doing too,” she said. “They can take their revenues and dedicate it to transportation like we’re doing.”

Setting aside that the County hasn’t actually dedicated the money to transportation, there is nothing stopping the City from actually doing just that.  Yes, tax revenue increases are not consistent, but then neither is sales tax.  And, while we do not favor a city-only transit system (and no one has seen a real proposal for one recently, and, for whatever reason, the transit studies have not already been done), if the City is really concerned about getting revenue for a City system, why not consider it?

— Conclusion

And we say that seriously.  That does not change the fact that the County has completely failed to do its job.  It does not change that the TIF idea, especially as contemplated, is a bad idea – and a real TIF is premature without full study of all potential revenue streams and the pros and cons.  It does not change that the County shows no interest whatsoever in transit and cannot escape the 1980’s planning and economic philosophy. It does not change that we need a comprehensive, coordinated, transportation system.  It does not change that the Commission is devoted to not making this area truly competitive for high paying jobs. And it does not change that there is no actual proposal for City rail. None of that changes.  It is a complete mess that is made worse every week by the lack of political will and lack of interest on the part of local officials.  And there is no reason to think that the Commission will be suddenly seized by inspiration to actually work for a real solution to the transportation issue.

But, even if the County is not serious (and there is no sign they are), if the City is serious, it should be looking at alternative sources of funding – full or partial.

Downtown/Channel District/Transportation – The Shuttle

Years after the PTC killed a private service doing a downtown shuttle,

Downtown Tampa’s highly anticipated, complimentary shuttle service is one step closer to its launch. Tampa Downtown Partnership (TDP) has entered into an agreement with Florida-based company, The Tampa Downtowner Group, LLC as the service operator. Downtowner is a rapidly growing shuttle operator with service in South Florida, Newport Beach, CA, and Aspen, CO. The agreement comes after two years of research, planning, fundraising and the selection process of an operator.

Downtowner is an app-based, on-demand shuttle service that will operate in Downtown Tampa seven days a week, using electric vehicles that carry up to five passengers each. Hours of operation will be Monday to Friday, 6am to 11pm; Saturdays and Sundays, 11am to 11pm. The downtown service operates within Downtown Tampa’s business district, Channel District, River Arts District, the University of Tampa area, as well as the non-gated north end of Harbour Island. 

We are all for this service.  It is just that we did not have to wait seven years for it.  It was here and was killed by local officials and political interests, just to be brought back because it was a good idea in the first place.  (We wonder if the originators gets a cut of the money or if the powers-that-be just screwed them completely.)

Maybe it is a sign that Tampa is learning.  Maybe.

West Tampa-ish – Down By the Park

Per URBN Tampa Bay, the first plan amendment for land near Julian Lane Riverfront Park has been requested.

It has begun. With Julian B. Lane’s renovation moving forward, various adjacent land owners are looking to redevelop the surrounding neighborhood. On September 12th there will be a public hearing to amend Tampa’s comprehensive plan to allow higher density mixed-use development.

The Oakhurst Apartments will be amended from Residential-35 to Urban Mixed Use-60. Various lots south and west of Oakhurst are being amended from Residential-35, Residential-20 and General Mixed Use-20 to Urban Mixed Use-60 and Neighborhood Mixed Use-35. In total, there are 13.35 acres, with a development potential of 731 residential units being requested.

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on map for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on map for Facebook page

From our perspective there are two things here.  First, we are all in favor of having more density, mixed uses, and all that right near the park (though from the maps much of it is actually across from Tampa Prep.)  On the other hand, the request potential is 55 units per acre, which really is not very dense for the middle of the city, especially given that, he Tampa Housing Authority/Related “West River” project is about 80 units an acre with a lot of retail and office space, Altis Grand is about 125 units/acre, and the Related/Tribune site project is about 100 units per acre.  That is especially the case because this is land fronting the park, not farther back from the park where less density could be understandable.

It would certainly be better than what is there now, but it remains to be seen how much better.  Hopefully, at least the top floors will clear the tree line.

TIA/Latin America – Cuba Flights

The US government has given final approval to the daily Southwest flight from Tampa to Havana.

It’s official. Southwest Airlines’ flight to Havana from Tampa International Airport was finalized by the U.S. Department of Transportation on Wednesday.

Dallas-based Southwest (NYSE: LUV) is one of eight U.S. airlines to begin scheduled flights to Havana as early as this fall.

That is excellent.  We would like to have had more flights to more destinations, but given the airline business, even this flight was very good achievement.

“This is awesome,” said Janet Zink, assistant vice president of media and government relations. “We’re thrilled to partner with Southwest Airlines on this new scheduled flight to Havana. We have the third largest Cuban-American population in the U.S., so we’re a natural market for this service. We’re also fortunate to have a community of leaders who continue to show support for this important connection.”

Well, most anyway.  Now, the Port needs to get on the ball.

USF/Transportation – CUTR

While we haven’t heard much for a while from the USF Center for Urban Transportation Research (CUTR), it pops up in many transportation discussions – usually telling us about how buses are so much better than rail, and the like.  This week, there was some news:

The University of South Florida has landed a big name to head its transportation research center.

Dr. Robert L. Bertini is the former U.S. Department of Transportation Administrator. He’s tapped as USF’s director for the Center for Urban Transportation Research, or CUTR.

So who is he?

Bertini comes to USF after previously serving as a faculty member at the California Polytechnic State University’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Before that he held faculty and leadership positions at Portland State Univeristy [sic].

President Barack Obama appointed Bertini in 2009 as the deputy administrator of the Research and Innovative Technology Administration for the U.S. Department of Transportation. During that time he also headed the intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office and chaired the department’s innovation council.

Bertini has received several accolades included the National Science Foundation’s CAREER Award. His research is focused on sustainable transportation solutions, traffic flow theory, intelligent transportation systems, multimodal transportation and proactive traffic management and operations. Bertini is credited with generating nearly $18 million in extrernal [sic] funding during his 20-year acandemic [sic] career.

“I’m looking forward to working with all of my new colleagues and all of our stakeholders to move CUTR to the next level of excellence in multimodal transportation research and education,” Bertini said.

Bertini has authored or co-authored more than 280 publications including journal articles, book chapters and technical reports.

Which all sounds promising, but really does not say much.  So we googled him. Way back in his career, he wrote some articles on rail transit.  More recently, he has written quite a bit about buses and “BRT” (we parenthesize the acronym because it is used so loosely – see MetroRapid). You can see a list of his articles here.  And then there is, not surprisingly, his co-authoring of a piece in this CUTR publication.

Lots of buses and roads, which is fine.  There is need for studying buses and roads.  But they are not the be all and end all for transportation, which has been, at least locally, CUTR’s profile. We are not going to prejudge him or his leadership.  It may be inspired.  Frankly, we have no idea.  However, we are not going to get too excited either.  Only time will tell.

Transit – Blame Canada

There was an interesting piece from Vox.com about the problems with American transit.  The first reason it is interesting is because it points out that extensive suburbs are not really the reason transit in the US is not as good as the rest of the world.

But there’s a problem with this explanation: Canada. This is also a sprawling country, largely built for the automobile. Canadian cities’ public transit systems, however, look very different.

“Canada just has more public transit,” says transit consultant Jarrett Walker. “Compare, say, Portland to Vancouver, or Salt Lake to Edmonton, or Des Moines to Winnipeg. Culturally and economically, they’re very similar cities, but in each case the Canadian city has two to five times as much transit service per capita, so there’s correspondingly more ridership per capita.”

Pretty much.  In Canada, even small cities by US standards (because almost all are) have extensive transit even if they are similar to US cities.  It is a matter of choice of how you build the suburb and what transit you provide.  But why the difference in choices?

Although history and geography are partly to blame, there’s a deeper reason why American public transportation is so terrible. European, Asian, and Canadian cities treat it as a vital public utility. Most American policymakers — and voters — see transit as a social welfare program.

You can read the whole article for yourself, but as long as officials (and many voters) think of transit as for other people rather than potentially for themselves, they will shortchange it.  And right now it sure seems like they see themselves driving in the express lanes while everyone else is stuck in traffic with no options.

