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Roundup 1-27-2012

January 27, 2012

Stress

Two months after one of the multitude of lists about various aspects of cities ranked St. Petersburg as America’s saddest city, there was another list out this week about America’s most stressful cities.Low and behold, this time they listed the Tampa Bay area as America’s most stressful.  Once again, we do not put much stock in these lists, but there is a disturbing trend here.  We do not know the exact methodology of the survey, but maybe they exclusively surveyed people who want proper urban planning and regional cooperation.

Tourism

Speaking of regional cooperation, this week brought the rolling out of the new chief of Tampa Bay & Co.:

Tampa Bay & Co. markets Hillsborough County tourism and gets some of its funding from the bed taxes on hotel stays.

* * *

One of his first major projects will be hiring a brand consulting firm to find the right message, logo and strategy for Tampa. Such a study could cost up to $200,000 and take up to 18 months to complete, he said.

It is yet to be decided whether the branding study will focus on Hillsborough County exclusively or include the entire Bay area, Miller said.

Whatever the geographic area, Tampa needs to tell visitors what it offers and how they’ll benefit from being here, Miller said.

Look, tourist come to Tampa thinking about many things – beaches, fishing, golf, sun, Busch Gardens, getting to the Orlando parks, and more. (A lot more should come for Gasparilla, but in our experience most people outside the area know nothing about it) It should have been decided long ago that the mission should include selling all of Tampa Bay and beyond. (Go talk to the Airport Director)  That is a no-brainer, regardless of funding.  Why isn’t there just one regional tourist agency, anyway?

Panama Canal

This week the Tribune ran an article entitled “Panama Canal expansion may ripple through Tampa’s port.”  From the text of the article, that seems a fitting headline, because, as best we can tell, the Port has no plan to gain more than a ripple of benefit from the canal expansion – leaving someone else getting the wave. Here’s what the Port Director said:

In its favor, Tampa’s port can handle container ships larger than the Panama Canal currently serves, port director Richard Wainio said.

“It is likely carriers will use somewhat larger ships to serve Gulf of Mexico ports after the canal expansion,” Wainio said.

However, the largest ships that will use the Panama Canal are likely to serve trans-shipment ports in Latin America, where cargo would be separated and loaded on smaller ships to serve ports like Tampa in a concept similar to airlines creating hub airports such as Houston and Atlanta.

True, the Port can handle ships bigger than presently go through the canal (so?), but, as we have discussed, the Port cannot handle the biggest ships that WILL BE ABLE to go through the expanded canal.

From the reporting, it seems that the Director is perfectly willing to be a spoke and not even consider trying to become a hub, or even a mini-hub, for any service.  We hope that is not the case – it is kind of odd to surrender before the battle even begins.

St. Pete Arts

There was an interesting article in the Times regarding an effort to turn an area in midtown along Central Avenue into the St. Petersburg Warehouse Arts District.

A gritty area west of downtown has been quietly growing as an arts neighborhood for several years and is working toward official status as the St. Petersburg Warehouse Arts District. Its advocates believe it’s poised to become an important destination for artists and tourists as old buildings are being rehabilitated.

* * *

The proposed Warehouse Arts District is part of the larger Midtown area and overlaps with the Dome Industrial Park, the historic 22nd Street corridor known as the Deuces Live and a stretch of Central Avenue named the Grand Central District.

For decades, much of it was industrial (and part of it is still zoned as such), populated with warehouses and small manufacturing companies. The Seaboard Railroad Station, built in 1926 at 420 22nd St. S, was an important link between those businesses and their clients. But in more recent times, many of the buildings sat empty.

But artists saw potential. A warehouse has special appeal to those who like to work large or need heavy duty equipment. There are already about 16 arts businesses and organizations within the proposed boundaries including the Train Station Center for Clay which has occupied the Seaboard building since 2000.

* * *

The city has been an active partner in conversions. “We don’t have money to give,” Sophia Sorolis, the city’s economic development manager, said. “But there are tax incentives. We identify available space for people who are looking and help with permits.”

“We help them navigate the system,” said Shrimatee Ojah-Maharaj, of St. Petersburg’s Business Assistance Center.

We are all for the rehabbing of old buildings for new uses.  We are all for neighborhoods becoming clusters of interesting activity.

On the other hand, we are cautious about too much engineering of this kind of thing.  We do not have a problem with incentives, but the city should keep in mind that while artists will cluster where there is already a core group, but often these areas get gentrified and become too expensive for the original use, causing the original pioneers to move.  St. Pete should make it easier for them to do so if that happens.

We will admit though that at least there is already a cluster in this area, unlike to completely manufactured idea of the “Avenue of the Arts” in downtown Tampa.

UT

We do not often mention the University of Tampa on Tampasphere, but UT is breaking ground on a new dorm:

From University of Tampa website - click on picture for full article

 

The parcel where Residence Hall VII will be built was purchased in 2009. For many years it was the site of the Valencia Garden restaurant.

There has been some substantial growth at UT in the last decade or so:

Residence Hall VII will represent the 25th new or substantially redesigned facility on UT’s campus in the past 15 years, and the seventh new residence hall in the same period. The campus’ physical growth comes as a result of significant enrollment expansion that has quadrupled over the last 17 years to 6,738 total students in 2011-12. The University has invested more than $280 million in new construction since 1997.

We think this is great.  Having more and more people live right near downtown and on Kennedy can only help make the area more vibrant.  What we would really like to see is the area develop more walkable retail along Kennedy to serve the growing university population – and others.  It can only help the city.

Waterworks

The City of Tampa has chosen a group led by the owners of the Columbia restaurant to redevelop the Waterworks building in Tampa Heights.

From the Tampa Bay Times - click on picture for full article

Like with the Old Courthouse, we are going to reserve judgment until the project is done.  While the Columbia owners are respected businesspeople and have been successful restaurant operators, this is a unique project in what is still, unfortunately, an underdeveloped area.  We hope for success, and we hope it spurs future, urban growth.  What would help is if the City immediately started working on a proper code for urban development in this area and elsewhere.

Sunshine Speedway

Lastly, the state is leasing the former Sunshine Speedway to reopen as a racetrack.

The Sunshine Speedway closed back in 2004 when the State bought the land to build a road to connect the Bayside Bridge to I-275.  But after years without funding for the road, State Senator Jack Latvala asked FDOT to lease out the property that has been being used by the Turnpike Authority to test toll equipment.

The lease is for at least five years, but it could go for as long as ten years depending on FDOT financing for the connector road.

The real question is why isn’t there the money to bring basic, proper roads to Pinellas?  It’s great that the Turnpike Authority has a nice test ground, but where is the road?  Is this what awaits the area if the Turnpike Enterprise takes over the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority? (see here and here) Why even consider the Heartland Parkway when Pinellas has such needs?

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