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Roundup 2-24-2012

February 24, 2012

The Epicurean

Usually we would not start our roundup with a relatively small, 4-story hotel project, but this week the Tampa Bay Business Journal reports that the Epicurean, the hotel which was planned for the land across the street from Bern’s and then put on hold due to the economy, is planning on breaking ground in May.

First, we are pleased that there is going to be a hotel in the South Howard (sorry, we have trouble referring to it as “SoHo”) area.  Second, take a look at it:

From Tampa Bay Business Journal - click on picture for article

and especially the plan:

From Tampa Bay Business Journal - click on picture for article

Do you notice something? It is an urban design.  It is built to the sidewalk with planned interaction with the sidewalk.  The parking is in the back (and the parking garage is already there).  Our question is why so many projects in other, much more “urban” parts of Tampa (and the Tampa Bay area generally) ignore these obvious principles and why does the City let them.

Zack Street

We also found (actually were directed) a Tampa Bay Business Journal article from January regarding the small building across the street (to the north) from the Old Courthouse in Tampa.

From Tampa Bay Business Journal - click on picture for article

(Funny thing is this could have been a cute building if one stripped all the paint and other accoutrements from the original façade – but, anyway)

For those who don’t know, this building, which many years ago housed the Hub, has recently been emptied of the tenants (including the popular Carmen’s restaurant whose owner’s investment of time and money is now wasted). In any event, it seems that there is an embryonic plan to (maybe) build a parking garage on this lot, which is actually quite small:

From the Tampa Bay Business Journal - click on picture for article

To be honest, parking garages do not excite us much, though, realistically, this area could use some more parking (especially given the nearby Federal Courthouse) and garages are better than surface lots. That being said, we are not sure that a parking garage on this lot would make sense. (Maybe they are considering taking up the adjoining lot, too, which makes more sense)  What we do know is that the City should insist that anything built on this lot (and anywhere else on Zack) better have retail on most of the ground floor and better be attractive or the City’s Zack streetscaping (our comments from last week can be found here – see A Frolic Through the Surface Parking) will be a hollow (and expensive) gesture.

Fishing for Subsidies

We learned this week in the Tampa Bay Times that talks to bring Bass Pro Shops to Hillsborough County are ongoing.  Hey, that’s fine.  Here’s the rub:

Bass Pro Shops and/or the developer are seeking some form of taxpayer subsidy for the project, in which the outdoor shop would serve as an anchor to a larger complex of businesses at Falkenburg Road and the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway. Merrill declined to discuss the nature or amount of the subsidy being discussed, citing state law that shields such deals from disclosure until they are final.

* * *

The shops, or the developments they anchor, have repeatedly taken advantage of taxpayer assistance elsewhere before opening, whether in the form of tax rebates or road or other infrastructure upgrades. The subsidies have run into the tens of millions of dollars in many cases.

The Buffalo-based nonprofit Public Accountability Initiative documented more than $500 million in public subsides awarded to Bass Pro Shops-associated developments last decade, largely using newspaper accounts. In that time, the retailer expanded from 14 locations to more than 50, its report said. 

Well, if you can get such subsidies, why wouldn’t you expand (or build them a store)?  This raises an interesting, and admittedly unresolved, question.  Should you subsidize sprawling retail?  This is how the Times described Bass Pro Shops (Bass Pro Shops’ website here):

Talk of Springfield, Mo.-based Bass Pro Shops opening a store in the Tampa Bay region has bubbled since at least the early 2000s. It has shown up on site plans or developer wish lists everywhere from the Shops at Wiregrass to the Florida State Fairgrounds to a redeveloped Tropicana Field (should the Tampa Bay Rays leave there).

The massive stores hold a special allure for sportsmen, with their mix of clothing, sporting equipment, guns, boats and entertainment all housed in buildings that range from 100,000 to 400,000 square feet. Each shop is built to reflect its setting, with some including museums, restaurants, waterfalls, bowling lanes and fish ponds stocked with local species so pros can demonstrate the effectiveness of lures.

Economic development boosters describe such stores as destination retail, places that attract customers from 100 miles out or more. Tourist attractions. That potential here is unclear because, along with Fort Myers, there is a Bass Pro Shops in Orlando.

Look, we would be happy to have Bass Pro Shops in Hillsborough County (or Pasco or Pinellas, really), but we are still not convinced a subsidy, especially in this time of tight budgets, would be money well spent, especially as retail space is starting to fill again.  What would the average wage be for the jobs created?  How many jobs would be created?  How much spin off development are you really going to get at Falkenberg and the Selmon Expressway when, that area is completely saturated with a regional mall and big box stores galore?  Wouldn’t it be better to use that money to target high tech, manufacturing or finance companies – and let those people shop where they want?

The location is attractive without a subsidy.  If Bass Pro Shops does not want to be there and wants to lose sales from the Tampa Bay area by not being here, maybe we should let them.  Just a thought.

