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Roundup 7-6-2012

July 6, 2012

Channelside – the Slow Roll Out

More information seeped out this week about the apparently incomplete plans for Channelside from the owner of the Lightning. We reiterate that we like the Lightning owner, and we have no problem with his fixing up Channelside. We think there is great potential. Moreover, we have not seen the plans, so it is difficult to comment comprehensively.  Yet, the more we hear, the more concerns we have, especially given the history of the Tampa City Government and the Port of settling for tolerable when very good would have been just as easy.

What exactly are we talking about?  Take the following:

The Tampa Bay Lightning owner plans to make the troubled development more pedestrian-friendly; add retail and possibly a hotel to bring in more visitors; and link it to the Tampa Bay Times Forum and Florida Aquarium to turn the Channelside district into a seamless waterside entertainment area linked to Tampa’s Riverwalk, the 2.2 mile waterfront walkway.

“We want more people to come downtown,” said Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman, “and this whole concept is just going to enliven this area.”

Ok, sounds good.  Who doesn’t want that?  What type of things do they have in mind?

The Vinik group proposed doing that by changing the marketing and branding of Channelside, and the mix of tenants. They want to bring in tenants who would keep people coming to Channelside throughout the day, not just at night — more retail shops (one commissioner suggested they could bring in a grocery store) and a big draw such as a hotel.

The likely location for that big draw would be the parking lot at Beneficial Drive and Channelside Drive, a 3 ½-acre property owned by the Port Authority and zoned for retail, office or hotel space.

Fine.  More people and things to do.  That should be a catalyst to get people filling the streets and bringing the southeast corner of downtown to life in a really urban way.

Or, maybe not:

One significant addition: an elevated pedestrian bridge between the parking garage and Channelside that would get pedestrians off Channelside Drive, which is already busy with traffic, cruise ship passengers and a trolley car.

That’s right, it is 1985 in Tampa – skywalks for everyone.

Is it really a chore to cross a two-lane road with a turn lane and a well marked crosswalk? (That two-lane road must be the cause for Channelside’s issues – not that it is poorly designed, cut off from the waterfront and cut off from the rest of Channelside and downtown by its own poor design.)  Lord knows the best way to “enliven this area” by removing the pedestrians from the streets – harming any spin-off growth.  Isn’t that the Tampa model? (for failure to generate spin off development see Old Hyde Park Village)  We would not want actual people walking around downtown because that might resemble a city.

“I think all of them recognized that right now the perception of the public is that it’s a nightlife only place,” Allman said. “What they were all looking to do … was try to get more of a mix of businesses down there so they can get families down there … so they can widen the variety of people that would come to Channelside.”

The Vinik group proposed doing that by changing the marketing and branding of Channelside, and the mix of tenants. They want to bring in tenants who would keep people coming to Channelside throughout the day, not just at night — more retail shops (one commissioner suggested they could bring in a grocery store) and a big draw such as a hotel.

* * *

To Allman, that idea showed that the Vinik group understands what must ultimately be done to improve Channelside: Not only do patrons need more reasons to go there — to eat and shop, to see a movie or spend the weekend — but it must also become easier to use to keep them coming back.

This is correct – as long as Channelside the complex is not viewed like a suburban strip store, in isolation from the subdivisions around it.

The reason Channelside has problems now is because it is cut off from the rest of the Channelside area.  It is very unlike that someone just wanders into to the Channelside complex. You have to make a conscious effort to go specifically there.  That limits its allure and market.

[Note: we were going to list some of the Port and City’s planning and design mistakes in the Channelside area that contribute to the issues at the Channelside complex, but the list got so long it broke up the entire flow of this blog.  Let it suffice to be said that there are many.]

The easiest way to make Channelside the complex a success is to make it part of the city by integrating with the surrounding roads and creating urban, walkable area beyond the complex (which the Port garage works very hard to impede), rather pulling all the pedestrians off the streets and creating an isolated shopping center.

One skywalk will not kill a project, but including it and, even more, the justification for it make us concerned that the entire orientation and goal of the project will be detrimental rather than beneficial (See Harbour Island Festival Marketplace – dead so long there really aren’t any useful links for it).

Since the plans for the rebuilding of Channelside are embryonic, there is still time to do it properly.  Hopefully, those involved will care enough to do so, so we are not back looking at how to fix Channelside again in five or ten years.

Cool Rays

Last week, we once again had to discuss whether Tampa Bay is cool and how, if you have to ask, you are not cool.  Then, serendipitously, the Rays showed us true cool.

From the Times – click on picture for article

Joe Maddon posed with hands on hips, face bursting from the powder blue jersey into a home run grin. The team manager was wearing the Tampa Bay Rays uniform from 1979! What a mind trip back to a time when …

Wait. The Rays didn’t exist in 1979. They were born in 1998, all Nintendo 64 and Frasier and Monica Lewinsky. They missed the Bad News Bears, the audacious Bill Buckner facial hair, the colors like warm condiments.

No matter. They just made it up.

