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Roundup 1-6-2012

January 6, 2012

Port

The Port announced that new cargo service is beginning between Tampa and St. Petersburg, Russia.  That is good news.  The more service the better.

There is also news that the Port will retain its A2 Moody’s bond rating.  (To see how that ranks, here’s a Moody’s explanation). While not as high as it could be, it is good news that the rating will not drop.  Now the port should work to get it higher.

In September, TIA had its rating downgraded from Aaa to A1 (which is a step higher than A2) based largely on a passenger traffic drop,as was explained in the article:

An A1 bond rating means the issuer has a strong capacity to meet its financial obligations but is more susceptible to changes in circumstances and economic conditions than those with higher ratings. A1 is one step down from Aa3 and four steps down from the top rating of AAA.

Like most U.S. airports, Tampa International saw passenger traffic tumble in the recession. The airport hit a record 19.1 million passengers in 2007, followed by three down years. TIA handled 16.6 million travelers in 2010.

“This is exactly why we must be more aggressive in marketing, in growing our revenues and improving the bottom line of our business,” said Tampa International chief executive Joe Lopano in a prepared statement. “This will not have any effect on our current debt service or interest rates but may affect future borrowings.”

The Port should have the same approach to increasing its business and rating.

More Port – Panama Canal

Speaking of the Port, the LA Times had this interesting article about how ports in southern California are viewing the challenges brought by the widening of the Panama Canal. Once again, we ask, what is Tampa doing to take full advantage of the opportunity that is so concerning southern California?

Cuba

The Miami Herald took notice of efforts in Tampa to develop trade in Cuba. Predictably, a Miami political representative gave the following comments:

But Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, says such efforts are misguided: “I find it unfortunate when some look to partner with the Cuban regime and place the value of dollars over the value of people. There are many city officials and businesses throughout the U.S. who are advocating a lifting of all travel restrictions but this goes far beyond humanitarian family travel and would further enrich the Cuban tyranny.’’

We are not for enriching Cuban tyranny but such quotes ignore all the business and cultural connections Miami has with Cuba, including “320,000 Cuba-bound” airline passengers.  Funny how that works.

While the port has been slow to develop business to Cuba while cities in other states (often very red states) have actively worked to develop their connections, TIA is now has the second largest number of flights to Cuba from the U.S.  (Of course, Miami is still way ahead.)

TIA

Speaking of the TIA and international flights, the Director has proposed renovating Airside F, where the international gates are.  Airside F requires improvements to have the service of international passengers match that for domestic passengers elsewhere in the airport.

It’s a similar situation one floor down, where arriving international passengers must handle their baggage twice (once to get through customs and a second time to send it on to baggage claim), jostle past airline and concession employees in a narrow hallway and make their way up an escalator or aboard a small elevator.

The $27.6 million project is intended to solve both problems.

Two baggage claim carousels and two passport booths would be added. That would not only add room to accommodate up to 900 passengers arriving at the same time; it also would mean international passengers would only check their bags once. Security clearance on the main level would be expanded so lines would move more quickly and not run all the way to the trams.

The expansion also would position the airport for growth in international flights.

“An airport should always have capacity in reserve,” Lopano said Thursday. You need to be ready whenever new business opportunities come along “and we are continuing to aggressively market, especially to Europe,” he said.* * *

Still, it’s not the TIA way. The airport has earned an international reputation for its ease of use. Lopano wants to make sure international travelers get the same experience.

Exactly right. This is one more step of the well thought out plan to improving what is already an excellent airport and working to develop its international connections.

HART

Last year was a banner year for HART ridership.

Hillsborough Area Regional Transit is poised to reach its second consecutive year of record bus ridership, carrying 10 percent more passengers than in 2010.

* * *

But more subtle reasons also contribute to the increase in ridership, achieved despite service cuts forced by lower property tax collections as property values continue to fall. HART buses will transport almost 14 million passengers this year.

It is good that HART is developing (though the down economy that is driving part of that growth is not good).  Getting people acclimated to the bus system lays the groundwork for creating a true mass transit system, like almost all other major metropolitan areas have.  (Do you really think the young creative class, large corporations, and real urban development are going to be attracted by buses and strip stores?)

However, we are not sure about this:

Another issue HART faces is the prospect that the Florida Legislature will try to combine the agency with another bus system, such as the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, which also has had record ridership.

Lawmakers, including Republican state Sen. Jack Latvala of St. Petersburg, have raised the issue in an effort to identify possible cost savings, but most of the HART board is cool to the idea.

HART issued a policy statement for the 2012 Florida Legislative session that seeks a state-funded, independent study of consolidation before further consideration of merger plans; a vetting of any consolidation plan by the HART board and the public; and retaining local control over funding options and levels.

Frankly, HART should be working on whether it makes sense to consolidate and develop a regional system now.  Unless local leaders start dealing with issues regionally – through cooperation or consolidation, the Tampa Bay area will never achieve its true potential and planning will always be spotty.

Old Federal Courthouse

Tampa has selected a development team to turn the Old Federal courthouse into a boutique hotel. (here and here)

From the Tribune - for full article click on picture.

We are happy this process is moving forward.  However, we have not seen the actual plans for the redevelopment. We hope a deal can be struck and that the project gets done.  Having this fine building and the Floridan open as hotels will be good for downtown, and hopefully support further revitalization of the remaining old buildings rather than having them demolished.  We have already destroyed too many fine buildings and replaced them with surface parking lots.

What we really hope is that the City changes requires further development downtown (and in other major corridors) to include true street retail and active interaction between projects and pedestrians.  The thing that will make downtown truly desirable is if it is truly urban rather than a vertical office park, which it threatens to be in many areas.

Daily Show Smack

So the Daily Show took a little shot at Tampa.  We saw the show and have to confess the first thing that occurred to us is that people might overreact.  Unfortunately, the Tampa Bay area is not known for anything specific (sun, fishing, and golf, notwithstanding) and, therefore, is too self-conscious.  If someone said the same about New Orleans, Orlando, Miami or Atlanta, it would not be noteworthy.  They know who they are, do we?

Skyway Stamp

In not too serious news, the postal service is going to issue a Skyway stamp.

From the Tribune - for full article click on picture

It is a nice stamp (and a nice bridge, if a bit too short), but look at the price of the stamp.  Who, other than philatelists, is going to use this stamp?

Of Large Denominations and Weird News

OK, this has nothing to do with Tampa Bay, but is still noteworthy, especially because it did not happen in Florida. Over the Holidays, a man tried to buy $476 dollars worth of merchandise from Wal-Mart with a million dollar bill.  Of course, there is no million dollar bill.  Unfortunately, none of the news reports we have seen said whose portrait was on the fake bill.

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