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Roundup 8-31-2012

August 31, 2012

RNC – What Did Others Learn

The RNC went along rather well, closing last night.  The much feared chaos caused by protesters failed to materialize.  While we were not particularly concerned that there would be many issues (this is not an activist laden area – and those from up north probably melted), we were pleased to see numerous reports about the police interacting in a very friendly way with protesters. (“I give them the most props of any police agency we’ve seen,” said 28-year-old Brendan Hunt of Occupy Wall Street.”) Good for the Police.

As for the rest of the area, as we noted before, there was little coverage of the Tampa Bay area as such.  Here is a sampling of coverage that did address the area:

  • Death Metal – bet you didn’t know Tampa was a mecca of death metal. Well, you should have.  Where are the economic development folks to push our music scene? (Chicago Tribune/Reuters)
  • Homelessness (Tampa has the nation’s highest rate) [CBS]
  • And, of course, strippers (here and here).  [The irony that the present Mayor has to deal with all the stripper articles when he was the one pushing the restrictive ordinance as a city council member is not lost on us. here and here]
  • And the Daily Show wrapped it into one big package.

Summing up all we have seen, we are sure delegates enjoyed themselves.  We are all for hosting these kind of events, but we have no illusions that they bring any sort of boom.  They help some people in the hospitality industry and raise the profile of politicians.  Everyone else in the area is barely touched. (Frankly, Gasparilla has more effect on locals.  At least they can go to that.) What will create a boom is investment in our area, proper planning, and good economic development – not dog and pony shows by economic development folks, no matter how prominent.

What Have We Learned – HART and Privatization

A few months back, the Tea Party member of the HART board proposed privatizing some of HART’s duties:

Our growing region will continue to have transportation issues that will not be solved by simply raising taxes and growing duplicative government agencies like TBARTA — but instead should be sought in the private sector that is the true economic engine of prosperity.

We are not ideologically opposed to privatization, but we are not dogmatically in favor of it either.  We think each situation needs to be examined on its merits, needs to make sense, and needs to be demonstrably effective in reducing costs and increasing service.

The RNC gave us a chance to examine how private transit might work in the Tampa Bay area.  Because the Tampa Bay area has such weak transit options and because the RNC organizers had years to plan for its private buses spanning a number of counties, it should really show us something.  How did they do?

The delegates were supposed to ride buses from the event zone to Raymond James Stadium, where another fleet would whisk them to hotels.

But it didn’t work out that way. One problem after another arose, and by the time many delegates returned to their rooms, it was well after 3 a.m.

The late-night delays were the latest in a series of mishaps that have raised questions about the Republican National Committee’s plan to move delegates. The problems also underscored the exceptional challenges of moving people around a sprawling metropolitan Tampa Bay area.

That does not sound too good.  In fact, the locals bailed on the plan:

The Republican Party of Florida, hoping to avoid similar problems the remainder of the convention, on Wednesday hired a bus company, Mears Transportation, not affiliated with the RNC’s official transportation manager.

“Today we’ve taken it upon ourselves to increase the availability of our six Florida party buses and will now have them available to take our delegates to and from downtown Tampa for the convention,” state GOP press secretary Kristen McDonald said in an email.

Then:

Update: Delegates arriving late Wednesday and early Thursday at the bus hub set up at Raymond James Stadium encountered a new regimen meant to iron out the delays and confusion of the night before.

Hopefully, that fixed the issue so that we do not get more of a black eye.  Suffice it to say now we are even more dubious of the HART board member’s claims.

We cannot control the weather, the parties or the speakers, but we could work on transportation.  It is amazing, though sadly not surprising given our normal infrastructure planning, that with so much time to prepare and with so much allegedly on the line, transportation was a mess.  That is just not acceptable, especially in contrast to the outstanding performance by law enforcement – which was not privatized.

