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Roundup 8-17-2012

August 17, 2012

Epicurean

We have heard (though we were not at the meeting so we cannot confirm) that the City Council in Tampa is working hard to de-urbanize the plans for the Epicurean Hotel on Howard. Apparently, some of the people who live nearby – as there are no real neighbors to the hotel because it backs up to its own parking garage and railroad tracks – are complaining that they may have a four-story hotel with street shopping nearby.  (Oh, the horror).

It is odd how Tampa talks urban talk but so often fails to walk urban walk.  Where is the DNA change?

If you care, send an email to the City Council and tell them to stop harming Tampa’s urban development, this is their email: tampacitycouncil@tampagov.net

Is that All – Maybe It Is Something

Usually, when we write about the Tampa City Council, it is about the less than important issues they are addressing – like the Cuban sandwich.  This week, they actually addressed some real issues. They

On the first issue, we applaud the move as a step in the right direction, but without allowing (and requiring) properly designed, urban development, it will not really accomplish much.  Change the code.

On the second issue, as we noted last week (“Tampa Heights – Second Thoughts”), if the City is just going to cancel the contracts and then approve suburban development in Tampa Heights, that is not much of an accomplishment.  If they push to find (and wait until they can) real urban development in Tampa Heights, it is a positive move.

Down at the Station(s)

Tampa is considering replacing the police station.

The Tampa Police Department could get a new headquarters building in the next few years if Mayor Bob Buckhorn presses ahead with plans outlined in his new 2013 budget.

The budget comes with the five years of proposed construction projects, a list that includes $44 million in 2015 to renovate and possibly reconstruct the city’s existing police office at Franklin and Madison streets.

Until then, Buckhorn has set aside $1 million next year and in 2014 to replace the building’s windows — its signature blue metal paneling — in hopes of improving day-to-day life inside the building.

* * *

But unlike previous years, it’s made up entirely of cash on hand — taxes levied on utilities and gasoline, transportation impact fees and the Community Investment Tax.

The city won’t borrow to fund any of the work planned in 2013.

First, we are happy the City does not want to borrow money for its projects.  That is wise, proper governing.

As for the police station, while we do not remember prior discussion of the issue, if it needs to be renovated or replaced, the City should get on it.  If it is necessary, it is wise to plan ahead and save money for a few years – a real question is where a new station would be built and what would happen to the old one.

We also read this that the headquarters is getting a minor makeover for the RNC and beyond with the help of the community, which is excellent. We are very glad those citizens reached out to help and donate their time and money.  They should be commended.

One thing did catch our eye.  We are not sure if it was a misquote, confusion in the story or confusion by the quoted spokesperson (tellingly, it was not included in the video report accompanying the article), but, whatever the quotes’s provenance, we thought it might be helpful to simply clarify some of the police station lot’s history.  First, the quote:

Laura McElroy is a spokesperson for the police department and says, “The building was originally the Sun Bank built in 1938. TPD moved into this building in Dec. 1997. Most of it was never updated. The carpet, chairs, and curtains in the conference room are at least 110 years old.”

The County Courthouse – built in 1892, torn down in the 1953, and made the county logo decades later because it was attractive enough to make a logo but not attractive enough to renovate and save as a building – was on the site. The present building, which was the Sun Bank Building, was built in the 60’s.  The parking garage was added in the 90’s when the City bought and renovated the building for $7.4 million. (note 4 on page 2)

Speaking of stations, we also read that the City is putting some money to maintaining Union Station.

Union Station, a 100-year-old train station north of downtown, is once again slated for millions of dollars in improvements.

According to the recently released city budget, Tampa projects to provide $5.2 million by 2015 for improvements to the building at 601 N. Nebraska Ave.

The train station has “severe moisture intrusion problems” and the city plans to improve heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, the budget states.

The city also plans to renovate and replace “wood windows, terracotta, brick and precast structures. Extensive interior ceiling and wall repairs, interior/exterior painting and roof replacement are needed.”

The two-story, Italian Renaissance revival-style building opened May 15, 1912. The station brought citrus, tobacco and Northern speculators to Tampa.

This also makes us happy.  The recent opening of the Floridan Hotel, planned renovation of the Old Federal Courthouse, and what we hope will become the full renovation of the Kress block indicate that historic structures in this area can be saved and put to good use – enhancing downtown and the area.  Too bad the Maas Brothers block was allowed to be neglected and demolished – it would have greatly enhanced Franklin Street (and Zack) rather than just being a parking lot. (what it looked like in its heyday

From tampapix.com – click on picture for website

and before the demolition here.

