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Roundup 8-3-2012

August 3, 2012

Regionalism, the RNC and the Rays

As the Republican National Convention comes careening down the road at us (or is it barricading all the roads for us?), there is much marketing going on, including a lot of the standard talk about regionalism we have heard for decades.

The opportunity here is enhanced because there are new elected and appointed officials in key posts who are not interested in fighting about political and geographic boundaries, said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

“Those days are over, as well they should be,” Buckhorn said. With new relationships “forged in the foxhole of preparing for the RNC … I think what will come out of this is a long-term relationship and long-term strategy and a vision driven by what is good for the Bay area.”

Maybe there will be a better long term relationship, but then again, maybe there won’t be – take, for instance, the Rays.

This week, after many threats from St. Pete’s Mayor and much gnashing of teeth, the Hillsborough County Commission decided that, yes, it could actually see what the Rays are thinking.

Hillsborough County commissioners voted 5-2 to invite representatives of the Tampa Bay Rays to talk to the commission about the team’s future and whether it will stay in the area.

* * *

Both Higginbotham and Beckner expressed concerns that the commission was risking its integrity by trying to undermine St. Petersburg and Pinellas County’s relationship with a sports franchise that those communities sacrificed to attract to the area.

But Hagan said the county had no choice but to try to move the issue forward or risk losing the Rays. A group of local business leaders called the ABC Coalition reported 2½ years ago that the Rays could not survive in Tropicana Field because of the lack of corporate support for that venue.

Since that time, Hagan said, St. Petersburg and Pinellas have refused to negotiate with the Rays about letting the team out of its lease for Tropicana Field.

“I respect St. Pete and Pinellas County leaders; many of them are my friends,” Hagan said. “But it’s been nearly three years, and they have been reluctant to do anything.”

Exactly.  St. Pete has done nothing. (The Times called it a “divided” county commission, which, we suppose is literally true, but 5-2 is not close.)  Not surprisingly, the Rays apparently will accept the invitation to talk.

One of the Commissioners who voted for the motion said:

“I think this discussion is going to get us very adversarial,” Commissioner Sandra Murman said. “How would we feel if Pinellas County commissioners came over here and started talking to the Bucs if we were having a problem with the Bucs?”

An excellent point.  If there were issues with the Bucs and Hillsborough County did absolutely nothing for years and showed no signs of doing anything, we would rather  Pinellas talk to them than another metropolitan area.  St. Pete’s Mayor has had, and still has, the opportunity to address the issue in an adult, responsible fashion.  He just hasn’t taken advantage of it.

That is the bottom line.  We do not really care if the Rays play in Pinellas or Hillsborough as long as the location is properly situated with the opportunity to have some urban development around it and it is convenient for the fans.  The fact of the matter is the Trop does not work and St. Pete has done nothing to address the issue.

Why?  The Mayor says to protect the taxpayers of St. Pete.

We suppose he wants to protect them just like he is also protecting them through: 1) St. Pete paying way above market price for land on which to build a police station they have not fully funded. (Are there no other lots in St. Pete?); 2) denying the St. Pete taxpayers a vote regarding replacing the Pier with the not fully funded ($50 million is only part of the actual project as proposed in the competition); and 3) his manifestly regressive fire fee proposal.

Like we said, we do not really care where the stadium is as long as it meets certain criteria.  We want the issue resolved.  The problem is that we have seen no reason to trust that St. Pete can resolve it and, frankly, little evidence that St. Pete’s Mayor even knows St. Pete is in the Tampa Bay area (other than when he demands others pay for St. Pete’s parties).

Tampa Bay losing the Rays would undo anything the RNC might have done regarding the Tampa Bay area’s image.

Speaking of Trust

Speaking of trust, Hillsborough County is starting a program to protect pedestrians.  This is a good thing because we all know the Tampa Bay area is not a good place for pedestrians.  Is the County going to build more sidewalks or stop allowing so much sprawl?  Well . . .

That’s why the Florida Department of Transportation, teaming up with local law enforcement, began a program Monday to raise awareness and enforcement of traffic laws. The four-week pilot phase began in Hillsborough County, which leads the state in traffic deaths.

