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Roundup 12-2-2011

December 2, 2011

Tampa – Mastering Planning

This week the City of Tampa announced that it had chosen “AECOM, which is based in Los Angeles and has 45,000 employees and $8 billion in annual revenues, to work with the city on the project” to draft a master plan for downtown Tampa and surrounding neighborhoods.

The project’s budget is $1.43 million — a $1.18 million federal grant, plus a $125,000 city match and $125,000 in in-kind support.

* * *

AECOM was one of 10 companies to bid on the project. Officials say they’ll begin negotiating a contract with the company and expect to launch the project next year. It is expected to take 18 to 24 months to complete.

When finished, the plan is meant to cover the design guidelines, amenities and connections between downtown and areas like Ybor City, the Channel District, Tampa Heights and North Hyde Park.

It “will lay out the guidelines, dictate development patterns and create the vision for what downtown Tampa and surrounding neighborhoods could be,” Buckhorn said.

* * *

Focusing on the two-mile radius in the city’s urban center, the master plan will look at development that doesn’t require heavy traffic, such as office towers, condominiums and mixed-income housing. The study also will look at transit alternatives, such as expanding bike trails, public transportation and the use of electric cars.

Master planning is good as a conceptual idea – and Tampa seems fond of it.  It is a helpful exercise to organize what one wants to happen in the future. Master planning is particularly effective in places like TIA where the same entity controls the plan, the execution of the plan, and the resources to execute the plan and the vision driving the plan.

However, we are not sure there should be any hoopla. We did a quick google search (and we mean quick) for Tampa Master Plans and came up with these: a 2005 Tampa Downtown Partnership/City Downtown Vision Plan, a 1994 Downtown Transportation Master Plan, a 2003 Tampa Heights Master Plan, a 2001 Cultural District Master Plan, and a 2006 Riverwalk Master Plan

The Mayor lauded the selection of AECOM of this master plan:

“The completion of this plan will give us a blueprint for the development of our downtown and the adjoining neighborhoods for the next 20 years,” Buckhorn said in a statement.

As we said, master planning is good when the entity adopting the plan has full control of the plan, the land, and the money. In the case of downtown Tampa and surrounding neighborhoods, however, the City controls basically none of those things.  The City does not control where people want to build, it does not control the residents and their votes (in fact, the City is subject to the whims of the electorate), the City is not going to build most of the buildings, and, most importantly, it is not clear that the City has any money to execute a plan – even if it is written.

Another thing we wonder is whether there will be proper execution of any plan, given that Tampa seems to have issues covering the obvious, small things which it could easily handle without a plan – such as (unless indicated, links are to examples of what not to do) not allowing any more dead facades and streetscapes, having buildings built to the street  [try this grocery story with parking in the back, instead]  (with doors actually on the street [see here and here]and  compressors not on the street), with awnings, with electric meters not stuck in the face of pedestrians, etc. (We note that all these examples came before the present Mayor.)

We understand that the present Mayor did not do the previous plans, but we have to wonder with all those master plans, why do we need a new one?  What about the previous plans (all less than 20 years old) was lacking?  Did they work?  What did they miss? Does Tampa need a master plan or to just make the obvious changes to how it does things?  We have no problem connecting downtown to the surrounding neighborhoods in fact, we encourage it – but isn’t that obvious?  Does it need a master plan? Maybe this master plan will tie all the other plans together and be useful – a master plan of master plans.  Maybe it won’t.  We reserve judgment.

We also have to wonder a couple of things about the company chosen.  They are not from Florida – do they know Florida?  Do they understand the climate and the needs of the people?  Are they going to spend July and August walking around downtown?

And dealing with some background, we noted the following:

Along the way, the effort is expected to build on a recent report from the Urban Land Institute

* * *

Among other things, the institute recommended that Tampa:

• Steer new housing toward three areas: Tampa Heights, the area around the Marion Street Transit Station and a redevelopment of the North Boulevard Homes public housing complex.

• Re-engineer roads like Ashley Drive to be less daunting to pedestrians, with fewer lanes, more trees and lower speed limits.

• Increase on-street parking, but ban new private parking lots and parking lots on street corners.

• Improve transit, maybe by extending the TECO trolley up to Tampa Heights and west of the Hillsborough River, maybe by creating a fare-free zone to make riding the bus more attractive.

The Urban Land Institute also recommended that the city finish the Riverwalk.

We wrote about the ULI’s recommendations previously, but this description struck us as important (and troubling) in a couple of ways.

First, what does “steer new housing” mean?  Does that mean that the City is supposed to discourage residential projects in the actual downtown and Channelside, so that the streets remain deserted after dark or does it mean that the City should encourage development in those other areas as well?  Does the ULI want the City to choke organic growth in the downtown and elsewhere in favor of command planning or will it let the city grow in a natural way using good design principles to guide it?

Second, despite an apparent planning obsession with making traffic worse, Ashley does not need to be re-engineered.  It needs to have more things to do along it (as you can see, the east side is has very exciting parking lots) and it needs longer crossing times at crosswalks, so people crossing the street do not have to rush.  As events in the museums and Curtis Hixon Park show, if Ashley were lined with retail/restaurants and cafes with more nearby housing and hotels, most likely, people would be out there.

In sum, we hope the master plan is a good one, but we will wait (apparently a couple of years) to decide.  In the meantime, the City should do the obvious things to its planning and regulations and make “ok” become “really good.”.

St. Pete – The New Pier

The City of St. Petersburg released the three finalists for the Pier redevelopment this week.  The proposals can be seen here and here.  Interestingly, each of the proposals shows a full plan that exceeds the $50 million that has been allocated to the project, so we have no idea what St. Pete could actually get for its money.

As for the designs, we are not really blown away by any of them.  We could critique each one, but we’ll just say that this one looks the best to us:

From the Times - click on image to go to article

Though we actually like the really old one:

From Biz Journal - click on image to go to article

More importantly, it occurs to us that, when the present Pier was built in the early 70’s, it was probably considered a “modern” design, though now it looks dated and needs to be replaced.  We just hope that St. Pete understands that the “modern” design it chooses now could very well doing the same thing.  Choose wisely.

Kudos TIA

Finally, CNN listed TIA as a favorite airport., a website covering international travel and tourism, ranked the Tampa airport No. 6 in that category this month. It was the only airport in the United States to make the list.

More marketing material. We hope, and expect, TIA will take this and run with it as it works to develop more service.

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