What Have We Learned – Don’t Believe the Hype

Before the RNC there was a lot of hype about how the event would bring much business to the Tampa Bay area. (In fact, there was hype during the RNC).  We are sure that some hotels, bus companies, and some others made a good amount of money and the politicians shook a lot of hands and got face time on news networks.  However, we suspect that most people in the area – if they noticed anything at all – were simply inconvenienced by the traffic, the fences, and the inability to use public parks because someone else had commandeered them.

Moreover, unfortunately, the wealth was not spread, especially in downtown Tampa:

“All our regular customers have been scared away,” he said. “There’s no one downtown.”

Many owners complained that people stayed away because they didn’t want to deal with the traffic or parking. The city blocked streets throughout downtown and eliminated parking meters on some of the main thoroughfares.

Or

In a word, the RNC convention has been “devastating” to some downtown restaurants.

That’s how Pizza Fusion officials summed up their disappointment with business during the week when 50,000-plus delegates, visitors and media were supposed to drown the area in spending. If those 50,000 people are around, they’re not in restaurants just a few blocks from the convention.

“We’re reaching out to our loyal locals,” the restaurant said to its followers on Facebook. “The presence of the RNC is devastating downtown Tampa restaurants. As a whole, we are seeing sales significantly below average.”

And they did not use the water taxi.

And how about this support for the small businessperson:

Virginia Houser is going to have plenty of vacation time, although it will be someplace other than Tampa, since the police have told her she must close her floral shop for security reasons.

“That’s it, 10 days of losing money,” said Houser, owner/designer of Downtown’s Florist, located next door to Tropical Smoothie Cafe, at 200 N. Tampa St.

“I’m paying full rent and losing money,” she added.

(We hope someone is reimbursing her).

Downtown looked good in the broad skyline shots (which are about the only shots of downtown we saw) but it did not look bustling, unless you count the police (here, here , here. Like we said, we thought the police did a good job – especially on a personal level – but even the delegates said the amount of security was a bit much).

Organizers of the Republic National Convention, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, initially urged the estimated 50,000 downtown Tampa workers to come to work this week. The idea was to showcase a vibrant downtown to tens of thousands of RNC visitors, protesters and media.

But the look and feel of downtown were much different. The usual hustle and bustle of the office crowd replaced with barricaded streets, miles of fencing, an assortment of state troopers, police on bikes and other security forces on nearly ever corner.

Of course, none of this should have been a surprise because the risk was widely reported locally. Here, here, here, here

Planners and political leaders should have done more to deal with this contingency.  What was done to address this known problem?  Apparently, nothing. (At least, we are not told what)

At the GOP convention in 2008, these sorts of intense security measures surprised some people in St. Paul, Minn., who said it hurt business.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn does not expect the same shock.

Why not?  Who knows?  We are not told.

What We Learned – a Final Thought

So, let’s be honest – the RNC went off fine.  It was a good show.  And nothing has changed.

Our transportation is the same; our economy is the same; our decision makers are the same; our problems are the same; and our strengths are the same.  Just like the Super Bowls come and go, the RNC came and went.  At least select parts of South Tampa got some updated landscaping.

Now back to real life, real problems, and real decisions.

And change the code.

Tampa – the Same DNA

Speaking of business as usual, there are some stirrings in NoHo.

If you Google “NoHo,” you soon see it means North Hollywood (as in California), but in Tampa “NoHo” is a play on “SoHo,” the area of South Tampa named after the red light district in central London (Tampa just can’t seem to escape the strippers), and “NoHo” is short for “North Howard.”  But we digress.

This week it was reported:

Atlanta-based Pollack Shores Real Estate Group has purchased the NoHo Flats development site for $4,888,817 from Tampa-based Hyde Park Realty Group LLC.

“What is that?” you ask.  Well, going back to an article from May we learn:

Now, Pollack Shores Real Estate Group is proposing to build 311 apartments on the remaining vacant land bounded by Carmen and Fig streets and Rome and Oregon avenues. No retail development is planned.

The Tampa City Council recently gave initial approval to the project. Council members Frank Reddick and Mary Mulhern cast the only dissenting votes; they objected to a plan to close part of Gray Street to accommodate the apartments.