Roundup 8-26-2016

August 26, 2016

Contents

Transportation – What He Said

Economic Development/Transportation – How Many Playing Fields Do You Need, Cont

Economic Development – Google Fiber

— One More Thing

TIA – Same Old

Transportation – Talking Transit

Building Booms – Where We Are

Tampa Heights-ish – Back to the Future

Built Environment – Choices

Rays – Update

— Trop Land

— Forever Baseball

— Across the Bay

Parks – Vertical

_______________________________

Transportation – What He Said

Fresh after last week’s state of transit discussion (it’s bad), the Lightning owner had more to say at a Chamber of Commerce event:

A congested road system is the biggest obstacle Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and his real estate team must overcome as they try to lure potential companies to downtown Tampa.

“Transportation is top of the list,” Vinik said, who said his company, Strategic Property Partners, which is a joint real estate venture with Cascade Investment, is in talks with several companies about relocating to Tampa.

More than a decade ago, the biggest hindrance to corporate recruiting was likely the state’s school system, Vinik said.

* * *

“Hillsborough County has … population over the next ten years that will grow” 25 percent, Vinik said to the sold out crowd at the University Club of Tampa in the Tampa City Center. “Orlando is growing at a similar rate. With to five to six million people in the Central Florida region, we’re growing faster than places like Austin or Denver or Silicon Valley.”

Vinik said that Tampa Bay’s state-leading number of STEM related, high paying jobs puts it in a good position for more growth in the economy and injecting more money into the community.

“We’re on our way to being a superpower in the U.S. and maybe the world,” Vinik said. But “what’s absent is a proper plan for transportation.”

And if the transportation deficiency stops companies from coming here, it will stop us from reaching our potential (whether it is a superpower or just a truly major city – rather than just a city with a large population and underperforming economic output).

One thing: the Lightning owner is on the record for supporting TBX.  We do not know if he supports it because he is a real believer in the express lanes concept or because he thinks, in addition to the need for transit, the roads need to be better and there is nothing else on offer.  Yes, most people will still commute by cars. Parts of the interstate certainly need fixing and, given that they are already congested, capacity needs some increase, though the express lane concept and the 24-lane wide interstate plan through downtown are a bad idea. Add to that the fact that the surface streets are already congested, the City is engaged in a road diet program, and there is not enough land or money to widen the surface streets.  Even if TBX gets cars from one far-flung exit to another, getting around after that will become increasing difficult and time-consuming.  And even if we were to build TBX and massively widen streets, that would just create an urban environment that would be increasingly unattractive to companies and talent (see GE relocation). The fact is that we are not going to pave our way out of the transportation problem. We need real alternatives to driving.

Other than the TBX issue, we are behind the Lightning owner’s push.  Even if it has elements of self-interest, it is still correct.  And instead of lining up behind bad ideas (like Go Hillsborough) from local officials because it is the best they will do, local business should acknowledge that local officials are not doing their jobs and push them hard.

People can speak of economic development and tinker around (see next item), but until they really address that we have a 1980’s transportation system and are competing with cities in the 21st century, they are not serious.

Economic Development/Transportation – How Many Playing Fields Do You Need, Cont

Meanwhile, the County Commission moved ahead with the sports field complex last week.

For more than a decade, plans to build a massive sports complex in east Hillsborough County capable of luring large youth athletic tournaments and the millions of tourism dollars that come with them have slowly inched along.

On Wednesday, Hillsborough County commissioners gave the project a big push forward, selecting the companies that will be tasked with building and designing the fields and facilities.

In their winning bid, Nelson Construction Co. and Stantec pitched a $12.9 million complex with 16 soccer fields — four synthetic and 12 natural grass — equipped with lighting, the capacity to park 1,200 cars, space for vendors and food trucks, concessions and locker rooms.

The proposed facility would be flexible enough so fields could be reconfigured to host rugby, football, cricket and even quidditch, the sport of wizards in the Harry Potter series that muggles now play too (without the flying).

* * *

The approved site for the complex is 65 acres of county-owned land between U.S. 301 and Falkenburg Road, just south of Broadway Avenue. It was chosen for its proximity to major thoroughfares and existing development.

Here is the area, nestled among warehouses and a jail to provide maximum development opportunities and appeal to families.

As we have said before, we have nothing against playing field complexes but is this really a County priority? Is this the best use of County money when the Commission cannot even find money to pave roads?

Other communities have built large facilities hoping to spur development, but it doesn’t always pan out. The planned location for the Hillsborough complex is already near hotels and other amenities, and is between Tampa and Brandon. That should give it an advantage, Higgins said.

A feasibility study from Sports Facilities Advisory estimated that the Hillsborough youth sports complex would generate an economic impact of $7.3 million in year one and $25 million and 43,800 hotel nights in its fifth year.

What are the consultants going to say?  And if its attraction is that it is near local kids, that is not going to create a lot of hotel nights.

Moreover, while we think that some recreation facilities should be provided by government, as should transportation infrastructure, not every idea should be paid for by the government.  Why didn’t the County just put up the land and seek bids from private companies for the cost?  Since so many areas are trying to get into the big youth tournament game, will this project really thrive (we are sure people will use it but will it really make the money projected? And why couldn’t a private developer/operator create the same spin-off business)  Even if the tax money comes from a specific bucket (like tourist tax money – the article is not clear what bucket it is coming from though the quote below makes it appear to not be tourist tax money) does not mean you should spend it as soon as you get it rather than save it for project you are really interested in.

Potential economic benefits aside, the county’s commitment to such an expensive project comes at a time when it is rethinking how to pay for transportation needs. Several commissioners have promised to scrutinize the list of planned capital projects for opportunities to shift more money to roads, bridges, sidewalks and intersection improvements.

One of those commissioners, Sandy Murman, said she considered reprioritizing the money earmarked for the youth sports complex for transportation. But she ultimately sided against doing so.

“The train kind of left the station on that item,” she said, and removing it at this point “would be an uphill battle.”

To that point, Hillsborough County Deputy Administrator Greg Horwedel said considerable staff time and resources have already been spent on planning for this project.

“From my perspective, this is something that is very far along and I think we should finish the project,” he said, though he added that it’s ultimately the board’s decision.

Setting aside that risky reference to “trains,” the amount of time spent on the project by staff is irrelevant.  If that were the measure of whether a project should be built, we’d have a world class rail transit system by now.  The real issue is likely not staff time, but time spent by other Commissioners.

Nevertheless,

Commissioners will have at least one more opportunity to review the project when they approve the final design.

They should kill it and get private developer to foot the bill and the risk with a nice lease and operating agreement so we get the fields if it goes south, but we are quite sure they won’t.  It is all a matter of priorities which are demonstrated by actions.

Economic Development – Google Fiber

There was news last week that Google’s consideration of putting it super high speed fiber service in Tampa is on hold.

Now, Google’s high-speed internet business is on hold.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that Google is reconsidering how to provide the service after initial rollouts proved more expensive and time-consuming than anticipated.

“We’re continuing to work with city leaders to explore the possibility of bringing Google Fiber to Tampa,” Google said in a statement emailed to the Tampa Bay Times. “This means deploying the latest technologies in alignment with our product road map, while understanding local considerations, which takes time.”

Tampa is among a handful of U.S. cities being considered for the high-speed service.

The Wall Street Journal article can be found here. It should be noted that Google is actually reevaluating its entire program to see if there are better ways to install the service, not just Tampa (though, as far as we can tell, there is no final decision about putting it in Tampa).

Google parent Alphabet Inc. is rethinking its high-speed internet business after initial rollouts proved more expensive and time consuming than anticipated, a stark contrast to the fanfare that greeted its launch six years ago.

Alphabet’s internet provider, Google Fiber, has spent hundreds of millions dollars digging up streets and laying fiber-optic cables in a handful of cities to offer web connections roughly 30 times faster than the U.S. average.

Now the company is hoping to use wireless technology to connect homes, rather than cables, in about a dozen new metro areas, including Los Angeles, Chicago and Dallas, according to people familiar with the company’s plans. As a result Alphabet has suspended projects in San Jose, Calif., and Portland, Ore.

Meanwhile, the company is trying to cut costs and accelerate its expansion elsewhere by leasing existing fiber or asking cities or power companies to build the networks instead of building its own.

It is also worth noting that other companies have also installed high speed fiber networks in other cities. (See “Economic Development – More Fiber Is Healthy”)  And Chattanooga did it on its own (because you don’t have to wait for someone to come do it for you).

Overall, this news is slightly disappointing, but not really anything about Tampa.

