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Roundup 9-7-2012

September 7, 2012

Charlotte v. Tampa

A week after the RNC in Tampa, this week saw the Democratic convention in Charlotte, which allowed a number of comparisons of the two cities.  One that we found was very scathing:

I find I am seeing and talking to more people in an hour in Charlotte — including a friend arrived all the way from Kurdistan! — than in a day in Tampa. Yet the difference seems based as much on the cities as on the parties: despite the far-flung accommodations here in Charlotte (I’m in South Carolina, which seems bad, but the Washington Examiner people were assigned a hotel in what ought to be called West Carolina), the city itself is surprisingly well suited to conventioneering, despite its small size. From the arena in which the speeches are set to the media workspaces in the convention center is an easy walk along real city streets. In Tampa, the equivalent trip took you through an Eraserhead dystopia of underpasses and asphalt plains.

Ouch.

The Times got the views of the Mayor of Tampa, who was at the Democratic convention:

While acknowledging that the atmosphere surrounding the Democratic National Convention has a friendlier vibe than the one last week at the Republican National Convention, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn defended the fortress-like security plan he helped devise.

“Given a choice between being happy or being efficient and safe, I’ll take efficient and safe,” Buckhorn said Wednesday. “Because I can guarantee you that if we had had problems, if there had been serious chaos in the streets, then that would have been far more damaging to us as a community.”

As a DNC delegate, Buckhorn arrived in North Carolina Tuesday to see first hand how Charlotte is hosting the Democrats. He quickly agreed with what seems to be a consensus from people who attended both conventions:

Charlotte’s streets are busy and crowded, and Tampa’s were mostly barren. http://www.tampabay.com/news/localgovernment/article1249937.ece

Some of that stemmed from Tampa’s obsession with security.  (If Charlotte had less security, the difference cannot be blamed on the Secret Service or Homeland Security.) However, there were other reasons:

Security aside, Buckhorn said Charlotte has advantages Tampa did not.

Charlotte has more restaurants and shops closer to the security perimeter, while Tampa had a moonscape of empty parking lots.

Light rail helps shuttle passengers back and forth in Charlotte, while most delegates in Tampa were stuck on buses and saw as much of downtown as their windows allowed. And there is still no obvious retail corridor like the one in Charlotte.

“I’m stuck with a development pattern from 30 years ago,” Buckhorn said. “I’m stuck with the hand I’ve been dealt. Different cities, different personalities, different dynamics.”

That is true.  However, we feel compelled to point out that the Mayor was not dealt that hand exclusively by others.  As the City’s website tells us:

Previously, Buckhorn was the Director of Governmental Affairs for the Builders Association of Greater Tampa and in 1987 became the Special Assistant to Mayor Freedman. In 1995, Buckhorn was elected Tampa City Council and was the Chairman of the Public Safety Committee, a member of the Municipal Planning Organization, and the Chairman of the Hillsborough River Interlocal Planning Board. In 1999, he was reelected to the Tampa City Council for a second term with 75% of the vote.

In 2003, Buckhorn joined the Dewey Square Group, a nationally known public affairs company, and was principal in the Florida office. In March 2007, he opened Buckhorn Partners, a public affairs firm based in Tampa.

In other words, for the majority of the last 30 years, the Mayor has been a player in development, planning, and governing in Hillsborough County.  To some degree, he dealt himself that hand.

We are willing to admit that in the 1980’s Tampa followed a common development pattern.  However, while other cities realized they needed to pursue new ways, Tampa stayed a 1980’s hold out to our detriment.  We hope the Mayor learned from his involvement and his and others’ mistakes, and we are willing to support him in making changes.

However, the record is the record.  The Mayor, and a lot of others who are still making decisions or serving on advisory committees, were involved in making that record.  History is in the past and does not determine our future, but we should not ignore our history lest we be condemned to repeat it.

It is ok to have made a mistake, if one realizes it and make corrections.  (The problem is if one denies one’s error and persist in the mistake.)

And all this begs the question of why no one has changed the code yet.

Post RNC Economic Development – Same Old?

Another thing we noticed from local reporting on economic development opportunities in the aftermath of the RNC is that they focused really on tourism. See here, here, and here.

Look, we are all for developing tourism and conventions.  But if that was all the RNC was about, that is not a coming out – that is status quo.  That will not develop our economy.  That will not lift our area, and that is not a change in DNA.

Port – Reality Check

Speaking of rewriting history, we were not going to talk about the outgoing Port Director anymore, because he is leaving.  However, the Business Journal ran an article this week that we believe requires comment because misperceptions about the past and present might influence the crucial selection process of a new director.

