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Roundup 3-9-2012

March 9, 2012

Money and/or Vision

The Tribune ran an interesting article regarding a possible reason why infrastructure and other civic improvements in the Tampa Bay area lag behind other areas.

But a major factor that differentiates the two cities is not immediately apparent: The Seattle area’s $82,700 median annual income is $27,000 higher than the Tampa area’s, eFannieMae.com data for 2011 show.

It’s not necessary to travel 2,600 miles to find similar examples of income disparity. Tampa ranked last among a half-dozen Sun Belt business competitors — Jacksonville, Charlotte, Raleigh/Durham, Atlanta and Dallas — in the Tampa Bay Partnership’s most recent economic scorecard.

A relatively low wage base, few corporate headquarters to provide major local spending sources and a political climate that quashed recent transportation initiatives affect the Tampa Bay area’s quest to improve amenities and attract businesses — which in turn could raise the local wage base.

As Tampa area leaders seek improvements — better transportation, a new ballpark to keep the Tampa Bay Rays and other urban amenities — the amount of funding area residents are able, and willing, to contribute is almost certain to become an increasingly volatile — and vital — issue.

It is an interesting thesis – though not necessarily supported by the article.

Seattle is home to Microsoft and Amazon.com (and Boeing’s major manufacturing facility), as well as being a “regional capital.”  The Tampa Bay area is not. Seattle also has the 7th busiest container port in North America.The Tampa Bay area does not (and, apparently, does not much vision about increasing its ranking much). What else does Seattle have that the Tampa Bay area doesn’t?

Across the country, what catches one’s eye along Interstate 5 in downtown Seattle is the Mariners’ retractable-roof ballpark side-by-side with the Seahawks’ football stadium. Commuter trains extend more than 25 miles north and south of downtown, and a 16-mile light-rail line serves the airport.

The rail was built just recently (opening in Seattle proper in 2009) and, as the article points out, “Rail initiatives failed in Seattle before gaining support.

Of course, Seattle is not the only place to build rail.  Orlando is also building rail after a number of failed efforts.  How does their median income compare to ours? “Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford $57,400” compared to “Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater* $55,700.” A difference but not a significant difference.

Is there any other thing Seattle has?

Preservationists rescued Pike Place Market from city demolition plans 50 years ago to transform it into a world-renowned anchor for downtown retail, tourist and conference trade that keeps sidewalks lively beyond 5 p.m.

50 years ago? In those 50 years we have been busy demolishing our old buildings and building sprawling, poorly planned cities without proper codes, relying on real estate to be our main industry.

What Seattle apparently has is some long term vision and consistent efforts to develop that vision – like in rail.  That is the same thing Orlando, with not much more money, has.  (We have discussed Tampa Bay’s lack of vision on numerous occasions).

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said that despite the weak economy, it’s possible to improve mobility, improve infrastructure and support sports teams.

He’s launching projects to make several downtown corridors more attractive and created an economic competitiveness committee, which began work to simplify processes to bring in business.

We have already discussed Tampa’s economic competitiveness effort and streetscaping.  They are fine as far as they go, but they do not go nearly far enough – particularly as they are based on real estate.

Maybe Tampa Bay does not have the money Seattle does, but it has enough – even if it has to go step by step rather than all at once – if there is vision and leadership like Orlando. (We acknowledge that the present Mayor of Tampa had nothing to do with the failure of the transit tax referendum. We mean vision and leadership over a long duration)

A key takeaway from this article comes from a former Pinellas County Commissioner:

“We cannot compete on the local, national or international stage without improving the community, and a primary need is that of infrastructure improvement,” Duncan said. “We have to be able to demonstrate to the voter and user that there are pieces of the solutions that do enhance their lives. If we cannot do that then we need to go back and revise the plan.”

* * *

“The business community I believe is very concerned about the ‘push-back’ of anti-tax, anti-infrastructure investment,” Duncan said. “They believe, as I believe, that you have to invest today for the economic growth and job creation of tomorrow. It won’t happen otherwise.”

Indeed we need to invest in infrastructure and other things. And small or poorly executed ideas will not convince anyone.  Nor will waiting for consultants rather than leading by presenting a vision, studying other who failed and succeeded, and pushing forward creatively.

The Mayor of Tampa said:

“The trick is to raise the median income, but that’s a long-term project,” Buckhorn said. “It’s creating value-added kinds of jobs compared with service jobs.”

Yes, it is good to have higher income, and real estate and call centers alone will not do it.  Nor will waiting until we have that much higher average income to create the environment to attract the jobs and industry to give us that much high income.

In sum, it is not the money but a lack of proper vision and persistence and creativity in executing that vision that hamstrings our area.  Money is always an issue, but it should not be an excuse for lacking vision.

(Oh, and on real estate, one thing that will cost almost nothing – change the code now so development will be urban and the “creative class” and their high paying jobs will want to be/stay here.)

Money and/or Vision – TIA

What does real economic development look like?  It looks like a conference in Tampa this week.

Chris Minner, TIA’s vice president of marketing and advertising, will have 30 minutes with each of them Monday to try to set up a second date.

About 350 delegates representing more than 30 airlines and 150 airports will be in Tampa for the Network USA 2012 conference, a “speed dating” event for airline route planners.

Not only did he talk to them, he brought them to Tampa – in the shadow of the airport – then schmoozed.

Airport officials stay in year-round contact with airlines they are trying to recruit, but hosting the conference afforded local airport representatives an opportunity to show off a new attraction in pursuit of a coveted airline and Latin American service.