— One More Thing

Speaking of Chattanooga, the New York Times has profile of Chattanooga’s tech scene in its commercial real estate coverage – because as we’ve said a number of times, real estate is driven by business (which is why relying on real estate to drive your economy is always a bit questionable). It discusses their ecosystem for startup and young entrepreneurs, something this area is also working on, though it seems that Chattanooga’s attempt is more unified. You can find the Chattanooga profile here.

The New York Times also has a discussion of Phoenix.  You can read it for yourself, but we will highlight this:

As start-ups across San Francisco and the Silicon Valley try to contend with high salaries and housing costs, many are expanding to lower-cost cities in the West and employing more people like Ms. Rogers. For Phoenix, which is about a 90-minute flight from San Francisco, the Bay Area’s loss is its gain.

The Phoenix metro area was hit hard by the housing bust, but it is experiencing a strong recovery. The unemployment rate has recently fallen below 5 percent, the lowest in eight years, and several Silicon Valley companies, including Yelp and Uber, have opened new offices in the region. A reviving downtown Phoenix now has a cluster of companies that make business software.

* * *

Wages, taxes and energy cost about 25 percent less in Phoenix than they do in San Francisco, according to an index of business costs compiled by Moody’s Analytics.

Housing is much cheaper. The median home price in the Phoenix metropolitan area is $221,000, according to Zillow. In San Francisco, it is $812,000.

Those advantages seem a lot like Tampa’s advantages.  The obvious difference is location, which may be the main point, though, frankly, the article is not clear about it.  (And we are a lot closer to places like Boston and New York than Phoenix.)  There is also the question of transit (Phoenix, a conservative area, has it, and we don’t), but that is obvious.  In any event, it is worth examining their success. (And, just as an aside, if you look at Google maps here you can see a med school, science center/museum, arena, stadium, convention center, cinema complex, and nearby rail line in a small area of downtown Phoenix.  Maybe the Lightning owner’s development is modelling downtown Phoenix.)

TIA – Same Old

Usually when we say “same old” it is not a good thing.  Of course, the airport isn’t like most of the rest of the area.  Trip Advisor is out with its best airport list.   In the large airport category, Tampa International was second, behind the mysteriously high ranking Portland (OR).

Nevertheless, good job.

Transportation – Talking Transit

Something we saw on a regular reader’s Facebook page is the kind of thing that gives one pause when thinking of who is in charge transit in this area:

Transit stations should always be visible and accessible, not tuck[ed] away.

Transit stations should not be invisible, behind parking garages, parking lots or complexes (I realize this is old school operations and mindset).

HART needs to go back to the map and rediscover pride in some of its infrastructure.

From C. Vela – Click on picture for Facebook page

From C. Vela – click on picture for Facebook page

From C. Vela – click on picture for Facebook page

Indeed, it should.  We get this is an old stop and that it provides covering to the mall, but there has to be a better place for it.  Remember, this is in the middle of the main business (and shopping area) in the whole metro area.  There are a number of places that could be accessed from a properly located transit center (these pictures are about as far from anything as you can get on the lot).  We get why it was this way, but surely it can be far better – especially if you want to attract choice riders.  And surely if local officials (and the Westshore Alliance) are serious about having a walkable, transit friendly Westshore (which, at least governmentally, is still and open question), this needs to change.

In a (mostly) unconnected development, after seeing years of increases in ridership during the recession, HART ridership decreased in the last year.  We are not surprised, according to the Wall Street Journal, this is happening in a lot of cities:

Transit ridership declined for the first time in five years during 2015, likely due to low gasoline prices, but subways and commuter trains were as crowded as ever.

How can this be? There are more free seats on the bus.

Americans took about 150 million fewer bus rides last year, but boarded trains in slightly higher numbers than in 2014.

Ridership of all modes of public transportation declined 1.3% last year from 2014, when transit use reached the highest level since 1958, according to new data from the American Public Transportation Association. The average price of a gallon of gasoline fell 27% in 2015 from a year earlier.

Though note the exception.

A breakdown of the 10.6 billion transit trips taken last year shows bus ridership fell 2.8%, and train usage, including rides on subways, light-rail systems and commuter trains, rose a slight 0.2% last year from 2014. The rail increase was the smallest gain since ridership declined in 2009. The figures do not include Amtrak ridership or intercity buses.

Not a large gain (at all), but not a decline either.  Why is that?

Bus systems extend further into the suburbs and are common in smaller cities, where transit is often used for travel to work, but not for weekend errands and evenings out in the same way a New Yorker might hop on the subway at midnight.

The latest data suggests transit use is steady for those living in the core of large cities, many of whom have built their lives around close access to a metro stop.

Elsewhere in the country, where people are more likely have access to a car, gasoline prices play a bigger role in the decision to drive or ride.

Rail systems are also supported by other types of riders that typically don’t use buses, including tourists and those using transit to get to sporting events, airports and other large draws, Dr. Schwieterman said.

Another detriment to transit overall was federal tax rules that for much of last year provided a bigger break for parking expenses than using mass transit.

There is also the question of whether people will build their lives around a bus system.  Buses serve an important purpose in transit systems.  There is no question.  But the question is whether buses have the ability to convince people who have a choice whether to use them or drive.  Rail does have that ability. (Think when you travel: are you more likely to rent a car if the alternative is using the bus or taking rail?  Why shouldn’t you have that choice every day?)

Of course, right now, that difference is irrelevant here. We don’t have that choice.

Building Booms – Where We Are

As we noted last week, and we have noted before, there is a lot of building going on around here, but other areas also have building booms and theirs started earlier.  Serendipitously, we ran across an interesting website report about apartment construction.

The US apartment market is booming in more ways than one. Rental rates are breaking record after record, with the national average at an all-time high of $1,213 in June and occupancy for stabilized and completed properties across the nation reaching 96.1% as of the end of the first quarter of 2016.

As more and more people turn to renting – either by necessity, deterred from buying by increasing homeownership costs, or by choice as renting is more often associated with a flexible lifestyle – developers are determined to capitalize on this growing demand and fill skylines across the nation with construction cranes.

To see where new development is concentrated and identify the country’s multifamily boom towns in 2016 (i.e. metros that will see their rental inventories grow the most in terms of completions volume), we’ve turned to data from our sister company, Yardi Matrix, and examined construction pipelines in the 50 largest US metros. Among the top 20 hottest metros for new apartment construction, the job-centric, millennial-magnet Texas hubs – Houston and Dallas – will see the largest number of new units added to their hungry rental markets in 2016.

From Rent Cafe – click on chart for website

As you can see, there are a lot of usual suspects on that graphic.  While we are a top 20 metro, we are not there.  That is not to say there is not a lot of construction here – there is.  And much of it will come on-line in 2017 (and 2018).  Moreover, there are projects that have not even started yet (like the Heights and the Lightning owner’s project)  The point is simply that others are already ahead on this measure (and probably office, since that is not really cranking up yet) and are well into their booms.  And all this will probably come to halt with the next recession, which will inevitable come.

So, yes, we are getting better, but you have to keep everything in perspective relative to the competition.

Tampa Heights-ish – Back to the Future

There was news of a new restaurant in Tampa Heights:

In the increasingly restaurant-rich Tampa Heights neighborhood, Lector Social Club and Wine Bar will debut this fall.

Located in a formerly vacant building at 2307 N Florida Ave., Lector will be a gathering place and venue for intimate live music and literary readings. Lector will unofficially open its doors Oct. 1, with a fundraising event for a pair of organizations that aid military combat veterans.

You can read more about the restaurant in the article.  We are all for new restaurants, but what really encourages us is that the they are fixing up this building and reenergizing what is left of Tampa’s old, urban fabric.  This is the second announcement in recent weeks of the renovation of an old, urban building in this general vicinity, which is great.

For far too long economics, taxes, and other factors have basically encouraged owners to tear down old buildings. And code and planning decisions encouraged new buildings to be car centered (including in the heart of downtown).  We hope this renovation and reuse trend continues.  Tampa once was a walkable, transit friendly place.  Even though most of that was torn down, there is no reason if couldn’t be once again.

Built Environment – Choices

Speaking of which, URBN Tampa Bay has a great find with a blog post (from 2013) that discussed Walter Crossing and a Target project in Orlando, showing how easy it is to build well.

A co-worker made the observation that many of the sites that host the low density retail product that we were charged with retrofitting along this corridor often shared the same context, plot size, and density. In our research of the design alternatives for traditional big box sites locally we stumbled across two Targets, one in Tampa and one in Orlando, that illustrate the importance of design principles in development along future transit-oriented corridors.

