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Roundup 6-29-2012

June 29, 2012

Is that All, cont.

This week we were going to give kudos to a Tampa City Council member for finally coming up with a proposal that was at least thoughtful even though Miami and Orlando beat us to the punch.

City Councilwoman Yvonne Capin has proposed making Tampa a regional center under the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ EB-5 program. The program offers foreign citizens visas if they create jobs by investing $500,000 or more into American businesses.

Capin said she was inspired to pursue the EB-5 program after talking with Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado about his city’s plans to create a publicly run EB-5 center, connecting potential investors with regional investment opportunities. The prospect of an EB-5 program has already increased investment in Miami, Capin said.

Earlier this year, business leaders from Tampa and St. Petersburg began looking at the EB-5 program as a way to pay for a new Tampa Bay Rays baseball stadium. Orlando has begun work on an EB-5 center — one that would reach as far west as Tampa.

It is not a new code for Tampa, but it is definitely worth exploring.

But then, right when we thought Council might be changing, we were confronted with the continuing absurdity of the Setima/Septima Ybor sign debate.  The Ybor City Development Corporation’s board agrees with us and

voted unanimously to recommend signs not include Sétima or Séptima. The street signs, the board members said, should say only Seventh Avenue.

Ah, sanity.  Unfortunately, the City Council decided to go the other direction.

Earlier this month, Councilwoman Yvonne Capin floated the idea of including both spellings on the signs – a notion that required the council’s approval.

* * *

Ultimately council members voted in favor of Capin’s motion.

Yea, this is clear and not a waste of money:

We are told this sign does not look stupid.
From the Tribune – click on picture for full article

Another Councilperson attempted to preempt the thought that will occur to almost everyone not on Tampa’s City Council:

Councilman Harry Cohen said the multi-named sign will be a good conversation starter and will educate people on the history of Ybor.

“I think that putting both spellings on the sign does not make us look stupid,” he said.

Sure, it doesn’t.

Tampa Bay Cool?

The Times had an article this week discussing whether Tampa Bay was cool (hint: if you have to ask, you aren’t).

The Tampa Bay metro area has struggled for decades with the idea that it is not a “cool” place to live and work. At least when compared to the hippest cities.

* * *

But are we cooler than we used to be?

Most definitely. When I relocated to Tampa Bay 21 years ago, if I mentioned the word “hip,” people would ask when I was getting mine replaced.

(If you were talking about “hip” in 1991, you should have gotten out more.)

We’re cooler, but still debating what we want to be cool for — steady tourism, biotech innovation, marine science reputation, technology cluster or as a place trying to appeal more to entrepreneurs.

We have mentioned this before on Tampasphere, but we guess we have to be more detailed.

If you have to plan how you will be cool, you are not cool.  And if you just imitate someone else, you are not cool.  If you have no major boulevard where people walk and sit in cafes, you are not cool.  If you have never had a college radio station – ever, you are not cool.  If you do not have real walkable neighborhood shopping districts, you are not cool.  If there is no real area to hang out, mingle, check some good bands, and eat good food without driving, you are not cool.  And if you have to make a list of the reasons you are cool (like at the bottom of the article – Pinellas Trail, CAMLS, etc., all fine, but cool?  Really?), you are not cool.

Enough denying the obvious lack of urbanness in the Tampa Bay area and how uncool it is. The people who the area is trying to attract and retain are not going to be faked out by hype.  They will realize what is and is not here and decide based on that.  They understand what urban is and flock to it.

An increasing number of this demographic are choosing shorter-term, no-strings-attached accommodation in flats in urban areas, closer to public transport links and potential jobs.

* * *

New Orleans, which saw its population shrink in the mid-2000s due to Hurricane Katrina, saw the biggest rebound in city growth relative to suburbs in the last year, at 3.7 per cent compared to 0.6 per cent.

Atlanta, Denver, Washington, D.C., and Charlotte, North Carolina, also showed wide disparities in city growth compared to suburbs.

Other big cities showing faster growth compared to the previous decade include Boston, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Minneapolis and Seattle.

* * *

“There’s a bigger focus on building residences near transportation hubs, such as a train or subway station, because fewer people want to travel by car for an hour and a half for work anymore.”

Rather than trying to fool people with genuine imitation “coolness,” it would behoove the Tampa Bay area to concentrate much more on becoming an urban and developed area with proper transportation infrastructure and codes. The rest will follow.

Speaking of Cool

Staying with the coolness theme, we note the Tampa Bay Shines website put out by the Tampa Bay Partnership. We appreciate the idea and the effort behind the website.  If the goal is to entice 50 somethings to move here, maybe bringing their businesses, it looks good.  We are not sure what their kids will think of it, though.