Richard Wainio remembers visiting the Port of Tampa nearly eight years ago.

Then, as a finalist for the job of director of the Tampa Port Authority, Wainio said the city’s waterfront had a “third-world” look of crumbling docks and rusting warehouses.

“It was terrible. It was physically a mess,” Wainio said during an Aug. 27 interview with the Tampa Bay Business Journal. “The port board was in disarray. You had people flipping property to builders for condos on the waterfront. The place was in a state of confusion.”

As he leaves the job Sept. 7, Wainio pointed to many improvements at Florida’s largest port:

• A 40-acre container terminal expandable to 160 acres.

• A new intermodal railroad link nearly ready to open.

•A petroleum terminal modernization under way.

• More cruise ship service served by a new parking garage.

• New businesses attracted to the waterfront and others in the pipeline. 

We find this third-world comment oddly inaccurate.  The Port Director arrived eight years ago (2004)  Cruise Terminal 2, next to Channelside (which was built around the same time) broke ground in 1994 and was completed in 1998. Cruise Terminal 3, which is on the north side of the Aquarium, which was already there, was completed in 2002. The lack of third world moonscapes is made clear by page 5 of the Port Authority’s 2004 annual report and check the picture page 6 of the pdf of the 2003 annual report. So, what is he talking about?  We don’t know.

Moreover, the new parking garage (actually an addition to the preexisting garage) is completely out of place and cuts of the Channelside residential area from Channelside the complex.  As the outgoing Director points out:

He said the port should move forward with state and Pinellas County officials to build a new deep water cruise ship terminal outside the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

“There’s about five to six years to get that in place or the market will change and Tampa will become a niche player,” he said.

In other words, the garage was a questionable investment because, according to the outgoing Director, the entire cruise complex is going to be out of date in a few years.

Additionally:

“Contrary to comments made repeatedly over the years by a few folks in our community, total port tonnage — driven mainly by a few bulk cargoes from private terminals — is not the best measure of TPA operating performance,” Wainio told the board during an Aug. 24 budget workshop.

“Value added cargo-processed materials, manufactured goods, consumer goods, which weigh far less, are much more important to the region and the port in terms of economic value, return on investment and job creation.”

In fact, we agree.  We also agree that the outgoing Director did work to expand container cargo – but not enough.  Miami, Jacksonville, and Port Everglades beat us in containers.

Failure to adequately develop the container market as evidenced by our being far behind in container tonnage and value, which we have discussed previously, and failure to prepare for the Panama Canal expansion are problems that need to be addressed.  Loss of other cargo tonnage is also an issue.  The cruise issue is a major problem that, though known for years, has not been addressed.  Furthermore, the Port should work with the region to develop industrial capacity, including on port land. (If it is good enough for shopping centers downtown, it is good enough for industry elsewhere.)

Enough with rewriting history. The reality is that the Port is underperforming as an economic engine.  It needs a completely fresh start – just like we had at TIA.

Built Environment – Some Basics

We comment quite a bit about the built environment in the Tampa Bay area and how it lacks urban developments.  In every city, there are mistakes. Take this McDonald’s on the west side of Manhattan:

From Flikr account of John de Guzman – click on picture for account

For the neighborhood see here.

It is clearly a mistake. However, in Mahattan there is a developed urban fabric that can overcome those mistakes and no one would say that Manhattan is not urban.

On the other hand, in the Tampa Bay area, there have been so many mistakes over such a long period of time that the cumulative effect of those mistakes is huge and one has trouble finding somewhere that is really urban.  In fact, the McDonald’s in the picture is actually 2-stories, which would stick out for being MORE urban than most development in the Tampa Bay area – even on major roads.

Every time we settle for substandard or OK – usually with the excuse that the market cannot support anything better – we compound the problem.  It has to end – that would be a true change of DNA.

A Dose of Truth

The Tribune ran a fine editorial this past week. We think you should read it.  Key takeaway:

In recent years the GOP’s justified attacks on ever-increasing Washington largess frequently lapsed into a blind opposition to all government spending, without regard for the merits of the expense or whether the spending is conducted by local government, which is directly accountable to local voters.

Washington is in need of spending rehab, but the country would be ill-served to stop dredging channels, building roads and bridges, and maintaining the nation’s infrastructure.

* * *

It does not weaken the GOP’s arguments for fiscal austerity or its recognition that the private sector, not Washington, is responsible for the nation’s economic success to acknowledge that carefully targeted government support can benefit commerce.

List of the Week

Our list this week is of Top Cities for Salary Increases. The winners are San Jose, Seattle and the rest of the San Francisco Bay area.  Not surprisingly, no Florida city is in the top 10, and don’t expect tourism to get them there.

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