The Target located on Dale Mabry Highway and I-275 in Tampa was welcomed by many when it was built in 2005. By building stores adjacent to a multi-story parking deck, the design included three times the amount of parking and stores located on the same site. A higher density of development was certainly achieved. It was a different alternative to the typical suburban development that had been seen for the past 4 decades. In this case, I believe “different” might have been substituted with “good,” and for lack of a better example, even considered “urban.”

* * *

The Target located on Orange Avenue in Orlando however, achieved the same program and density (even more actually) while addressing its urban context and properly employing the four design principles. The difference in the quality of place and access to the urban corridor is absolutely staggering.

* * *

These two development examples illustrate how important required design standards are in achieving a land use and pattern required of transit-oriented design. While many design principles could be put in place along designated transit-oriented corridors, requiring connectivity, a well-designed public realm, active ground floor uses, and site orientation will achieve a high-quality level of development. The below picture shows from a site planning perspective how easily the higher quality development in Orlando could be achieved on the same site in Tampa.

Tampa on the left.  Orlando on the right:

From Held of the Public Realm – click on picture for webpage

And then they show and overlay of the two that indicates how the Orlando project easily fits into the Tampa project lot:

From Helm of the Public Realm – click on picture for website

Not only does the Orlando project not take more land, it has more available space from which to generate revenue.  It is a more efficient and nicer use of the land.

So why the difference? Walter Crossing has a number of access problems, and it is hardly in a walkable area, but that is all matter of choices made.  The fact is that Orlando is a show business town with an eye to aesthetics and entertaining people.  Tampa has long been much more just about doing things that are “practical.”  The difference is in the choices made and those choices reveal about priorities.  For too long Tampa has had a priority of just building something, anything, and settled.  At least in some parts of the area, that seems to be changing, but far too often, even on Kennedy, it is clear that settling is still in fashion.  The code – and the attitudes that sustain it – still need to change.

Rays – Update

There has been a bit of news regarding the Rays recently.

— Trop Land

First, there was a release of preliminary ideas for redevelopment of the Trop property.

The architecture firm tasked by the city of St. Petersburg to create a redevelopment master plan for the 86-acre Tropicana Field site has a tangible vision of what it could look like, without the iconic dome that’s graced the skyline along Interstate 275 for more than two decades.

A small-scale model shows a would-be site with what looks like an open-air baseball stadium in the northeast corner of the site near where a U-Haul building is currently located. Despite how the model may look, neither the city nor the firm has any say into what a baseball stadium would actually look like – that would be up to the Rays.

In our mind, an open air stadium is a non-starter, but, as noted, the design could change.  At least they got the best location on the property for a stadium right, unlike where the Trop is now.

The rest of the site blends retail, office, housing and park space into a concept that shuts down artificial borders now created by a giant stadium and a sea of asphalt.

At the center of HKS Architecture’s preliminary plan is expanded transportation and transit access in what project manager Randy Morton describes as “maybe the most important” component of the redevelopment plan.

“The first idea is about knitting the city back together,” Morton said.

He emphasized using key transportation corridors for expanded public transit, including the future Bus Rapid Transit lined planned for First Avenues North and South connecting to the downtown ferry service set to launch this November (that project is only guaranteed for six months as a pilot project, and its future depends on that initial success.)

The HKS vision utilizes the existing highway structure for ease of access, but ultimately would eliminate Interstate 175 along the south side of the site and turn it into a boulevard ripe for high-end possibilities like condos and shops. That vision, he admits, is easy to draw on a diagram, but much more difficult to incorporate.

Overall, we are fine with that (though, as noted on URBN Tampa Bay, covering 175 with park land and connections – a la other cities – would be better). The BRT is fine, but whether there will be a useful ferry is a question.

We have nothing against the basic ideas in this plan (save the stadium).  It is a big piece of land and lot could be done with it.  St. Pete should plan to develop it into a really nice, urban, mixed use area.

— Forever Baseball

That brings us back to whether a stadium should be included in that redevelopment.  This might tell you something:

The Baseball Forever group comprised of community leaders backing a long-term future for the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg is taking its message to the field Friday night.

The Rays will host a Baseball Forever night in the 7:10 p.m. matchup against the Texas Rangers. About 2,000 tickets have been sold, according to Baseball Forever head and former St. Pete city staffer Rick Mussett. As of an email late Friday morning, tickets were still available.

By the way, attendance for that game was 15,109, which is way lower than the Lightning average attendance.  That is not dispositive of anything, but it is indicative of the consistent problem with the present location.

— Across the Bay

There were a couple of development across the Bay in Hillsborough.  First,

Tampa Bay Rays executives met with Tampa and Hillsborough officials Monday to go over a half-dozen or more potential sites for a new ballpark, but this time the Florida State Fairgrounds was not in the mix.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan said after the 90-minute meeting he felt confident that going forward neither side is likely to discuss the fairgrounds as a possible stadium site for a couple of reasons. It’s not urban enough for the Rays, and it’s just too far away from St. Petersburg.

But Rays president Brian Auld, County Administrator Mike Merrill and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said it’s still too early to count out any site.

That’s because each potential Hillsborough site has challenges, and all four men said it’s possible that their first choice might not be feasible, so they could end up going to a backup.

We understand the need for backups, but the Fairgrounds is by far the worst Hillsborough site discussed.

Other potential locations reportedly include the Tampa Park Apartments site near downtown, the Jefferson High School site in West Shore, the Tampa Greyhound Track and docks near Ybor City now used by International Ship Repair. Another site, the ConAgra flour mill near downtown, is generally seen as too small and too expensive, since the mill would have to be moved somewhere else.

Those are all better, though the International Ship Repair should be low on the list unless the Port has a really good site to pay to move it.  The Port needs port business.  Which leaves the Tampa Park Apartments and Jefferson (which would also have to be rebuilt).  And there is always the question of money.

But the two sides have not discussed what role public financing would play in a ballpark accessible to the community.

“We can assume that conversation is coming, but we haven’t had that conversation,” Buckhorn said. Before the next meeting, local officials said they intend to continue to study possible financing options and infrastructure requirements needed at each site.

Depending on its design, features and type of roof, a new ballpark could cost an estimated $400 million to $700 million. Depending on the location, the public financing package for the project could include as many as 10 different sources of funding. On top of money from the team, those could include property taxes earmarked for community redevelopment in areas like downtown Tampa, rental car surcharges, some hotel bed taxes, money authorized by the Legislature, ticket user fees and foreign investment available through the federal government’s EB-5 visa program.

Which brings us to some other news:

Whoever wins the hotly contested race for Hillsborough County’s open District 6 commission seat is likely to face this hot-button question early in the term:

Should the county try to lure the Tampa Bay Rays across the bay with the promise of taxpayer money for a new stadium?

For five of the six candidates, the answer is, “Possibly, if it comes from tourists.”

The Rays are evaluating sites in Hillsborough and Pinellas for a new ballpark — one, the team hopes, that will spur development, corporate sponsors and new fans as a year-round community asset.

Whether they choose a site in or around Tampa could come down to how much local officials are willing to commit. Among criteria the team released in February for choosing a new location is this: “The ability to structure a public-private partnership that would support the construction of the Rays’ next-generation ballpark is critical.”

* * *

Republican Jim Norman, who chaired the County Commission that sent voters the Community Investment Tax to keep the Bucs and started the Tampa Bay Sports Commission to attract sporting events here, was the lone candidate to balk at financial support of a Rays move to Tampa.

Of all the public financing options, the tourist tax, especially if Hillsborough qualifies for the extra 1%, is the best one because it is statutorily designated to either promote tourism or pay for publicly owned and operated stadiums.  If you use that money, you are not taking money away from something else.

This is the second best:

In addition to the bed tax, Kemp and Dicks want to create a special taxing district around any new baseball stadium to capture growth in property taxes from the new development it spurs. This money could be used toward the ballpark, too. Kemp also suggested giving the Rays a portion of parking revenues as an incentive.

We are ok with discussing this, but the County needs to be addressing transportation in a real, productive way.  That failure is will resonate with everything, including the Rays and whether any investment in a new stadium is worth it.

Parks – Vertical

There was an, in our eyes, ironic article on the Times website this week talking about things to do in some local parks:

Want to stand in one spot and check out the skyline view of downtown St. Petersburg, Tropicana Field and downtown Tampa? Climb the observation tower at Weedon Island Preserve. It is one of 13 observation towers at parks in the Tampa Bay area.