The Fancy Trades Move Closer

We also had news that Trader Joe’s is coming to Sarasota, after announcing a store in Naples.  We like Trader Joe’s (just like we like Bass Pro Shops).  They are a draw (though not “regional”), but of a different sort.

We think they will get to Tampa Bay soon, but we do not think they should be subsidized to be here. If you want a store here, you can nag them here (second from the bottom on the right)

St. Pete Apartments

One thing St. Pete does well is build residential downtown.  Under construction (or recently opened) is the Portland:

From 908 Development - click on picture for website

There are plans for the Lansing (Lansing? Really? Is the Kalamazoo next?)

From 908 Development - click on picture for the website

And there is news this week of a 300 unit apartment complex (though “apartment complexes” downtown make us nervous):

A Cleveland-based developer announced Friday that it plans to build a 300-unit, upscale apartment complex within blocks of Bayfront Medical Center, All Children’s Hospital and the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

Design and pricing plans for the $55 million project are still in the early stages, said Kurt Kehoe, vice president of NRP Group. But as of now, the company plans one- to three-bedroom units ranging from 600 square feet to 1,200 square feet. Monthly rents would range from $800 to $1,800.

The apartment complex will have four stories wrapped around an internal parking garage, Kehoe said. Once financing and permitting is complete, construction could begin as early as this fall, with completion in late 2013 or early 2014.

We are clad to hear of this development.  Generally, St Pete does a better job having its buildings interact with the street better than Tampa.  While they are not bad, the Portland and Lansing could use a little work in that regard.  We are just guessing (as the plans are not done) but the apartment complex probably could, too.  Hopefully, St. Pete will make sure they do.

The Mayor of Tampa

We saw this article from Creative Loafing profiling the Mayor of Tampa.Frankly, it is not our policy to comment on personalities, and we did not do any of the interviews, but we think it is interesting. You can read it, meet the Mayor, look at his policies and decide what you think.  One thing did catch our eye:

The mayor sounded off on a number of other issues, including trade, during a recent lunch with CL at Mise en Place. Buckhorn has traveled to Panama and Israel to attract new business, but he isn’t impressed by the surge of support for more ties with Cuba. Both Congresswoman Kathy Castor and the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce plan to travel to Cuba in coming months.

“I think there’s a lot of hype,” he says about the burgeoning interest in Cuba. Comparing it to the buzz that greets a new girl in high school, Buckhorn says the island nation has no money, sounding like he’s channeling hard-liner Ralph Fernandez. As for the Chamber’s visit, he says they’re going because “people are bending their ear, telling them that this is the promised land, and it’s not.” (Officials at Tampa International Airport might disagree. By adding four flights weekly to two Cuban cities, they project to make $657,000 this year.)

Indeed, there is hype. Cuba is not the “promised land” (the Mayor already went there)– it is a troubled state.  However, there is also economic opportunity, especially in the future, for which planning is required – especially from someone who sits on the Aviation Authority and Port Authority board.  Why dismiss a potential market out of hand?

We’ll See

Speaking of economic opportunities, the Mayor of Tampa has reorganized the government regarding economic development. (You can read the details here) It is too early to tell whether the reorganization is good or bad.  Time will tell.  Hopefully, it will lead to better vision and planning (which starts at the top) – and maybe a change in the code.

They’ll Take the High Road, You’ll be stuck in Traffic

This week also brought news that the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority voted to build the final leg of a beltway around Orlando.  Hey, that makes sense – much more sense than when the stretch of the Veterans Expressway that was going to connect to I-275 in the north county was killed (ever wonder why the  Veterans ends inexplicably at Dale Mabry), or the number of times an East-West Road through Pasco county from I-75 to US 19 was stopped, or Pinellas County waiting to build a limited access road in the north county until it was extremely expensive.  Lack of planning, vision, and political will.

USF Poly

A lot has happened.  We will hold our comments until it shakes out a little more.

List of the Week – Skinny, Fat or In Between, You Are Still Sad

This week’s list is the new list of Fattest Cities in America.

Maybe it’s the deep-fried butter at the state fair, or all the new burger joints sprouting up. Whatever the reason, Tampa has been ranked the fifth-fattest city in the U.S. by Men’s Fitness magazine. Hey, at least we’re not No. 1. That dubious distinction went to Houston. Rounding out the top 5 were Detroit, Cleveland and Memphis.

Tampa didn’t even make the top 25 two years ago, the last time the magazine ranked the fattest and fittest cities. The magazine based its rankings on federal obesity figures and the number of fast-food restaurants, among other measures. This news comes on top of the recent revelation from competitor Men’s Health magazine that St. Petersburg is the country’s saddest city. Tampa ranked fourth in that poll. St. Petersburg somehow didn’t make the fat rankings.

What can you say?

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