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Roundup 3-23-2012

March 23, 2012

Temple Terrace Downtown – They Just Said “No”

For the last few weeks, we have been writing about the proposals for building a “downtown” in Temple Terrace.  We had noted that the project as proposed was just another suburban apartments complex.  The developers’ rationale for such a design in a “downtown”:

Among a host of contested issues was the developers’ desire to build 214 apartments, rather than condominiums as originally proposed, and to eliminate ground-floor retail from the buildings. Vlass and Inland said such changes were necessary to meet market realities.

We thought that Temple Terrace should reject the plan.  This week, Temple Terrace did. The developer threatened to pull out of the project but left the meeting without comment.

In our opinion, this is just fine.  Temple Terrace can wait until the market is good for the project they want.  The Tampa Bay area has for too long settled for substandard projects and it has not made our economy any stronger.

Evidence Our Economy Is Not Any Stronger

We learned this week that among major metropolitan areas, the Tampa Bay area has lost the most construction jobs.

For the 12-month period ending in January, the bay area lost more construction jobs than any other metro region in the country. That dropped construction employment here to the lowest level since the federal government began tracking it in 1990.

Only 43,000 construction jobs are left in an area that bragged it was one of the country’s top growth spots just six years ago. January’s dismal tally shows bay area construction employment down 14 percent year over year and a startling 55 percent from the market’s peak of 95,300 jobs in June 2006.

Some will argue that this shows that the Tampa Bay area needs to promote any construction – like the Temple Terrace project.  However, we do not see it that way.  Tampa Bay has been developer friendly for decades.  (Not to mention having low costs of doing business  – where are the Fortune 500 headquarters?)

What has that gotten us as a region?  Not much long term.   Our unemployment is high.  Our wages are low. Our economy is not diverse or competitive with other regions.  Our planning and built environment are a sprawling mess with inadequate transportation infrastructure. We have a brain drain and trouble attracting young talent.  Consequently, we do not have the demand to sustain the construction jobs.

When Tampa Bay settles – as it has done so often, it may create a short term boomlet, but it harms us long term.  Any remaking of our DNA, as Tampa’s Mayor likes to talk about, involves putting quality of projects, planning, and employment first (rather than just speeding any development along without thinking).  The demand will follow – like it does in other cities – and maybe then it will be sustainable.

Getting There

A recent article in the Tribune regarding a speech the Mayor gave to the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, he had this nugget:

“My daughters will not come home to a call center job, and neither should yours,” he said.

The region also needs to break away from its history of “building subdivisions for people who don’t exist,” he said. “It’s all about changing the economic DNA.”

Sounds familiar and accurate. We also appreciate this:

Buckhorn said the region needs to take advantage of a historic changeover in the people at the top. From Buckhorn and City Council to the county government and economic development agencies, many of the region’s leaders have been in office a year or so.

As a result, most of the region’s old battles – over power or jurisdiction – have faded away, he said.

Though we are not sure how much true change there can be if the Mayor is taking his advice from committees comprised mostly of people who helped create the old DNA.  We also are not sure what he is going to do to support these ideas.

One thing we think requires a little nuance arose from a listener to Buckhorn’s speech:

The mayor’s enthusiasm rubbed off on Annette DeLisle, who cheered Buckhorn’s call for bringing better jobs to the area. Her own company, she said, moved from St. Louis because it liked what Tampa had to offer.

“The emphasis has been on attracting whatever business we could,” DeLisle said. “He’s right that we need to be more selective.”

To be honest, we disagree somewhat (at least as quoted.)  Tampa Bay should attract whatever business we can, but we should not subsidize them or let them have whatever they want in terms of land use, zoning, pollution or otherwise.  Incentives should be for high paying jobs and/or projects deemed a great value to the development of the area.  If others want to do business here without subsidy and following our rules, great.

Now Change the DNA – We Love the Wa, But Not This Wa

The Tribune reported this week on a proposed Wawa gas station/store in Tampa:

The Tampa City Council recently gave initial approval to rezone the site of the closed Giordano’s Italian Restaurant at 401 N. Dale Mabry Highway. Parking lots at 3712 W. Carmen St. and 3715 W. Gray St. are part of the proposal to build a Wawa convenience store and 16-pump gas station.

A final council vote is scheduled April 5. http://www2.tbo.com/news/business/2012/mar/21/10/stnewso3-wawa-gets-initial-ok-to-build-west-shore–ar-382659/

First, we are familiar with Wawa, and we like it.  However, that does not mean we like this one.