At Weedon Island, after a short hike along a boardwalk, climb up three flights of stairs to reach the observation platform. At the top, check out a different view of the 3,190-acre preserve and beyond. Watch people fish on the pier down below or paddle kayaks or paddle-boards, or watch motor boats cruise through the area between Riviera Bay and Old Tampa Bay.

Take a further look and you will see the white dome of Tropicana Field and to the left the skyline of downtown St. Petersburg. Turn around and find the skyline of downtown Tampa. Watch airplanes come and go from the nearby Tampa International Airport and the St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport.

Back in the preserve, watch other objects of flight, the various birds who make Weedon Island Preserve their home. 

Who would want to go vertical?  Certainly not anyone near downtown Tampa where those awful space mounds have to be flattened.

Roundup 8-19-2016

August 19, 2016

Contents

Transportation – Persistently Accomplishing Nothing I, Cont

— Editorial

— Talk

— Attitudes

— Conclusion

Transportation – Persistently Accomplishing Nothing II, Cont

Economic Development – What Is It?

Economic Development/History Lesson – Blown Lead

Port – Cuba Calling?

Downtown/Channel District – First Steps

— One More Thing

Built Environment – It’s All Relative

TIA – Keeping Up With Technology

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Old Tampa

____________________________________________________

Transportation – Persistently Accomplishing Nothing I, Cont

What would a Roundup be without another transportation discussion (other than more fun to write)?  This week, there are a number of items worth discussing.

— Editorial

First up is an editorial from the Times regarding the County Commissions shenanigans on the TIF idea (and idea worth considering in concert with an overall examination of needs and financing possibilities).  It is good, so we quote it at length:

Commissioners voted 6-1 to advance the proposal, which would establish, as board policy, the county’s intent to set aside one-third of future growth in property and sales tax revenues to transportation. In the wake of two failed transit tax initiatives in recent years, commissioners said it was time to do something, and supporters hailed the move as both progressive and fiscally conservative.

In fact, it is neither. The county is not creating a new revenue stream for transportation; it’s merely raiding money already there. While declaring this as a board policy is better than the original idea from the sponsor, Commissioner Sandy Murman, to enshrine the move as a county ordinance, following the policy is voluntary. The commission can violate it any time — for debt, for an emergency, for police and fire expenses. Commissioners opted for the weasel language after the county’s financial advisers warned it would be irresponsible to restrict future budgets for any specific purpose. There is always a risk the economy could sour, and taking money off the table could leave the county exposed. Remember the recession? And raiding funds could weaken the county’s credit rating, raising the costs for borrowing.

Exactly.  Like we said last week, the Commission is really not doing anything except expressing an opinion that maybe they will spend some money – or maybe they won’t.  So what is the point other than to seem to be doing something when you are actually doing nothing?

The measure is expected to generate about $823 million over 10 years. But sweeping that money from the budget creates holes in other places. Over that same time, the county will need to find $245 million to cover the costs of inflation and expanded services for the 25,000 residents expected to move in every year. And that budget hole doesn’t include the costs of building 25 new fire stations and a host of other facilities the county will need to accommodate growth.

While $800 million may sound like a lot, it won’t make much of a dent in the county’s $12 billion backlog in transportation needs. Two-thirds of that money could be spent now on maintenance and four marginal road projects in the suburbs. With this policy, the county would dole out the money on an annual basis, which means it would not go for major capital investments in rail or buses, but rather be frittered away on pet road projects in commissioners’ individual districts.

Murman said the move will “test our fiscal priorities” going forward. In reality, nothing has changed. The commission has had the authority all along to dedicate more money every year to transportation. How having a gentlemen’s agreement changes the equation is anybody’s guess.

The only thing that’s changed is the board’s undue sense of accomplishment. Members on Wednesday all but dusted off their hands in praising this empty step forward. After years of examining how to improve connectivity throughout Tampa Bay, this plan does nothing to link job centers or the region, to bring in state or federal transit dollars or to make the area more competitive nationally.

Again, exactly. There is no real plan other than some road work.  It is not a transportation plan, it is a road plan, that, just like the old impact fee scheme, may go nowhere anyway, especially when other needs pop up and the inevitable slow down comes to the economy.  There is yet a glimmer of hope that the Commission with drop the games and get down to the dirt work of really governing and trying to solve problems.

The board will hold a hearing on the plan Sept. 8. There is still time for his colleagues to join Commissioner Les Miller, the lone no vote Wednesday, to hold out for a transportation initiative that might actually work.

Well, only a glimmer.

— Talk

Also in the editorial quoted above was a major point:

With this policy, the county would dole out the money on an annual basis, which means it would not go for major capital investments in rail or buses, but rather be frittered away on pet road projects in commissioners’ individual districts.

In other words, even if the money commitment-ish held, there is no path to a coordinated, comprehensive, transportation system.  There is no real solution to anything.  Which brings us to some comments by the Mayor of Tampa last week.

The Hillsborough County Commission this week took the first meaningful step in setting aside a third of all future growth revenue for transportation improvements, but Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is skeptical about the commission’s prioritization of mass transit funding.

“I don’t want to be in a position every year having to go beg to the County Commission, particularly if it involves mass transit,” Buckhorn said.

The Commission’s step was not meaningful and there is no need to be skeptical Mayor – transit is not a priority for the Commission at all.

“I’ve been to the altar with them so many times and I’m tired of being jilted,” Buckhorn said Thursday. “I need a dedicated revenue stream and I need one that’s bondable that is in perpetuity because the bond markets are not going to finance a major rail system without certainty that that revenue stream is committed for at least 30 years.”

Setting aside that “we” (not “I”) need a dedicated revenue stream because the city belongs to the people, it is true that a dedicated revenue stream is needed – for what exactly, though, is a question we’ve had for a while.  Presenting a much more fleshed out and inclusive vision with some actual potential corridors and some idea of technology would make him a more attractive bride or to at least encourage the public to force a shot-gun wedding.  But anyway:

The Go Hillsborough half-penny sales tax would have provided that sort of long-term funding and wouldn’t have been threatened by potential declines in county revenue.

Except it was a bad plan overall, but that is irrelevant now.  Pining away for it will accomplish nothing, though learning from it would be useful.  The County Commission seems to be passing on that.  How about the Mayor?

Instead Buckhorn said he’d get behind a petition effort to force a transit referendum to the 2018 ballot. Because voter-enacted ballot measures are both expensive and time consuming, such an effort wouldn’t be able to get done in time for this year’s election.

Nevertheless, Buckhorn touted such an effort as the only way to give voters a choice, arguing that the County Commission has proven their lack of interest in funding mass transit.

We have no problem with that idea, provided that the referendum is for something better than Go Hillsborough; something that covers at least the close in county and connects it with real transit to activity centers within the city limits; something that provides a vision and a plan going forward, not just one and done paid for over 30 years with no idea of what would come next.  We are all for citizen action, if it actually does something useful. That is something on which people can focus. But then we get back to a muddle:

Buckhorn will be pushing for what’s known as the local option to give Tampa residents a bit more of a say in transit funding. Right now state law mandates that only county’s can put ballot initiatives to voters. The legislature could change that and allow cities to put forth their own funding proposals.

In both 2010 and 2014 when sales tax initiatives failed, the measures fared far better in Tampa and St. Petersburg, where urban residents tend to be more transit-oriented.

“I would think that if [St. Pete] Mayor [Rick] Kriseman and I had the ability to do that within the municipalities that we could pass it and we could fund the beginnings of a transportation system, particularly rail, that would link downtown St. Pete to downtown Tampa and the airport,” Buckhorn said.

First, the City tax (misleadingly called local option – as though the county-wide is not local) thing will likely not fly.  Second, realistically, were it to pass, this Mayor would not see any of the money because it would pass in November 2018 and he would be out by March 2019.  Third, what is the cost of putting rail on the Howard Frankland – which is the large elephant in the room?  Can the cities really raise enough money to build two real rail systems that meet and cross the bridge?  Is that an even mildly realistic idea?  And if you can do something like that, it should be like BART as opposed to the local MUNI in San Francisco – regional and planned and built regionally.  The City tax idea goes in the very opposite direction.  And it distracts from a petition supported referendum, which is counterproductive.

We are all for real transit.  We are for crossing the bridge with rail some day.  We are for citizen action.  But we need real vision and real solutions – which get real people from their homes to real destinations.  For years the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough people met and talked.  The Mayor was there.  For all that time, we did not see a real vision of how a transit system would work within the City, save for a vague idea of a starter line between downtown and Westshore (an idea we are fine with, by the way), or how that would really grow to become a real system.

