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Roundup 3-2-2012

March 2, 2012

“Downtown” Temple Terrace

Two weeks ago, we commented on the plan to create a “downtown” Temple Terrace, saying the following:

We haven’t seen the finalized, full plan, so it is hard to comment on details.  However, this kind of local town center concept is badly needed in the Tampa Bay area.  People need a place to go and walk around.  Neighborhoods need a focus. We applaud the effort to make one.

Well, in an article this week, the Tribune showed a rendering of the project:

From the Tampa Tribune - click on picture for article

Having seen this rendering, we feel compelled to say that, while a nice, urban town center is exactly the kind of project Temple Terrace needs, this project is anything but an urban town center.  This is just a few buildings afloat on a sea of surface parking, none of which deal with the street.  Other than being new and more than one story in spots, how is this different from any other suburban development? There is absolutely nothing walkable about it, unless walking through a generic apartment complex to a strip store is your idea of walkable.

The “downtown” Temple Terrace project has been a long time coming.  Waiting a little longer will be fine.  This project as proposed will be a mistake.

Franklin Street Streetscaping

The Tribune reported that City of Tampa announced that it will streetscape Franklin Street.

But thanks to a city plan to spruce up the stretch of Franklin Street downtown between Polk and Fortune streets, as well as the addition of two new businesses, the area is poised for redevelopment.

“It’s a pedestrian gateway to our city, so it’s important to us,” said Bob McDonaugh, the city’s administrator for economic opportunity.

* * *

The city wants to improve street lighting, widen walkways and add trees.

A fountain will be removed.

* * *

Several years ago the city improved Franklin from Polk Street to Kennedy Boulevard, widening or replacing walkways, increasing the size of flower beds and adding lighting.

As we have said before, we are all for streetscaping. And we are all for North Franklin taking off.  But Tampa has had a number of initiatives for Franklin Street with limited success.  Retail will succeed where the people are.  For now, they are in the office buildings well south of the “North Franklin” area.

Interestingly, though not surprisingly, a consultant report for the City from 2005 has a long discussion about North Franklin  (obviously from different economic times – when it was actually easier to do something – starting page 64/page 5 of the pdf –  we have no idea why the pages have such different numbers).

Numerous downtown revitalization efforts throughout North America have shown that the key to active street life is the use of street-level space for retail shops, restaurants and cafés, bars and entertainment venue, galleries and professional service establishments that benefit from and contribute to street life during the day and evening hours. Yet this experience has also demonstrated that these uses are one of the most difficult to implement in a downtown revitalization program.  Two major obstacles make street-level retail revitalization extremely difficult:

· Financial feasibility ¾ Many desired uses simply cannot afford to pay market rate rents for space. Building owners are reluctant to subsidize street level retail space, and overall building economics sometimes make street level space subsidies impossible.

· Property ownership characteristics ¾ Many older downtown buildings are owned by trusts, heirs, and others who are simply not motivated, or able, to renovate their buildings. Many also think the buildings are worth much more than they are actually worth in today’s market.

Right.  How has this changed so that streetscaping will set off rocket growth?

Once again, we are all for developing North Franklin and we agree that streetscaping is important to create the proper environment for retail/restaurant/café development and, as long as buildings stop getting torn down, North Franklin is a good area for such development –as are many other areas – though we are not sure how the above listed issues will be overcome.  We are also not clear why North Franklin, or any part of Franklin, is so special.  More to the point (our point, anyway), is that the core of downtown needs that kind of business, too.  That is why we keep saying the code needs to be changed, and the City needs to work hard to develop retail in all of downtown.

Speaking of Reports

Speaking of consultant reports, the Business Journal has a short story  about a report by the omnipresent Urban Land Institute.  The article revealed:

A panel of real estate and land planning experts found that downtown Tampa needs carefully designed processes for planning and development review in order to reach the full potential of the city’s urban core. This would give developers a more “predictable structure within which to make investments,” according to the group’s report.

Obviously.

“This report gives me a working blueprint on how to best jumpstart community investment and stimulate new development in downtown. To truly be a city of the future, we must re-energize our urban core,” Buckhorn said in a statement. “I appreciate the ULI panel for assembling this report and look forward to implementing the best ideas we discussed for Tampa.”

Yes, we must re-energize the urban core, but what does the report actually say?  Well, we are not going to dissect it all; you can read it here. It is full of really obvious things like the above and this:

Downtown Tampa should have a variety of gathering places, comfortable parks, urban plazas, and public spaces, providing multiple venues for celebrations, community events, festivals, and other major public functions.

It also has some interesting ideas, like:

As in the Channel District, the city can promote redevelopment here without large expenditures. A key recommendation is to promote traffic calming and pedestrian safety along Ashley Drive to make the connection to the river more attractive. Leadership from the city to strongly encourage cooperation from the Florida Department of Transportation to calm the traffic in the Florida Avenue and Tampa Street corridors and to eliminate current prohibitions on sidewalk cafés and projections (balconies, awnings) would pay huge dividends in terms of fostering private investment and connectivity, with very little expenditure of resources. (pg 18 of the report)

And when we say interesting, we mean “huh?”.  First, we are all for awnings and sidewalk cafes, etc on Ashley, Florida and Tampa – and really wherever we can find them.  But the rest does not follow. How will choking traffic create connectivity (or cafes)?  Almost everyone coming from north of downtown (and many coming from Pinellas, Town and Country, and Westchase [and TIA]– you know, most places other than south Tampa) has to come down Ashley or Tampa and most people leaving have to go on Ashley or Florida.  If you slow down traffic, you will make them unhappy and less inclined to be downtown.  If you want pedestrian safety, make the crosswalk times longer (easy to do and you don’t need the ULI to tell you to do it).