The article has a rendering of the store, but it is not the full rendering. (Tribune rendering here which is clearly a cropped version of the rendering here  minus all the gas pumps)

It is not clear whether the rendering is for the specific location in question or what that store will look like.  However, if this is what it is going to look like:

From Lehigh Valley Live - click on picture for article

We are not for it.

Look, here is the lot in question. It is on Dale Mabry.  The last thing Dale Mabry between Kennedy and Cypress needs is a big parking lot/row of gas pumps facing the street, especially since there are two gas stations 1/5 of a mile north at Cypress and one about 1 ½ blocks south.

Even more interestingly:

Objections also were raised at the hearing by the city’s land-use staff members. They said the project does not meet guidelines for development in the West Shore area. Council members had to grant waivers in order to approve the project.

The guidelines generally encourage buildings that are close to the street, with parking to the side and rear, but they don’t address every situation.

“Herein lies the rub,” said Mike Callahan, the city’s urban design coordinator. “Bottom line is the project is not consistent with the overlay (area guidelines). But the overlay doesn’t talk about gas stations. That’s an oversight.”

If the council approves the project, he said, “You’re not going to see many this nice.”

This nice? Does it a have a gold plated soda machine?

Not only does the area have ample gas stations, the project does not comply with the overlay guidelines.

If the overlay guidelines do not have gas stations, maybe that is because the people who created it did not want gas stations there.  Or maybe it was an oversight.  If it was an oversight, amend the overlay first.

Even if Wawa does not get this store, they will build others. Just approving a redundant project in an ad hoc fashion rather than amending the overlay first seems to us like the old way of doing things.

Is This All? – Part II

This seems likely to become a regular feature.  Instead of dealing with all the planning issues in the City or business development and fresh after giving preliminary approval to the Wawa but not addressing the “flawed” overlay, the Tampa City Council got down to the important business of Cuban sandwiches.

At the suggestion of an advisory committee named to study ways to leverage Tampa’s cultural assets, the council voted Thursday to consider designating the Cuban as Tampa’s “signature sandwich,” perhaps with city certificates for restaurants that serve a historically faithful sandwich.

Look, we know that Tampa Cuban sandwiches are different than other Cuban sandwiches, but is this really something the Council should be spending time on?  To save the City Council some time, we have prepared the official Cuban sandwich seal:

Bass Pro Subsidy – Nice Headline

The Tribune joined the Times and us (see “Fishing for Subsidies” item here) in the view that Hillsborough County should not subsidize Bass Pro Shops. We are glad they (at least one of their columnists) agrees with our view.  We also appreciate the headline of the piece “Henderson: Bass Pro fishing for cash”.

More Master Planning – Westshore

We also got confirmation this week that Tampa really loves master planning:

The Westshore Alliance — a business group that represents companies in Tampa’s West Shore area — is working with the city and Hillsborough County to create a master plan for the district.

The study will focus on growth, recreation, transportation and mass-transit issues, said Ron Rotella, alliance director.

As more residences enter the business district, a long-range plan will help create a sense of place, he said.

“It’ll serve as that guide for West Shore’s vision and evolution,” Rotella said.

The new study will look at things such as landscaping, streetscapes, sidewalks and benches, said Bob McDonaugh, the city’s administrator for economic opportunity.

We have no idea what the plan will look like, or whether anyone will follow it (We are not going to even list the various plans/reports for aspects of Westshore we found).  It would be nice if somewhere in the plan there was an attempt to introduce some urban design.  We will reserve judgment.

A Train to Somewhere Other Than Here

This week a company announced that they will run train service between Miami and Orlando.

Florida East Coast Industries said in a news release that the $1 billion project will utilize the 200-mile rail corridor owned by the company between Miami and Cocoa, and include construction of 40 miles of new track to link it to Orlando.

The project has been dubbed All Aboard Florida. Developers envision the service eventually expanded to link Tampa and Jacksonville. The trip between Miami and Orlando is expected to take about three hours. According to Google maps, the average driving trip going the speed limit takes about four hours, not factoring in traffic.

It is too soon to know what to think of this other than, if the Governor had not killed it, there would be high speed rail under construction between Tampa and Orlando already.  We also wonder what anti-rail folks will say about a private rail venture.

A Final Thought

We heard an interesting interview with George Lois, the guy advertising who came up with the slogan “I want my MTV.” It is worth listening to.  To sum it up:

Lois’ defining statement about creativity is that it can solve almost any problem. “The creative act, the defeat of habit by originality, overcomes everything. And I really believe that. What I try to teach young people, or anybody in any creative field, is that every idea should seemingly be outrageous.”

That would be a change in DNA.

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