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Roundup 5-18-2012

May 18, 2012

Cruising the Port

A few weeks ago, we discussed the fact that future cruise ships would not be able to reach the Port in Tampa because they could not pass under the Skyway Bridge. Years after the issue was known to the Port, the Port Director finally began a public discussion of it and ideas to build a cruise terminal west of the Skyway.   This week, the Port Board decided that the issue should be investigated.

At their meeting Tuesday, board members asked port CEO Richard Wainio to provide them with a report on the proposed terminals, including a time line for construction and a list of advantages and disadvantages to having cruise docks separate from the main port.

* * *

Port officials have to come up with some way to accommodate the larger ships or risk losing the cruise business altogether. Cruises brought in about $9.9 million in revenue last year — about a quarter of the port’s operating revenue — and are projected to earn about $11 million this year.

Yes, you read that correctly.  The Port Director waited for seven years to bring to the fore the possible loss of a quarter or more of its revenue.

Port director Richard Wainio and other local port officials have been talking for many months with the world’s two largest cruise lines, Carnival and Royal Caribbean, about the possibility of a new terminal near the Hillsborough/Pinellas county line.

It would have been helpful if they (and everyone else) had been talking for many years.

“We need to know what we need to do to get this done, if in fact it is important to (Tampa’s) cruise industry and important to the economic base of the port,” Murman said.

Given it is a quarter of the port’s revenue, it is important to the economic base of the port.  So, yes, we need to know what needs to be done.

“We need to get his vision and how he thinks we can accomplish this,” said Murman, who originally requested an outline of the plan.

A vision and a plan for execution.  Sounds familiar.  But this should have been known years ago.  Maybe we could also get an explanation of what will be done with the land downtown when the cruise ships leave.

As bad as this entire episode at the Port is (not to mention the 30+ years wasted on transportation/transit) , hopefully, the Tampa Bay area will finally learn to plan ahead.

             One Last Thing

The Tribune article had this nugget:

The good news for the Port of Tampa: most cargo ships envisioned to serve Tampa in the future can pass beneath the Skyway bridge.

Which does not seem to be the same as this from 2011:

Tampa’s port today could handle larger container ships, although it won’t be certain until the canal expansion is completed in 2014 or 2015 what size ships carriers might schedule to Tampa or other ports in Florida, he said.

“It’s not a problem for cargo,” Wainio said, adding that most anticipated growth for Tampa would be along north-south routes from the Caribbean Basin, including Mexico, Chile and Brazil, compared with east-west routes serving the Far East.

We have a couple of issues with all this, aside from more mixed messages.  First, what are the ships “envisioned to serve Tampa?” The Port Director speaks of Tampa simply being a spoke on the container runs through the Panama Canal, not a hub for the largest ships.  Right off the bat, the “envisioned” ships limit the Port’s ability to grow.

Second, given that the “envisioning” is limited to smaller ships, just exactly what ships are “envisioned” to serve Tampa that cannot go beneath the bridge and where would they dock and what is the plan to deal with that?

HART and the Streetcar

HART planners, though we doubt the HART board, are looking at lowering fares for the streetcar.

Streetcar fares could drop to as low as 50 cents in a concept HART planners will study before next year’s budget is finalized.

Worried that Teco Line Streetcar fares might be too high to sustain ridership, planners for the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority will look into the impact on the budget and ridership of different fares, from 50 cents up to the current $2.50.

The nonprofit streetcar HART operates carried 25,123 passengers in April compared with 41,116 in April 2003. HART planners have projected a loss of 80,000 streetcar passengers in fiscal 2013 to a total of 330,000.

Possible reasons ridership is in decline include streetcar fares 75 cents higher than the current bus fare, fewer downtown special events because of the recession and less frequent service necessitated by budget cuts.

Those are all possible.  How do rates compare with other cities?

“We are pricing ourselves out of the market,” HART chief executive Philip Hale said, without recommending a price. Streetcars fares in Memphis, Tenn., and Little Rock, Ark., for example, are $1.

Hale said he talks with tourists checking out the fare boards at streetcar stations who tell him they decided not ride because of the cost.

Could there be another reason more people do not ride?

In addition, the streetcar route between downtown and Ybor City is targeted more to visitors than residents, an issue exacerbated by the lack of connectivity with other downtown transit modes.