Sweet.  And executed very well.  (Ok, they copied the Padres old uniforms a little.) A major league franchise willing to do this and pulling it off so well (even if they lost the game) is cool. (How can a Zimbear not be cool?)

The Times discussion of “cool” listed all the Tampa Bay sports franchises as reasons the area is cool.  Sports franchises are good, but are not made cool just by virtue of their existence.  They have to be cool, and the Rays show how to do it.

Kudos to the Rays.  (And while we are talking cool, kudos to American Classic bike wheels.)

All Those Small Things

Given the apparent disregard of the state government for the Tampa Bay area, we are happy (to some degree) with any small victory. This week, there were hints that FDOT might not toll all lanes of the Howard Franklin replacement, whenever they get around to building it:

The state is still trying to decide how to fund a replacement bridge in about a decade for the northbound span of the bridge, which carries motorists from Pinellas County to Hillsborough County, said Ananth Prasad.

Residents and local officials have worried that tolls would be unpopular and hurt local businesses. Prasad, though, said a new bridge likely would feature some, but not all, toll lanes.

Good, though there seems to be no problem funding roads in other parts of the state.  We can always dream that someone in Tallahassee will someday notice us.

However, the head of FDOT then said something we found funny:

“Dream big, don’t settle for little stuff,” Prasad told the TBARTA board.

We couldn’t agree more – depending on what you mean by big and little.  Here’s a peek of what he means:

Prasad said after the meeting he agreed with Scott’s decision last year not to accept $2.4 billion in federal high speed rail funding for Florida.

That’s a big dream. Of course, he agrees, he is a career bureaucrat. (see here and here. We note that he did work in the private sector for two years trying to get government contracts.)

Maybe dreaming big is paving the state while thinking small is fixing present needs:

Two developers who played a role in dismantling growth management laws in Florida are getting paid by the Department of Transportation to consult on what could be the largest state road project in history.

The project is Future Corridors, a series of at least four toll roads that would crisscross the state’s rural areas to spur economic growth, create jobs and birth another generation of suburban communities.

We have seen no indication that these roads would serve the needs of the Tampa Bay area – except maybe one that would go from south Hillsborough to the east coast – which makes some sense, given how hard it is to get to West Palm Beach. (How about making 301 from Jacksonville to Ocala a limited access toll road?)

Prasad and Buzzett disagree, saying that the corridors project is an attempt to anticipate where the growth will happen.

“We won’t build it without the population there,” Prasad said. “But we want to make sure that once the population is there, it won’t cost an arm and a leg to buy the land so we can put a road there.”

Fair enough. Planning ahead is good.  If FDOT had been planning ahead, maybe we would have a fixed Howard Franklin Bridge and 275 would already be widened in Tampa.  How about closing the freeway loop north of Tampa, planning light rail, and intercity rail?  Oh, sorry, we forgot that such things are ok everywhere but the Tampa Bay area. (See here, here, here)

Apparently for FDOT, getting Orlando or South Florida moving is a big thing but getting Tampa Bay moving is little stuff.

It that All, Cont.

In the latest chapter of the Septima/Setima sign fiasco,

After weeks of discussion about what to do with street signs along Ybor City’s main thoroughfare, the city has produced 13 new signs calling the roadway La Septima.

Just one problem: That’s not the wording decided on by the Tampa City Council.

The signs currently on the roadway say Seventh Avenue and La Sétima. The council agreed last week to create street signs sporting all three names: Seventh Avenue, La Sétima and La Séptima.

The new signs, which can be found at the city’s transportation department, don’t say La Sétima and are missing the accent in Séptima.

Of course, if the City Council was not wasting time putting secondary street names on signs, they would not have this problem.

The signs were made “in house,” so hopefully the City did not waste too much more money on this silliness.  One thing for sure, it is a good way to make sure the City Council is distracted and does not actually address important business.

And, not to worry, this latest twist surely will not make the City look more stupid.

Who Needs Airbus?

Just so you know, this week Airbus officially announced it is building a plant in Mobile, Alabama.  Airbus must have chosen Mobile because, unlike the Tampa Bay area, Mobile is a major port on the Gulf of Mexico.  Also, unlike the Tampa Bay area, there is a decent sized military presence in central Gulf Coast region.  Maybe it was the Alabama incentive program, which may be a little more efficient than the Florida one.

Did Tampa Bay even try to compete for this plant?  Maybe it did, but we heard nothing about it.  We don’t need the 1000 industrial jobs, anyway (or the 3500 construction jobs).

List of the Week I – Your State Apparently is Poor

This week’s first list is of the list of rich cities. You know what, there is a little database tool at the bottom of the linked page.  Rest assured, we saw no Florida cities in the top 20. (To be honest, it appears the first Florida city/area is Lake Butler at 189)  What else is there to know?

List of the Week II – Your State Apparently is Not Going to Stop Being Poor

Our second list of the week is Forbes’ Best Places for Business and Careers. As you may have seen in the Times article, Florida once again failed to crack the top 100 (Gainesville was 101).  Many of the usual suspects (Raleigh, Austin, Denver, Dallas) were in the top 10.

That is a sweet 2 for 2 in Florida failure this week.

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