It is also unfortunate that Union Station does not have more rail service and is not better connected to downtown – but maybe that will come someday. (Of course, it was not featured in the plans for high speed rail into Tampa either, so we are not sure what the vision for the station is.)

Here’s How Others Do Things

Speaking of courthouses, we ran across this article about the approval of a new 20-story Broward County Courthouse in Ft. Lauderdale.

It is going to look something like this:

From exmiami.org – click on picture for website

From exmiami.org – click on picture for website

 

By contrast – Hillsborough County’s courthouse looks like this – a nondescipt building in a sea of low and mid rise buildings with almost completely dead streetscapes.

Even More Regionalism?

One of the regular columnists for the Times wrote a piece about the proposed Family Dollar in Seminole Heights.  First, we want to point out that we agree with the general thrust of the column – that the Family Dollar does not really fit with what is going on in the neighborhood.  There was one portion of the article which we found problematic (we’ll put the context):

At its best, Seminole Heights is historic bungalows with generous porches lovingly restored on oak-shaded streets, some as sweet as any in swankier Hyde Park.

At worst, it’s ugly thoroughfares with old car lots behind rusty security fences.

For urban pioneers, it’s about beating back what gives city living a bad name — the crime and the blight — and preserving the best of it. It’s knowing your neighbors even if you don’t live out in far-flung suburbs behind a gate and a guard shack where the houses come in varying shades of beige.

Our issue is with that last sentence and its gratuitous barb at people not involved with Family Dollar or inherently opposed to Seminole Heights’ redevelopment. (Hey, if you don’t want to live in Cheval or Avila, then don’t – but what does that have to do with a Family Dollar in Seminole Heights?).  People in the suburbs (which is to say the vast majority of people in Hillsborough County – and, to be honest, a large part of Tampa itself) – most of which are not behind gates or painted the various shades on beige any more than “med-revival” revival houses south of Kennedy – are already suspicious of “the City” and its alleged, collective disregard for people in the county (one of the reasons the transportation referendum in 2010 failed).  The article would have been fine without the cited sentence, and such comments just help reinforce those suspicions.

Pedestrian Safety Dreams

We mentioned a few weeks ago that Hillsborough County was planning of spending millions to improve pedestrian safety.  This week there was some elaboration.

Hillsborough County, ranked among the worst places nationwide in the number of people killed walking and bicycling, has focused until now on educating people to move about more safely.

Now, with $8.5 million in county money on the table, government agencies are at work designing and building safety features to hit the problem head on.

The work will include “refuge islands” to provide pedestrians safe havens as they cross busy highways, as well as miles of new bike lanes and sidewalks and better lighting over roads.

County planners are targeting the 10 most dangerous stretches of road in unincorporated Hillsborough, outside the city limits of Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City. The work begins with Fletcher Avenue from Nebraska Avenue to Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, where construction could start later this year.

The project is driven by statistics like this: Hillsborough has double the national average of fatal crashes involving pedestrians and bicyclists. About 200 people have been killed in collisions with vehicles between 2006 and 2011.

Hillsborough County commissioners tentatively approved the $8.5 million allocation during a recent budget workshop.

We think spending money on sidewalks and other features is a positive thing, but, once again, we have no illusion that it is the solution.  The real problem is that Hillsborough County is so poorly planned that people are so focused on driving where they need to go while stuck on overburdened, arterial roads on which they are forced to drive by traffic planners.  People do not expect to see pedestrians, let alone to have to avoid them.

If the County really wants to reduce pedestrian accidents, it should encourage building pedestrian friendly and logical development rather than attempting to paper over the sprawl with sidewalks running aimlessly around giant parking lots and drainage ditches the County seems to favor. (See here, here, and here)

Pedestrian Safety Dreams II

One thing Hillsborough has done is create the Upper Tampa Bay trail. Unfortunately, as you can see from the map in the link, the Trail does not cover much of Hillsborough County.  In fact, it does not extend to at least half of Northwest Hillsborough County – namely the Carrollwood/Northdale area.  This week the County said it was working on extending the trail – unfortunately, they are extending the trail nowhere near the large population they already ignored.  Trails are nice, but they would be nicer if they were where most of the people could get on them.

List of the Week

Our list of the week this week is Forbes’ list of Coolest American Cities. The methodology can be found here.

The winner is Houston followed by Washington, DC.  The twenty city list has a number of Texas cities, the usual big northern cities, and cities like Denver, Minneapolis, and Seattle. (Minneapolis being not much larger in population than the Tampa Bay area – no larger if Sarasota and Manatee Counties and Lakeland are included.  Denver is smaller.) Oakland  made the list.

No Florida cities made the list. In an answer to the recent Times column, it seems the Tampa Bay area is not cool enough.

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