If approved on a final vote June 7, construction on NoHo Flats will begin in August, with some apartments ready for tenants in summer 2013.

Great.  That area could use some redevelopment, especially since:

In the next year, the city plans to unveil a vision to transform West Tampa into an urban landscape populated with upscale housing and shops. The guide will be a set of recommendations presented by the Washington-based Urban Land Institute.

The institute’s planners say the city should embrace the river as a catalyst for redevelopment, and to knit together neighborhoods on both sides of the river. A farmers market, art shows and concerts conceivably would bring people to the area, the planners say.

“Having more housing close to downtown will be a great thing,” Everett said. “I think we will fit very well into the recommendations being made for that area.”

There is only one problem:

The apartment complex would have seven three-story buildings, a linear park and a streetscape with streetlights, sidewalks, trees, benches and landscaping. There will be a parking lot, though some apartments will have individual garages. More than 90 on-street parking slots will be built for use by the public and tenants’ guests.

* * *

“Gray Street has been a major freeway for them,” said Royal, who owns a nearby sandwich shop. Closing the street, he said will “make it difficult for elderly to commute back and forth.”

Mulhern had misgivings about closing the street. “I think the (street) grid is really an important part of urban design,” she said. “To close down a public street in a whole block, I would think it needs to be a last resort.”

Without the closure, Everett said the project cannot be done.

It allows for consolidating parcels on opposite sides of Gray. And the cost of an enclosed garage, similar to one built with Vintage Lofts, is too expensive for the current down-sized economy.

In other words, this project is not urban and it has no shops. (So much for the ULI and changing DNA.) It is a suburban apartment complex with some urban veneer.  Once that surface parking lot goes in, it will be decades, if ever, before it disappears.  Once the grid is disturbed, it likely will not come back in your lifetime.  However, the developer tossed out the usual warning – to which the City, to its discredit, usually caves:

“It will be a long time before you see development in this area if you don’t allow surface parking,” he said.

We can wait. It should be developed properly, but it appears that the City does not care.

List of the Week I

Our first list of the week is “Education, Job Openings and Unemployment in Metropolitan America, 2012” by the Brookings Institution.

Tampa Bay came in a dismal 88th out of the 100 largest metro areas for matching education levels with the education requirements for current job openings. Lakeland-Winter Haven was last.

* * *

Its research showed that overall, job openings require more education than the average worker possesses. Across all metro areas, 43 percent of job openings typically require at least a bachelor’s degree, but just 32 percent of adults have earned one.

In the Tampa Bay area, nearly 42 percent of job openings posted in January and February called for a bachelor’s degree or higher. Only about 26 percent of adults in this region have at least a bachelor’s degree. The number drops to 17.7 percent among the unemployed.

Tampa Bay has long recognized an educational gap between job supply and demand. The issue prompted the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. earlier this year to launch a “tech skills gap project.”

Maybe the surveys about attracting and retaining young talent are right, and our lack of the urbanness that draws them is harming us.

The timing of the Brookings report might make Tampa Bay’s economic development leaders cringe. They’ve gone to great lengths to showcase the strength of the area’s workforce to a host of visiting CEOs and other dignitaries in Tampa this week for the Republican National Convention. The Tampa Bay Partnership is highlighting positive attributes in a live, hosted Internet show airing throughout convention week, called Front Row Tampa Bay.

What should make them cringe more is the reality that for all the websites, internet shows, surveys, and brochures, we are not competitive.  Sure, it is good that there are jobs out there, but we need people to fill them or the businesses will move to where the talent is – like so many tech companies do.

List of the Week II

Our second list of the week is Parenting.com’s Top 10 Most Dangerous Cities in America. Wilmington, Delware (bizarrely) was the most dangerous.  St. Pete was the fourth most dangerous.  Ft. Lauderdale was number 8 and Orlando number 3. Tampa did not make the top ten.

Here is their list for the safest cities.

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