Old Money, New Money, Unused Money, Begging for Money

We noticed something odd in the news this week, so we tried to piece together a number of separate articles into a narrative.  Please bear with us and our Debby soaked brains.

            HART does not need money, though it needs money

The first thing to note is that, as we have discussed previously, HART is having record ridership.  Because of that HART wants to cut service and raise fares (see here) because it claims it is too busy and does not have enough money.

While HART is cutting back on present service, it is in the process of setting up a north-south “BRT” line and starting planning for an east west “BRT” line. As of June 22:

The cost of the North-South project is $25.3 million, funded by the Hillsborough County Community Investment Tax.

Funding is being sought for the second phase, although a nearly $2 million development and environmental study for the East-West route is under way.

In the mean time, on June 26, despite the fact that it is low on operating and construction/planning funds and seeking funding for the second phase of its BRT, it was reported that the HART board wants to return $9 million in funding to Hillsborough County.

The refund comes after the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority reviewed its proposed expenses for several projects. After the review, the agency announced it will return about $6.8 million earmarked for four projects involving its Bus Rapid Transit system known as MetroRapid, which will use traffic signal technology and special stations and boarding platforms to expedite the buses’ travel.

HART also is recommending eliminating its Brandon Park & Ride project and returning nearly $2.2 million associated with that proposal.

* * *

The analysis resulted in a reduction of the MetroRapid North-South capital funds costs from $31 million to $25.28 million; and a reduction of the second phase Metro-Rapid East-West planning costs from $3 million to $1.9 million.

Expenditures to acquire the transit signal priority technology remain at $2 million, while the cost for the Fletcher Avenue Park & Ride station to serve MetroRapid North-South rose about $10,000 to $1.75 million.

Huh? Now don’t get us wrong – we are all for trimming the fat.  If there are bus lines that are total losers, by all means cut them so you can maintain and increase the busy service.  (We are unclear why they are giving back money at the same time they are seeking money for the same project – unless they found the money in 4 days. Even if we do not particularly like the project, that seems like odd management.)

We also understand that the money in question is Community Investment Tax money, which is basically infrastructure money. On the other hand, money is fungible.  Use the money for infrastructure, so other money can go to service.

          Meanwhile at County Center

Now, the oddness continues away from HART.  As some of you may have noticed, there is an attempt to save the Friendship Trail/Gandy Bridge from demolition.   In fact, this week, the Hillsborough County Commission voted to put off demolition to give time to the people who want to save the bridge. The cost of fixing the bridge is set at $28 million, though it may be cheaper if the hump is in better shape than first thought.  The demolition is supposed to cost $5.3 million.  Keep that number in your head.

In the mean time, the County staff (though not necessarily the Commissioners) has proposed putting a property tax increase on the ballot in November to help pay for parks and recreation, sort of.

“I started looking at that as a way to fund a block of parks projects that would allow us to use other available revenue to fund transportation,” Merrill said.

Merrill said he will mention the bond issue and property tax referendum at Wednesday’s commission meeting, but he doesn’t expect commissioners to dig into the proposal until Thursday’s work session on the budget.

So it is really a transportation tax that the County is hiding as a park tax because money is fungible and no one seems to have the will to present a decent transportation plan.

Setting that little issue aside, before raising taxes, for what is the $ 9 million from HART going to be used?  CIT money can go to parks. Why not put it toward the bridge?  That would be a total of $14.3 million – or more than half of the projected cost before proposing a tax increase. Then let the people who want to save the Trail raise the rest from donations.

Then develop a proper transportation plan.

Port – Muddle

We saw this  opinion piece in the Tribune this week about problems with the selection process for a new Port Director and thought it quite good. It is short and worth a full read.  The Port Director search process should be fully open.  In fact, the present Director should not be involved at all.  We cannot afford the continuing lack of vision and failure to solve problems while others steal business that should be ours.

The Port is a public institution.  The elected officials on the Port Board should start working on changing the Port’s DNA.  Complacency is failure.

TIGER Grants

Last week, we noted favorably that Tampa received $11 million in TIGER grants to finish the Riverwalk.  We just thought with all the back slapping it was worth noting that at the same time Ft. Lauderdale received $18 million in Federal grants to help build a streetcar in its downtown.

List of the Week – Sort of

Instead of a list of the week, this week we have a map of the territorial rights of each MLB team.Florida is divided as one would think, with the exception of having Naples be completely open territory, which is a bit odd.

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