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Roundup 10-21-2011

October 21, 2011

Port News

We at Tampasphere sometimes just have to wonder about what we read.  This is especially true with the Port of Tampa.

          The Benefits of Free Trade

In a recent Tribune article, we learn, helpfully, that:

Florida and Tampa could benefit from the free-trade agreement Congress approved last week with Panama, South Korea and Colombia because lower tariffs would drop the prices consumers in those countries pay for U.S. imports, Tampa port director Richard Wainio said today.

How much of a benefit will depend on how deals between U.S. firms and the distributors in the others countries work out, Wainio said, noting it probably will take months or years for the deal to have a significant economic benefit locally or in Florida.

It could, or it could not.  And the sun could go supernova tomorrow, or maybe it won’t.  One thing we do know – it sure would be easier to benefit if the port had a plan to maximize the potential created by the free trade agreements.

On the Waterfront

In a report that could be related, or maybe it isn’t, the Mayor of Tampa has proposed looking into ways to open the waterfront at Channelside. (See here and here)  Tampasphere is extremely happy someone has finally addressed this issue.  As the Mayor said:

 ”I think there may be other ways to mitigate the security issues and at the same time open up what I think is one of the most valuable pieces of real estate in downtown Tampa.”

Truly, the Riverwalk presently ends at a street corner with a parking lot – not exactly inspiring.

The response from the Director was:

“The question is, can we open it up more frequently and for longer periods of time?” he said. Also, he added, are the issues of how much that would cost and who would pay the bills.

Well, Channelside is owned by the Port, so maybe that helps answer whose job it is to answer the second question.

Moreover, anyone who has been to Channelside can see that, with the water cut off, the design of Channelside if quite flawed because it cuts people off from the logical focus of the complex and reason it is different from other entertainment locations.  It is logical to conclude that maintaining the status quo is bad for business at Channelside which, as we noted, is owned by the port.  Tampasphere is aware of security concerns surrounding the working wharf, but there has to be some way to open the waterfront, at least when ships are not in.  The waterfront is a great asset that has been wasted for far too long.  Once again, we get the issues.  Now, what is the port’s vision for rectifying this?

Can’t we all get along?

Speaking of public agencies and entities, the Tribune reports that TIA and HART are negotiating splitting the costs regarding an aborted plan to move a HART transit center from Westshore Plaza to O’Brien and Spruce Street.

HART originally sought the Spruce-O’Brien site to relocate the bus transfer center from WestShore Plaza to relieve congestion there, for a total price tag of $3.6 million.

The airport has indicated a better site might be near the economy parking garage, with bus and auto patrons using a new “people-mover” to reach the main terminal.

It wants to preserve the Spruce-O’Brien site for a different, yet to be announced, purpose.

Once again, TIA is providing planning and vision.  (It was not really clear why the economy garages were not originally connected with a people mover.  That is a mistake that should be corrected.)  Having the buses connect to the people mover only makes sense.

So what is the problem?

The HART and aviation authority boards must approve the proposal HART’s counsel and airport staff have discussed, but HART board member Fran Davin expressed opposition at a Monday committee meeting.

“I would have a hard time approving that,” Davin said, saying it is the airport that wants to change the site’s location.

Maybe, but it seems the change makes sense, regardless of who proposed it.  Work together for the common good.

We admit this may be someone making a mountain out of a molehill.  This is only one HART board member complaining about HART not getting its way.  But Tampasphere would like regional decision makers to start thinking about the region, not just their agency.  It makes sense to connect buses to the airport.  How are people going to get to the airport from O’Brien and Spruce?  Would connecting to a people mover station make buses to the airport more attractive for riders?  Would it increase ridership?  Does it serve the community? These are the questions that need to be asked and upon which any decision should be based – not who suggested it.

Rays Stadium

Speaking of asking the wrong questions (and the right ones) – the Rays Stadium. First, the Mayor of Tampa has repeatedly said that he is not trying to “steal” the Rays from St. Petersburg, but he wants to be prepared in the event the Rays and St. Pete cannot agree.   To wit, he has responded to a joint committee of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce that is looking into funding a new stadium by indicating that the City of Tampa could, if the Rays move to Tampa, contribute up to $100 million dollars to a stadium. Contingency planning – reasonable, intelligent, and, given what has gone before in so many things in this area, somewhat surprising.

In contrast, the Mayor of St. Pete -Tampasphere just thinks he is being too clever by half in trying to maintain a legal position which would be rendered essentially irrelevant were the Rays to dissolve – will not talk to anyone about anything dealing with the Rays, including the St. Pete city council. (See here and here)

There was a meeting of the St. Pete City Council that was supposed to discuss something – what exactly that was really depends on who is talking – about the Rays and the stadium issue.  It went something like this:

“There may be a potential to get into what-if scenarios,” Foster said. “I’d prefer not to get into that.”

He later said that he’s been willing to talk to the Rays, as long as they accept his proposal to only consider future stadium sites in Pinellas County.

“It takes two to dance,” Foster said.

After he spoke, Curran said “I want to say something.”

But Kennedy, a close ally of Foster and, like him, a lawyer, interrupted Curran.

“Wait a second,” Kennedy said, his voice rising. “Wait a second.”

“Before you cut me off…” Curran said.

“I’m going to try to run this meeting in a civil manner,” said Kennedy, interrupting Curran again. “I didn’t anticipate letting the mayor saying something…I’m reluctant at this point to open it up for council questions to the mayor because it might deteriorate and we won’t meet our objectives.”

* * *

Kennedy cut her off before she was able to say that she wanted to include, on the agenda, a discussion of what the city should do next. She said she would bring this matter up at the end of the meeting.

Council member Karl Nurse said he, too, planned to press Foster at the end of the meeting for a detailed plan to meet with the Rays.

“We’ll discuss this in broader terms by the end of the meeting,” Nurse said during one of the presentations. “This is just the lawyers being careful.”

Kennedy cutting Curran off was an example of this precaution, and a flaw in the city’s approach, Nurse said.

Tampasphere did not realize that public contracts and public plans were state secrets.  However, it is clear that the Mayor of St. Pete is an old school kind of guy, in that intra-regional rivalry, small town, let’s not plan for the future kind of way.  (you think this St. Pete-Tampa fight over sports is not old school – check out this nugget – Tampasphere is glad to see the St. Pete Area Chamber of Commerce has evolved over the years, even if some others haven’t)

The Mayor’s reason for his behavior:

“We will take no position or no action that impairs our legal standing in all of this,” Foster said. “I’m protecting the taxpayers. I’m protecting their investment … I’m going to make sure that whatever happens in this – our taxpayers are represented.”

In fact, it is not clear how any of this protects the taxpayer.  An empty stadium will not protect the taxpayer.  Insults from the national media will not help the taxpayer.  Having the team contracted out of existence will not help the taxpayer.

Tampapshere does not know if the Mayor has a plan or anything to propose. It appears that he has chosen to simply do nothing. Some will buy into that strategy, but the damage to the Tampa Bay region – and especially St. Pete – from the Rays issue will just keep growing. (Maybe Orlando or the MLB commissioner can motivate St. Pete)

On the Good Side

There was some good news for St. Pete.  IRX Therapeutics, the pharma/biotech company we previously discussed, has decided to move to St. Pete.  This is kind of a relocation, kind of a return, but it is good.  We just hope that they read all the small print in any deal they have with St. Pete.

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