That does not excuse the County Commission from their mess, but the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough process was bigger than the Commission. Realistically, the Mayor is not going to get the money (and we still have to wait for the transit studies), but he could provide a vision while dropping the city tax.  That would help sell the whole idea – and any petition for a referendum.

— Attitudes

Which brings us to a HART confab this week about the “Future of Transit.” We are not sure that HART really is the group to really address that as it undermined the 2010 referendum, fought creating a truly regional organization (something the Mayor of Tampa apparently also opposed.) and hasn’t had a real vision since, including when it was at the TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough table.  But, anyway, what happened?

First, there was a guy who wants to spend his own money to really develop Tampa, has been trying to get tenants for his development, and has been talking to major corporations around the country:

The event’s speakers were HART chairman Mike Suarez; CEO Katharine Eagan; Republican state Sen. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg; and Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik.

But Vinik was the only one who dared enter into the minefield that light rail has become.

“Obviously, there have been some failed referendums over the last several years in this area,” Vinik said, acknowledging transportation measures that attempted to bring light rail to Hillsborough and Pinellas in 2010 and 2014.

“I’m an all-of-the-above person. … We’ve got to think about light rail. We’ve got to think about bus rapid transportation. We’ve got to think about using the water and ferries.”

The important thing, Vinik said, is continuing to move the conversation forward. He said he was “extremely encouraged” that HART and the Florida Department of Transportation are collaborating on a premium transit study that will look at all transportation options regionally. The study is expected to be completed in 18 to 24 months.

“I think we’ve got to explore light rail, and we have to explore using the CSX lines,” Vinik said after the morning event, held at the University of South Florida Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation. “That doesn’t mean it’s the only answer, but it does mean it’s something we need to strongly consider.”

Nearly 100 miles of CSX freight lines may be available for commuter rail connecting four counties and the downtowns of Clearwater, St. Petersburg and Tampa.

Vinik specifically pointed to proposals for expanding the street car so it runs through more of Tampa and developing a rail option that connects downtown to Tampa International Airport.

Then there were the local officials:

The other three speakers — Suarez, Eagan and Brandes — seemed to distance themselves from the topic of rail, focusing instead on Uber and Lyft, a ferry pilot project connecting downtown Tampa and St. Petersburg, and amping up Hillsborough’s MetroRapid service — a diminutive version of bus rapid transit without its dedicated travel lanes.

“I’m concerned about some of the areas we dive in to,” Brandes said. “A lot of people, I feel like, feel that if we’re not talking about trains, we’re not talking about transit.”

If leaders continue to evaluate options about what the future holds, Brandes said, he thinks bus rapid transit is going to arise “as the main way we can get around this community.”

Suarez, too, talked about bus rapid transit, though he indicated that HART’s existing MetroRapid route along Nebraska and Fletcher avenues is not true bus rapid transit because the buses are still driving in the same lanes as other vehicles.

“It’s not perfect,” Suarez said. “And it never will be until we get dedicated lanes so those buses can act more like trains and less like buses stuck in traffic.”

Quite the contrast in approaches. What is funniest about this is that it is so predictable.  Setting aside that building and operating true BRT is not necessarily cheaper than rail (See “Transportation – More Muddle” and “Transportation – Inadvertent Truths”) and that buses should for part of a transit system, what is the massive aversion to even discussing rail, other than HART is a bus agency? Because.

— Conclusion

Basically, if you want to know why transportation can never get solved, the above described complete muddle gives you a pretty good idea.  And it is this mess that leaves us with FDOT dictating TBX.

And it is here that we will note this:

A South Florida mayor is taking on the Florida Department of Transportation.

Hollywood Mayor Peter Bober said the new express lanes that go through his city have turned Interstate 95 into a nightmare for residents and commuters.

“It has definitely made living in the city of Hollywood a miserable experience,” Bober said. “You have to sit in traffic every day where you didn’t have to do that before.”

Which is what you want to hear when FDOT is going to spend $6-9 billion.  (You can read more here and the Mayor of Hollywood’s letter here.)

But all that is still better for local officials because it is a lot easier for most to just support FDOT’s plan and not make the hard choices to really get something done.

Which brings us back to this: You have to remember that every city competing with us also has an urban building boom and many started before (and are much further along than) ours.  Also remember that most have some sort of real transit and many are expanding it.

Now, ask yourself the key question, one that the Lightning owner likely will encounter every time he talks to a potential tenant: if you were a company coming with a lot of money to invest and you saw the local officials trying as hard as they can to do things on the cheap (even though over the course of its lifetime, true BRT is not even necessarily cheaper than rail), what would you think?  Would you choose the Tampa Bay area or places where they are already investing in their future?  And the same holds true for people with skill and talent.

Transportation – Persistently Accomplishing Nothing II, Cont

Now for more transportation fun. The PTC is moving toward new regulations on rideshare companies, whether it can or not.

. . .the rules and policy committee voted 2-1, with Tampa City Council member Guido Maniscalco dissenting, to push forward with expedited rules. Under the board’s anticipated guidelines, they would vote again at the rules and policy committee meeting on Sept. 1 and then again at the full PTC meeting Sept. 14, with a final rule approved in October.

Rules preliminarily supported by a PTC committee would require transportation network companies, or TNCs, to implement fingerprint-based background checks and annual vehicle inspections conducted by a certified mechanic before a driver can begin operating as a for-hire driver.

Both provisions have been highly opposed by both major TNC players in Hillsborough County, Uber and Lyft.

If the rules are enacted and the PTC is awarded an injunction against Uber for continuing to operate against the rules, Uber said it will leave Hillsborough County.

Which, of course, is what they want, because the PTC serves the legacy cab and limo companies that do not want the competition.  But, you say to yourself that those are just safety regulations. For the sake of argument, fine.  But how about this:

Also at issue within those rules is a provision that would establish mandatory minimums on TNC fares and wait times. The proposed rules would set those at $7 and seven minutes, respectively.

How does a pick-up delay serve anyone other than cabs or limos?  How does a minimum fare serve anyone but cabs or limos?

“You’re giving the limo industry some breaks, but you’re not doing a doggone thing for the riding public,” said Lyft attorney Steve Anderson.

Pretty much, but don’t forget the cab companies. And the PTC agrees:

Cockream said he didn’t worry too much about whether or not minimum wait times were implemented because that was an issue for the companies to sort out. However, he defended the minimum fares.

“This industry would go away to the detriment of the riding public,” Cockream said, referring to the taxi industry.

That is an admission that the PTC is trying to engage in protectionism and hurt competition.

If a company can show up faster, so be it.  Why is that a concern of the government?  Who said there would be no way for people to get rides?  If people choose the competition, maybe the PTC should look to make it easier/cheaper for cabs to function (and maybe the cab companies should raise their game) – where they clearly have authority. . . for now.  At least one member of the Board seems (though we remain to be convinced) to be trying to actually come up with a proper agreement.

Hillsborough County Commissioner and Public Transportation Commission board member Victor Crist is reaching out to State Sen. Jeff Brandes for help in dealing with the ongoing debate over how to regulate transportation network companies.

* * *

Ahead of this week’s meeting, Crist sent a letter to his PTC colleagues in the rules and policy committee asking them to put the brakes on deciding on rules. He argued the rules would have “a significant impact on the traveling public as well as transportation providers throughout Hillsborough County.” He also warned approving rules hastily could lead to legal ramifications if the process for doing so did not meet certain reporting criteria.

Crist accused the rulemaking process of creating a “potential unintended consequence of benefitting one regulated industry over another.”

Setting aside that the consequences of pushing ridesharing out of the area is clearly intended by those supporting the new rules, that is fine, but it is also an admission that the PTC should be eliminated.

Economic Development – What Is It?

There was a column in the Times about the new EDC CEO that sounded really familiar.  First, it said a number of nice things about the new guy, which is fine.  Then:

Still, even he acknowledges this three-city metro area, separated by a bay, is a more complex topography than the typical single “hub and spoke” urban core typical of most major metro areas. That’s one reason that, while he is a walking encyclopedia of “best practices” gleaned from earlier experience, he is wary of simply trying to push economic development strategies here just because they may have had success in a different market at a different time.