Indeed.  Fares are too high and the streetcar route, while developing through Channelside, was originally planned for tourists not locals.

The reality is that, to be done properly, the streetcar should continue into downtown to actually connect the core of downtown with Channelside and Ybor.  The streetcars also should run at times that serve residents as well as tourists.  The cars should be sped up some, too.  The streetcar should be viewed as transportation, not a tourist attraction (especially since we now know that the cruise business stands a very good chance of leaving downtown).

Yes, we know it costs money, but it is an investment.  If viewed and operated as an integrated part of a real transportation system, it will succeed over time.  If it is just a novelty, it likely won’t.

USF Area

There have been a number of articles in the papers regarding a percolating idea to revitalize and develop the USF area. (see here, here, here, and here).  While we have not seen any specific ideas so we can’t get into any details, we are all for revitalizing that area, but there are some major issues.

First, by revitalization, do you mean replacing or fixing up what is there?  How are you going to accumulate land and what are you going to do with what is there now?

Second, what are you going to do with the low income residents who live there now? They have to go somewhere?  Will they be able to afford a developed USF area?

The area is not empty, it is run down.  Any plan has to address these issues.

And one last thing – why was this area never planned/planned in such a bad way in the first place?

Light, Camera, Study

This week the Tribune reported that Hillsborough County is looking at ways to improve the movie/video/tv business in the county.

Hillsborough County’s tourism and convention agency is set to revive its moribund film commission thanks to an injection of cash from the county commission.

Commissioners on Wednesday approved an initial payment of $75,000 to Tampa Bay & Co. to develop a plan to grow all phases of the digital video industry here. The agency will get an additional $425,000 in payments over two years if commissioners approve the development plan.

The money would be used to staff a new film commission and hire a film commissioner.

* * *

“What we do know is that all other major markets in Florida have a film office,” Hagan said. “So we’ve been at a competitive disadvantage with our other communities in Florida.”

Hagan said he foresees the film commission as a public-private partnership similar to the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, which gets county money but also generates revenue.

We like the initiative but are not clear why the convention and tourist organization should be in charge of it.

“The bottom line is we need to understand how other successful film commissions exist and thrive,” he said, “and determine a comparable model to emulate in order to effectively compete with other counties for prospective events, production and economic development opportunities.”

We are not sure what the exact plan is, but we like the general attitude of learning from others that have succeeded and not surrendering whole areas of the economy.  But remember, just copying other people is not necessarily going to be effective here.

List of the Week I – Beating the Motor City At Its Own Game

Our first list of the week is a list of the most financially distressed cities. We are not sure of the methodology, but Tampa Bay is number 1.

No other major metropolitan area is as stressed out as Tampa Bay when it comes to the combined factors of a rough job market, tight credit, household budget constraints, lower net worth and, most significantly, a lousy housing market.

That’s according to the quarterly Consumer Distress Index released Wednesday by the nonprofit credit counseling agency CredAbility.

Out of the top 25 metros, Tampa Bay was not only most financially distressed, but it also was the only major metro in the bottom-rung category of “Emergency Crisis.” Detroit, the second-most-distressed city, just barely landed one category higher: “Distressed Unstable.”

Detroit and Miami-Fort Lauderdale have been in emergency crisis mode during parts of 2011, along with Tampa Bay. But the bay area’s climb out of the cellar has been the most labored.

Yup, you read that right, worse than Detroit.  Just like Chrysler is using the motto “Imported From Detroit” for its cars, maybe we can use “Offshore to Tampa Bay” for our call centers.

List of the Week II – You Still Don’t Read

Two weeks ago, we reported on a list of the most literate cities.   No city from Florida appeared on the list. This week, we present Amazon’s list of the most well-read cities. The basic methodology (kind of limited in our view) is explained in this quote:

Amazon.com customers in Alexandria, Virginia, bought the most books, magazines and newspapers in the past year, making it the most well-read city in America on a per capita basis, according to rankings from the popular e-commerce website. Two other Virginia cities were in the top 20: Arlington ranked seventh and Richmond 20th.

As noted, Alexandria, Virginia came in first. In Florida, Miami came in 6th, Gainesville was 8th, and Orlando was 14th.  No city in the Tampa Bay area was on the list, but apparently few would read that.

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