Tampa International chief executive Joe Lopano, marketing vice president Chris Minner and University of South Florida representatives hosted Copa Airlines on Sunday night at USF’s Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation, which uses robotic patients to train medical professionals expected to visit from around the world.

The airport officials will visit again with Copa officials in Panama later this month at a USF center there.

Since the airport director got here, he has espoused a vision and executed it, working to develop service.  He has moved to do major renovations of facilities and market vigorously.  He did not wait for others.  He is leading.  That is what Tampa Bay needs.

Money and/or Vision – Someone Else’s Port

According to the article on regional income, Miami’s is $56,900 compared to Tampa Bay’s at $55,700.  So they are similar.  Miami obviously needs economic development, too. What are they doing?

We learned this week that the dredging of the Port of Miami is being fast tracked.  While there are some environmental issues to deal with, with vision, unity of purpose and aggressiveness, projects like this can get done . . . at least in other cities.  We are still waiting for the Port of Tampa’s vision.

Another Thing Seattle Has That We Don’t

Another thing that Seattle has that Tampa Bay does not is a true regional transit system – Sound Transit. (TBARTA could be, but right now it isn’t.) This week the Times ran an editorial regarding merging PSTA and HART.

Only a full-blown study can confirm whether the agencies would be better off as a single entity. Given that drivers and mechanics comprise the largest chunk of employees for any bus system, the real savings come from cutting routes — not from flattening the administrative ranks. Densely populated Pinellas and sprawling Hillsborough also serve distinct bus populations. Any consolidation would have to work for both sides and provide parity in service going forward.

Given the implications to tax fairness, and to bus service on both sides of the bay, it was good to see the local delegation back off an amendment that would have fast-tracked the talks and laid a course for a merger as early as 2013. A more responsible course would be for both counties to explore consolidation without political interference from the Legislature. Any merger should come about on its merits and not by political force. That approach is completely in keeping with the tone Latvala set when he floated the idea last year, calling on both counties to “carefully consider” a merger. “I am not so committed to this that I’m going to ram this through,” Latvala told the HART board. “If I don’t get consensus … then we’re not going to do it.”

We agree to the extent we trust the boards of HART and PSTA to examine consolidation in a good faith effort – assuming it is a good faith effort.  But we have our doubts. HART issued a statements saying:

HART and PSTA already partner on various collaborative efforts, including procurement consortiums, such as for fuel purchases, and each operate cross-county bus routes to maintain transit connectivity between the two counties. Consolidation of two agencies that serve two very distinct geographic and demographic areas could have adverse impacts, which are detailed in the following research report: Comments Regarding Possibility of HART/PSTA Consolidation.

Moreover, some of the board members – including the Tea Party leader (her comment here) and Tampa Bay’s expert – seem to already have opinions against consolidation.

The “research report” by the expert referred to in the HART statement (to be fair – the documents accurately describes itself as “Comments”) concludes: “[M[y current opinion is that there is not a compelling reason or a data-based argument for consolidating public transportation operations in the Tampa Bay area.” One line from the opinion regarding a consolidation in Dallas caught our attention:

While there were differences in work rules, salaries, or benefits, the merger resulted in the highest-level, most expensive policies being adopted for the merged agency to minimize impacts on morale and resistance to the merger.”

We have no reason to doubt the truth of that statement, but the Board’s job is to make the hard decisions on such things.  Since the writer knows of this problem, he should be able to anticipate it and minimize it rather than use it as a reason not to go forward. Those who find themselves unable to do make the hard decisions should resign.  And, frankly, the described failure to make hard decision is an argument for outside oversight any merger – though we are not advocating it at this point.)

This all sounds to us like HART is prejudging consolidation even if there is a professed willingness to investigate the idea.  HART’s statement and the Board members’ statements lead us to think that the public should be skeptical of any study done by the present HART board. We need an impartial assessment by people without vested interests in the status quo or any changes.

This Is How You Do It

There was a little report in the Tribune this week about the replacement of the Seminole Heights library. The library is going from this:

From Tampa Tribune - click on picture for article

To this:

From Tampa Tribune - click on picture for article

We have not seen the entire plan, but looking at the rendering, we can happily say that at least someone gets some of the idea of urban design (though the sidewalk should be shaded – this is Florida).

Thankfully, the design is not your standard Tampa “urban” street front, like this (nice front door)  Too bad the City has not changed the code to make the new library design more standard.

This Is How You Do It – Part II

Some of you may have noticed that there is an LA Fitness going up where Malio’s used to be on South Dale Mabry.  From the rendering, it is also going to be a relatively urban building.

From Tampa Bay Business Journal - click on picture for article

 

It is not perfect, but at least it is deals with the sidewalk and street with something other than a parking lot or retention pond like other buildings on Dale Mabry.  (Really, how did the City allow nearby Kennedy and Dale Mabry – arguably the most important intersection in Tampa – to be like this)

List of the Week – You May Be Poor, But You Can Get To A Good Beach

Our list this week comes from Trip Advisor and deals with the top 10 beach destinations in the US.  Low and behold, even with all the depressing rankings we have seen, St. Pete Beach is the #1 beach destination in North America and #5 in the world.  The write up of St. Pete Beach goes like this:

Sugary-white sand, dolphins frolicking just off shore and eight major barrier islands make St. Pete Beach a postcard-perfect seaside destination. Situated on a peninsula off Florida’s west coast, it is an ideal place to experience the state’s wild beauty and the magical golden rays of the Sunshine State.

St. Pete Beach beat out Miami Beach (#2), Daytona Beach (#6), Ft. Lauderdale (#7), and Key West (#10).

Hopefully all those airline execs in town saw that, and also saw that we are more than just a good beach (though a good beach doesn’t hurt)

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