“We are shaped differently, so development patterns occur differently,” Richard said in a recent interview. “I need to understand those dynamics.” But one theme is clear and repeated by Richard: Regionalism is rising across most U.S. metros, and Tampa Bay must embrace it, too.

We agree, and note that this is from an outsider coming in without an interest in hyping a legacy.  The fact he is talking about the need for regionalism makes us wonder why all the previous talk about regionalism has apparently not done much.

So far, his easy smile and thoughtful demeanor also come with a competitive streak that’s setting the stage nicely for some of the issues already bubbling to the surface of Richard’s growing to-do list.

At the top: Figure out how best to market all of Tampa Bay as a distinctive place to do smart business and enjoy a coastal Florida lifestyle.

“The one thing that everyone says, in my conversations with leaders, is that the community as a whole flies under the radar,” Richard noted. “There is a sense we need to heighten the awareness of the advantages of doing business in Tampa and Hillsborough County, in particular. There is strong consensus to double down on our marketing efforts.”

If that quest sounds familiar, it should. Many business leaders here — from tourism executives and economic developers who in 2014 embraced “Bollywood Oscars” to the politicos who hosted the Republican National Convention here in 2012 — have concocted grand promotional pitches aimed at raising a better-defined image of Tampa and Tampa Bay to the larger world.

Apparently, for all the hype, those things haven’t really done the trick.

What captures the essence of Tampa Bay? I’ve sat in law firm boardrooms, tourism agency headquarters and university classrooms where some version of that question has been asked time and again. We are, it seems, a very mixed bag of Midwestern niceness with a diverse economy of modest headquarters, some very pleasant beaches for tourists, a fine airport and a funky Latin quarter called Ybor. Packaging that into a compelling marketing message has proved most challenging.

So that’s why we’re glad to see Richard arriving here and so quickly endorsing the idea of branding and marketing Tampa and Tampa Bay anew — before we get forever defined from afar by others as simply bland or an urban hodgepodge. The issue is all the more timely now that the Tampa Bay Partnership is morphing from a regional marketing organization to one more focused on political advocacy.

We are all for good branding and we are all for being competitive and ambitious.  The thing is that this branding discussion has been going on basically for living memory (though maybe using different lingo).  Yet, as we said in 2014 (and before that), “the problem with branding this area is that, as an area, we do not know what we are or what we really want to be.

Which gets to something we said in 2015:

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

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

Marketing is fine, but when you are trying to get people to spend big money and actually move to your city, your real brand (rather than what you try to sell) will be a reflection of what you really are relative to other places.  And that is the real issue: we may be better than we were (we are), but how do we compare to everyone else?  In other words, if you want a successful brand, you have to answer the same old question:

If someone can go anywhere, and with other places that already provide amenities that they want, why should they come here?

If you want to come up with a successful brand, answer that question.

Economic Development/History Lesson – Blown Lead

And there is another aspect to economic development. Researching something else, we found this article from the Orlando Sentinel back in 1988 about Orlando expanding their international service.  It has such nuggets as this:

Delta Air Lines Inc. will become the second domestic carrier to offer non-stop service between Orlando and Europe this year when it begins flying to Frankfurt, West Germany, on June 3.

Pan American World Airways Inc. will start flying non-stop between Orlando and Frankfurt on April 3, and several other airlines are considering or planning to increase non-stop international service in Orlando.

And this:

Mexicana Airlines, which started scheduled flights linking Tampa with Mexico City and Cancun last month, also is considering Orlando service.

Mexicana is gone, but Orlando still has AeroMexico and Volaris (flying to Mexico City – with JetBlue flying there, too – and Guadalajara), plus other airlines flying to Cancun.  We have no flights to Mexico City or Guadalajara.

Then the 1988 article tells us this, which is really interesting given the growth in Orlando (and Fort Lauderdale), compared to Tampa International until the new staff took over:

Orlando International handled about 3.7 percent of Florida’s international traffic in 1986. Miami International had a 91.8 percent share and Tampa International, 1.5 percent. In 1985, Orlando had 1.2 percent of the state’s international market.

It is amazing to think that in 1988, Tampa had more international air traffic than Orlando.  It is so common around here to hear about the power of the Mouse, etc., like this from this week’s column on the EDC CEO:

Tampa Bay has suffered a bad case of “metro envy” for decades, thanks to its close proximity to Orlando (home of the Mouse and, now, also Harry Potter theme parks) and Miami’s international flair as the gateway to Latin America. Both of those cities already enjoy global reputations. 

But the article from 1988 shows us that nothing is inevitable.  Even in the late 80’s, with the Mouse well entrenched, Tampa had more international air traffic than Orlando.  But at this point Orlando was at the beginning of a concerted push to grow its profile.  Meanwhile, this area tapped into its almost adolescent combination of insecurity and self-satisfaction and, over the course of a number of years, made a series decisions (or failed to make a series of decisions) that allowed us to fall behind the competition.  We had a lead, but our lead was not pushed – hard.  And it went away . . . far away.  Now we have to compete with and try to catch up (or at least get close) with Orlando and Fort Lauderdale (at least the present airport administration is working hard and experiencing some success) which have become far more entrenched.

To large degree this story is a microcosm of our overall economic development (and other development) history – complacently letting ourselves fall behind while ignoring the big picture.  And it is not just theoretical, air connections are a major factor in recruiting businesses, especially HQs. Just like proper transit and proper planning. And all that goes to helping projects like the Lightning owner’s project succeed.

There is no resting on your laurels in economic development.  Other cities (worldwide these days) are always trying to take what you have – businesses, jobs, flights, port traffic, state and federal investments.  You have to press every advantage and make up as much as possible for every deficiency. And you can’t believe your own hype.

Right now, relative to where we were, we are improved.  However, as we keep saying, we still are behind (see air connections, container business, transit, per capita GDP, and lack of regionalism) and playing catch-up – not necessarily with the same places (though it is arguable that to some degree it includes the same places), but still playing catch-up.  And we still have far too many local officials trapped in the attitudes and actions of the past, where we fell behind.

Port – Cuba Calling?

And that all brings us to attitude, aggressively pursuing opportunities (and being seen to do so), and Cuba.

We have noted how the Port won’t go to Cuba (though it is not clear why).  Maybe Cuba will come to the Port.

As their two nations build new relations, the people who run the ports in Cuba are making plans to visit the operators of U.S. ports on the Gulf of Mexico during the next few months.

Tampa, which traded in tobacco and cattle with Cuba before the United States imposed an embargo five decades ago, is home to one of the ports recently contacted by Cuba’s port authority.

“Port Tampa Bay is Cuba ready, and would welcome meeting with the representatives of the Cuban National Port Authority should they come to the U.S. to tour Gulf ports,” Edward Miyagishima, the Tampa port’s vice president of communications, said via email.

The trip is being arranged with the help of Engage Cuba, a Washington, D.C., coalition of private businesses working to lift the embargo on Cuba.

Well, that is something.  Though it still does not explain the lack of initiative by the Port, especially when you note this:

At least two other sites along the gulf, the Port of New Orleans and Alabama State Port Authority, said they also have been contacted by Cuba about a visit.

Both these ports already ship limited supplies of agricultural products to Cuba.

In other words, the other ports already are doing business (that is not coming here) and building connections (which are not being built here).  We still cannot understand the Port’s complacency and why it is playing hard to get.  Even if business is not that big now, is business so good at the Port that they can sit back, let others build the business connections, and hope others come to them?

At least others in this area are not so complacent.

Meantime, a delegation of maritime industry leaders in Tampa will visit Cuba in October through Tucker Hall, an international public relations agency in Tampa that has supported business and humanitarian missions in Cuba since 1999.

The trip is a private initiative separate from Port Tampa Bay but some port tenants will join the delegation, said Bill Carlson, president of Tucker Hall.

They are scheduled to meet with the Cuban Foreign Ministry and with leaders in the fields of environmental protection and deep water oil drilling and to learn about the future of the cruise line industry in Havana.

They might also visit the Port of Mariel, an industrial center encompassing some 180 square miles west of Havana that features factories, storage for trade, and a marine terminal with an initial annual capacity of about 1 million containers.

Some see the Port of Mariel as ideally positioned to capitalize on recent expansions to the Panama Canal that will accommodate ships with greater capacity. They see the Cuba port as a trans-shipment hub for gulf ports in the United States.

“Cuba is the most important economic development opportunity Tampa Bay will experience in our lifetimes,” Carlson said. “There will be billions of dollars in foreign investment in Cuba. That trade should be going through Port Tampa Bay.”