Also, did the ULI not notice that at three of the biggest office buildings downtown empty their parking garages onto Ashley (and enter on Tampa)?  Do you think those people are going to be happy if it takes them even longer to get out of downtown?

Moreover, people will sit outside on Ashley (go to Taps at Skypoint on a nice day and see) and Tampa Street (ever watch the people hang out in front of the Bank of America building where, in all truth, there isn’t really any attraction other than it is a nice space near their work).  Finally, how unsafe is it – how many pedestrians are actually hurt on Ashley, Florida or Tampa by cars smashing through the parked cars, jumping the sidewalk, and hitting someone?

Another interesting point in the report:

A plan to support existing retail and incentivize new retail in a few concentrated areas in the CBD. Concentration should be along a few key pedestrian friendly streets, such as Franklin Street, where double-loaded retail can be successful on a phased, block-by-block basis. (page 15 of the report)

This is a questionable.  First, as indicated in the item above, we have been here before – have any of the relevant issues discussed in the 2005 report been dealt with?

Second, again, why should retail be concentrated where the people aren’t? The people who work downtown are mostly in the south part of downtown and on Tampa Street and Jackson, or out near the County Courthouse.  Why not put retail where the people are (Ever been to Hattricks at lunch – it gets crowded and has been for years.  So was Cold Storage.  There is demand there.)?

And why try to force people to go where they are not already?  When has that worked? (The City has tried numerous times to get Franklin Street going but, frankly, on the Franklin, Twiggs, Tampa, Madison block there is more activity – created organically – on the Tampa, Twiggs and Madison sides than the Franklin side) What the City needs to do is change the code for all of downtown so that the flow of people is natural and street retail exists where the customers are.

Once again, we want all of downtown to thrive and we have nothing against developing North Franklin or any other street, but trying to force people to go someplace inconvenient by concentrating retail where they are not rather than serving them where they are will not work – whether it is North Franklin or elsewhere – and there are a stack of failed  plans to prove it.  What would work is setting one proper framework for urban development of all of downtown and letting it develop organically.

Finally, we are not going to go point by point on the ULI report, but looking it over, it is clear to us that it is a mix of the obvious and the interesting, without much innovation.  The real question is why the City has to have another consultant report before it begins to do the obvious.

Metro 510

Speaking of organic growth – the 120-unit Metro 510  “workforce” apartment building opened to full occupancy.  It should be noted that this building was built during the economic downturn and with no ULI report to tell the City where residential development should be located (like all the residential in downtown). Metro 510 adds residents near north Franklin Street that are natural customers to retail in that area.  This shows that one does not need to over engineer development – people will go where they want, you just have to tap demand and provide a desired product at a good price.  (The only issue we have with this building is that almost the entire street front of the building is the garage, which is not what we consider pedestrian friendly.)

TIA Traffic Up

We learned this week that passenger traffic at TIA was up in January.

Passenger traffic at Tampa International Airport increased 1.2 percent in January compared with year-ago figures to nearly 1.3 million passengers.

Domestic ridership increased 0.8 percent to 1.25 million passengers in January, while international traffic grew 14.6 percent to about 40,000 passengers.

What really sticks out is the 14.6 increase in international traffic.  Very nice.  It will be interesting to see how the flights to Zurich do.

USF Poly update of the week

This week we learned that if USF Poly is made independent immediately, it will take it much longer to become accredited, to the detriment of the students there (and probably the school itself).  We doubt that the State Senator who is pushing independence really cares much.

In another completely unsurprising development, somehow money for planning the Heartland Parkway (see an old planning report on it here)  through Polk County found its way into the state budget.

Despite a $1.4 billion budget shortfall and at times heated rhetoric about finding ways to spend fewer state dollars, budget writers have tucked $34.7 million into this year’s proposed spending plan for the design of a portion of the Heartland Parkway — a long-dormant road project in Central Florida.

If lawmakers approve the state’s proposed transportation work plan, which includes billions of dollars for hundreds of other projects, about $18 million could be spent on the Polk project starting this summer. Another $16.7 million is earmarked for 2014 or 2015.

Alexander, a businessman worth more than $10 million and whose company owns a large ranch that could benefit if the entire road gets built, has advocated for the parkway in the past. As the Senate budget chairman, he holds huge sway in how every state dollar is spent.

Surprise.

The State Senator claims he knows nothing about this.  Fine.  Since it is such a surprise and is so unneeded, why doesn’t he move that money to road projects in the Tampa Bay area that are really needed?

List of the Week – You are sad, lonely, and aren’t making any more money

This week’s list comes to us from monster.com and deals with wage growth.  It appears that Tampa (because they are talking about “metros,” we think they mean the Tampa Bay area) has the third worst wage growth in the county. (At least Dallas and NYC also made the list) By contrast, Miami has the second best wage growth, behind Houston and just ahead of Chicago, DC and Seattle.

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