But when education and awareness aren’t enough, there will be enforcement, officials said at a news conference Monday.

In coming weeks, officers will more heavily cite motorists and pedestrians they see violating right of way and traffic laws.

No.  Just bust people and take their money.  Will it work?

But this isn’t the first time the department has attempted to combat pedestrian deaths.

In 2009, transportation officials told the Times the state would “hopefully” be off the list within the year due to multimillion-dollar initiatives that added street lighting on U.S. 19 in Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties, and made hundreds of intersections in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties more pedestrian-friendly.

Three years later, Tampa Bay still leads the list.

No.  Because the problem is in the way the county is built and the lack of proper transit, which makes the vast majority of the county unwalkable.  As long as that is not changed, the problem will persist.  The County needs to stop supporting spraw and then acting surprised by the easily predictable problems that arise from it.

They may be right about the Rays, but it would be nice if Hillsborough County was not so very wrong (for so long) about how the county’s built environment.

Ok, but not Excellent

There was an article in the Tribune reporting that there will be a new branch library near the Encore development neighborhood downtown. Good.  Hillsborough County needs more libraries – and really a new, modern main library.  While the article did not have full renderings, the rendering it did have was this.

From the Tampa Tribune – click on picture for article

From this rendering, it looks ok (especially for 1975), but it makes us wonder.  Encore is supposed to be an urban neighborhood in Florida.  Why are there no awnings around the whole (or most of the) building?  What is with the blank walls?  How is that inviting to pedestrians?  How does that protect pedestrians from the sun and rain (except in a small section)?

We know the architecture firm listed in the rendering is local – surely they know the weather.  This is not an ex-urban library with a massive parking lot.  This is downtown.

Once again – ok (barely), but not excellent.  Why? (Does an awning really cost that much?)

Bad News at TIA

While the news at TIA has been mostly good regarding flights (and rumors are there is more good news coming), PEMCO, the company that does maintenance work at TIA announced layoffs this week.

The bay area is about to get hit with one of the single-largest layoffs in the state this year: PEMCO World Air Services is planning to fire 474 workers at its aircraft maintenance complex at Tampa International Airport.

PEMCO is the largest airplane maintenance and repair company headquartered at Tampa International. But the company said it has no choice but to start gutting its local workforce within a matter of days after losing a major contract with United Airlines, according to a letter PEMCO sent to local and state officials on Thursday.

This is unfortunate.  Any loss of jobs is bad, and we would like the bit of diversity the aircraft maintenance business brings to the area.  Hopefully, PEMCO will find another source for the same kind of work.

Anyone for Airbus?

We mentioned previously that Airbus has decided to put an assembly plant in Mobile and wondered why we heard nothing about the Tampa Bay area competing for the project.  Well, about an hour and a little bit away from Mobile is Pensacola and:

Pensacolaexpects to announce a deal with an aerospace company that will bring more than 300 jobs to the region, linked to the $600 million Airbus plant being built in Mobile, Ala.

In other words, if the airbus plant were in Tampa, those jobs would also likely be in the Tampa Bay area.  Do you think we could have used them?

Makes you wonder.

Port – Buying Land

The Port announced that it was picking up some land.

The Tampa Port Authority purchased 110 acres alongside Port Redwing for $8.9 million on Thursday, setting the stage for expansion at the port’s southernmost facility near Gibsonton.

“Land is one of our strengths as a port … as we are able to grow in size as well as in our diverse portfolio,” said Port Director and CEO Richard Wainio in a prepared statement.

The land was purchased from South Bay Corp. and Industrial Park, Inc., the authority said. Adding land is part of the Port of Tampa’s long-range plan.

The acquisition will allow the port to “develop the land for cargo terminals and distribution, as well as cargo generating industrial manufacturing activities,” according to the authority. The Port Authority hopes the expansion will help attract new business.

That is all well and good (unless the Port was paying St. Pete-style increases over the market price), but land is a strength only if it is used productively. The purchase may allow the Port to do something but whether it actually does anything remains to be seen.