Still, few see any immediate economic payoff in establishing a relationship with Cuba’s port leaders. The Port of Mariel needs time and U.S. laws need to change before the two nations become major trading partners.

That last point may be true now, but:

Regardless, Carlson said, if local leaders want to see container ships, cruises and ferries sailing to and from Cuba in the future, the time to forge a relationship with the island’s people and government is now.

“We have to move quickly,” he said, “and be aggressive to compete with other cities and states.”

Indeed. On Cuba, the Port is using the old Tampa airport strategy – when the old director used to tell us that there was just no demand for international service.  We hope in the future it doesn’t leave us too far behind.

Regardless, we can do much better.

Downtown/Channel District – First Steps

The infrastructure work on the Lightning owner’s project is set to begin.

Road and infrastructure work will start Aug. 29 on Morgan Street and will affect Channelside Drive and Jefferson Street in downtown Tampa. They represent the first steps by Strategic Property Partners, the real estate firm of Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, and Cascade Investment toward rebuilding 40 acres of Tampa’s urban core.

The $35 million road work project involves adding infrastructure underground, including pipes for a chilled water distribution plant. It also will change traffic patterns and add roads.

The first phase of road construction is expected to continue until next summer. The roads affected will remain open during construction, though traffic may be limited.

The goal is create a traffic grid in downtown Tampa that is easier to navigate but slows motorists to allow for more bikes and pedestrians.

You can read the article for descriptions, but this is a map of the changes:

From the Business Journal – click on map for article

It is good that this work is starting, though it will cause a lot of disruption – and without real transit we are not sure if the changes will have the intended effect rather than just create gridlock. (Hence the Lightning owner’s comments above)  That remains to be seen.  At least, keeping with their pattern of doing things well, the Lightning owner’s team is setting up a website (here http://downtowntampagrid.com) to inform the public of the work and disruptions.

— One More Thing

There was also news about Channelside the complex.

Strategic Property Partners and Franklin Street — which SPP tapped to lease and manage the property — have launched the “Channelside Bay Plaza VIP card,” which is good for special promotions and offers at the plaza.

Which is nice.  You can read the details in the article.  More interesting to us is this:

“Thanks to our partners at Port Tampa Bay, we were able to open the wharf to the public earlier this summer, and now, in partnership with the plaza tenants, we’re launching this program as another way to connect with our neighbors in the Channel District,” Glisson wrote in an email Monday.

Since the Port owns all the land, it makes one wonder why the Port did not open up the wharf before, when the plaza was floundering, to try to make it more successful.

Nevertheless, hopefully, it will get revitalized.

Built Environment – It’s All Relative

There was a recent report from Redfin  regarding walkability that has gotten some local press coverage.  First, the Business Journal had an article understatedly entitled “Newly built homes in St. Petersburg are among the most ‘walkable’ in the U.S.”   that told us:

New residential construction in St. Petersburg is among the most walkable in the U.S., according to a new ranking out this week.

Redfin, a real estate brokerage, analyzed the Walk Score of new construction compared to the city’s overall Walk Score. Walk Scores are based on how many public spaces and parks are in a neighborhood, along with pedestrian-friendly design and enough population density for businesses to thrive.

In St. Pete, according to Redfin, 88 percent of new construction gets a better Walk Score than the city’s score of 42. (New York has the top Walk Score in the U.S. at 88.9.)

That ranks St. Pete at No. 4 for walkable new construction. Philadelphia, Chicago and Cleveland, Ohio, were the top three, respectively. Rounding out the top 10 were Boston, Seattle, Washington, D.C., Denver, San Francisco and Dallas. 

Then the Times had an article somnolently entitled “Development is making St. Pete and Tampa downtowns more pedestrian friendly, report says” that told us:

All those apartments, condos and houses going up in and around downtown St. Petersburg are giving the city a boast-worthy distinction — it’s among the nation’s top 10 urban areas for “walkable new construction.”

And Tampa isn’t far behind, according to the national real estate brokerage Redfin.

While many parts of the Tampa Bay area remain inconducive to a pleasant stroll — think St. Petersburg’s Tyrone area and Tampa’s West Shore district — downtown resurgences are making both cities more pedestrian friendly.

Redfin ranks St. Petersburg third among cities in which more than 80 percent of new residences have a “walk score” higher than the citywide score. Its 88 percent rating is due to the construction of hundreds of new multifamily units downtown along with scores of new homes and townhomes nearby — all within walking distance of restaurants, shops and other urban amenities.

* * *

Tampa just missed the top 10. It ranks 12th, with 54 percent of new construction boasting walk scores higher than the citywide 49 percent.

First, yes, both Tampa and St. Pete are getting more walkable, especially downtown.  However, even though they say what the report said, both articles are written in a way to confuse the results in a hype-tastic way.

What Redfin report actually said (and which URBN Tampa Bay got right here) is that new construction is more walkable than the existing built environment.  So, by way of example, if your built environment is totally unwalkable (say walk score of 1) and what is now getting built is mildly (though nor really) walkable (say a still very bad walk score of 10), you would rank very high in this report because new construction would be more walkable than the existing built environment.  If your existing built environment is very walkable and what you build is basically the same (see Boston, San Francisco or New York) you would not rank as high.

As reflected in the Times headline (but muddled in the article), the report is saying is that this area is getting more walkable, particularly in downtowns. (Things like the recently revealed Halcyon in St. Pete  and Channel Club in Tampa – though it does not really do much on the street, that should be starting soon. )  It does not say we are one of the most walkable areas. (Just look at a picture of DC, Boston or Seattle and you can see that the claim is not true)  It does not even say that most new construction is excessively walkable – it is just more walkable than what was there before.  That is good (and true to some degree), but it is not consistent with the hype.

We are getting better, but we are not really where we should be.

TIA – Keeping Up With Technology

One again, the airport is working to keep ahead (or at least up with) the needs of passengers.

Tampa International Airport will have more charging outlets than almost any airport in the nation — more than 7,000 in all — when its $1 billion renovation is completed next year.

* * *

The additional challenge will be ensuring the airport is ready for technology that may not be standard today, but is around the corner and that travelers will demand within several years.

To that end, some of those technological advances at TIA will include:

Just another way the airport refuses to be complacent, which other organizations in the area should note and copy.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

We often say that much of the opposition to rail is ideological, not practical (because it is).  Many argue that opposition to rail it is some sort of conservative idea, which the examples of places like Salt lake City, Phoenix, Norfolk, Charlotte, and a host of others shows is not the case.  There is another big example – Dallas – which is definitely not some socialist bastion.  Dallas has an extensive rail network, and it wants more – so much more that there is a debate about two new rail lines – not about building them but because people are fighting over which to come first.

Four Dallas Area Rapid Transit board members Tuesday criticized and questioned the agency’s planned approaches to building two new controversial rail lines — one through downtown Dallas and the other through northern suburbs. 

“I have some concerns about being able to do both at the same time,” said board member Paul Wageman, who represents Plano. 

* * *

DART has long planned to add a second light-rail route through Dallas’ central business district. The agency and the Dallas City Council chose a route that is mostly at street-level last year. But the agency in recent weeks has said that a different route  is likely to work better. That revelation came after downtown residents, business leaders and landowners started pushing for the agency to spend more money to put the line mostly underground.

As that controversy continued brewing this summer, the agency and Plano officials revealed a plan to also spend hundreds of millions of dollars to fast-track the Cotton Belt line project that connects the airport to northern suburbs. That plan angered people who were pushing DART to find a way to put the second downtown line underground.

The northern suburbs of Dallas are definitely not socialist territory. The fact is that our lack of proper transit is not about right or left.  It is about moving forward and building a proper city or just neglecting our infrastructure and leaving us less competitive.

And that is not to say we are for wasting money – we aren’t.  There needs to be a good plan with proper checks.  But we understand our development pattern is ultimately wasteful and that cities require proper transportation infrastructure which throughout the world, including in the United States has rail as a part.

Old Tampa

URBN Tampa Bay had a really nice find.   The blog modern cities went back into the archives for some old picture of Tampa.  While we have seen pretty much all of them elsewhere, they are still great.  Though we have to say when you see what was torn down (much of which is now surface parking, it is pretty sad) We like these that show you what Tampa was really like, even into the early 1970s.

 

1930’s

From Modern Cities – click on photo for website

1950’s

From Modern Cities – click on photo for website

1970s

From Modern Cities – click on photo for website