The real question is what is the land going to be used for?  Is it going to be for container traffic with high value trade?  Is it going to be used for manufacturing of high value products to export from the Port?  Or something else?

Since we do not know what is going there (though we doubt it will be an Airbus or turbine plant), we can’t get too excited, even though we think it is good to bank some land for the future.

Insecurity Watch

With the RNC coming up quickly, the papers have been running articles about this and that related topic.  The Times ran an article which profiled a prominent Republican activist in the context of getting the convention. It is an interesting article, though we wish it would have pointed out that the Tampa Bay area has insecurity issues, not just Tampa.

Most interesting were the comments about what the RNC means for the area:

What will this mean?

“We will be more than ever before recognized as an emerging American city,” Buckhorn said.

Emerging?  This is the longest emergence in US history.

(Of course, in one sense, the Mayor is right – Tampa is not urban in any way.  Nor is it likely to become so in the near future without changing the code and the mentality.)

“It will forever change people’s perception of the Tampa Bay area,” Tampa Bay & Company president Kelly Miller said.

And after they leave, said Greco, especially business executives, they’re going to come back, opting to move their businesses here — something that was said, too, before Tampa’s first Super Bowl, 28 years ago. Tampa has grown since then — if it hadn’t, it wouldn’t have qualified for the convention — but city leaders still yearn for that one transformative event.

“This,” Austin said recently in the seventh-floor office in the tan-brick building that bears his name, “is going to be the eye-opener for the world.”

As the article itself points out, Tampa was getting all sorts of great press in the 1980’s.  Why is it that only now the world’s eyes will be opened?  What did those leaders fail to do?

To be honest, it should not forever change anything because the Tampa Bay area should already be on the map, and should already be well known.  It should be just another event among many – like it would be in Miami, Dallas, Atlanta, Orlando or Boston.  The fact that it isn’t is most telling.

Is That All – Cont

There was an apparent settlement in a case going a few years back that just emphasizes how the City Council can waste money.

A past City Council decision to deny plans for a Bayshore Boulevard condominium tower could cost Tampa taxpayers $3.75 million.

Council members are scheduled on Thursday to consider whether to pay that amount to settle the city’s eight-year legal battle with Citivest Construction Corp. None of the current council members was on the board when the decision that led to the lawsuit was made.

Citivest proposed to construct a 24-story condominium building on Bayshore Boulevard at DeSoto Avenue in 2003, scaling back an earlier plan for a 31-story tower.

Neighbors were appalled, saying the high-rise would be out of scale with the Hyde Park Historic District. The city’s Architectural Review Commission agreed that it would be too tall. Under pressure from the neighborhood, the council upheld that decision in 2004.

Citivest claimed the denial was unlawful, and a judge agreed. That ruling was upheld on appeal.

The City Council and Architectural Review Commission later approved a further revised plan for a 19-story tower, which so far has not been built.

So, basically, Tampa is paying $750,000 per floor reduced.  What is the gain?  If the building is eventually built to 19 floors will it “fit the neighborhood” and will there be no shadow?

A fine use of the taxpayer’s money.

List of the Week – sort of

We really don’t have a list this week, if we pass on Tampa leading the nation in fraudulent income tax refunds.  Instead, we thought this bit from an article about RNC preparations was relevant to the list of the week’s regular readers:

 The coalition is also pitching stories about the bay area to national and international media, including the Washington Post and the magazines Southern Living and Travel + Leisure and will do the same for visiting media here. They’re also planning a national media tour for Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn to tout the area.

Yea, good luck with Travel & Leisure.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Bud Wills permalink
    August 3, 2012 11:51 AM

    Mayor Foster’s intransigence regarding the Rays is short-sighted. Doesn’t he realize how much St. Pete and Pinellas benefit in the form of hotel nights from things Tampa-Hillsborough pays for, such as the RNC, events at Raymond James, etc.? If the bonds can be paid off in the event the Rays move to Hillsborough, St. Pete will generally be made whole and will continue to benefit from the region still having the Rays.

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