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Roundup 9-21-2012

September 21, 2012

Streetcar – Has a Present, What of the Future?

This week there was much discussion of the downtown Tampa streetcar.  The occasion was a Port Board meeting that discussed continuing the Port’s $100,000 contribution to help run the streetcar.  The discussion, as far as we can tell, went something like this:

The mayor’s speech came after Hillsborough County Commissioner and port board member Sandra Murman proposed ending the subsidy.

Momentum had turned against the subsidy after the port board heard from David Mechanik, the volunteer president of the nonprofit board that runs the trolley and controls its current $2 million budget.

The port commissioners learned that the $4 million endowment propping up the trolley is nearly depleted. Ridership has also plummeted since the 467,000 who rode it in 2009, when Tampa hosted Super Bowl XLIII. This year, it’s projected to be 340,000 — a 27 percent drop.

Commissioner Lawrence Shipp noted that the trolley wasn’t even efficient enough to take him from the authority’s headquarters to lunch at Centro Ybor a mile away. It’s quicker to make the five minute drive than waiting up to 20 minutes both ways for the trolley.

“I don’t see it as being a true transportation system,” Shipp said. “I almost see it as an amusement ride. I tell people it reminds me of Disneyland.”

That is all true.  The streetcar system is not run properly – it is run as an attraction rather than a transportation element.  Cutting frequency and service time does not help. However, there is a problem with cutting off the money.

The streetcars are a joint operation of the city and the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit. If the trolley were to be scrapped altogether, Buckhorn said, then those entities might have to reimburse the federal government up to $40 million spent on the trolley’s infrastructure.

“That’s a lot of money,” he said.

Yes, it is.  Where are not sure from where those who oppose funding the streetcar think the money to pay the Federal government back will come. (It is especially odd since the person proposing the cut is on the Board of HART, which is on the hook.)  It is not really fiscally wise to put such a big amount of money at risk for no return.

The conversation then turned to this:

Tampa’s streetcar line should ultimately be free to ride.

That’s the conclusion Tuesday of several members of the Tampa Port Authority board after they very grudgingly approved an annual $100,000 payment into the organization that runs the 2.7-mile track from Ybor City to downtown.

The whole system was built in the wrong place, conceived with the wrong business plan, and is marketed so badly that “this is a broken business model,” said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who sits on the board.

“We can’t stop it, so we’ll have to fix it,” he told fellow board members. “We’re pregnant fellas, ladies – and there’s no going back.”

Local leaders, he said, need to stop managing the line as a transportation system like a subway because raising rates and reducing hours to balance its budget will only drive away riders. Instead, the system should be run as an amenity, almost like a city park, that’s an attraction for tourists and city dwellers, he said, and likely be free to ride.

We are not sure about the pregnant comment, but otherwise we basically agree, except the streetcar should be run as part of larger a transportation system.

We openly admit we are not sure from where the money to run it for free would come.  However, we know that the fare box is not going to cover the operating cost – though it does better than buses. Moreover, the higher the fares and the smaller the amount of time it runs, the less useful the streetcar will be.

Additionally, other areas have removed fares from downtown circulating transportation.  One such place is Jacksonville, where the Skyway system has removed fares.  Another is Miami, where the Metromover is free. It should not be too hard to find out how they did it.

One other thing is that the streetcars should run more quickly to make them more practical as transportation.

Something we would like further clarification on is the Mayor’s comment that the streetcar was built in the “wrong place.”  We are curious not because the streetcar is going to be moved – it won’t be.  We would like clarification on his thinking and to know how he thinks transportation should be arranged – for the future.

In A Park Down By The River

There was an article in the Times this week regarding possible changes to Curtis Hixon Park.  Because we consider the park to be the most successful public downtown feature in the last decade, we are keenly interested in any changes.

A new museum and restaurant may be headed to downtown’s signature public space, Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.

The city issued a request for proposals to build and operate a museum and restaurant across the lawn from the Tampa Museum of Art and Glazer Children’s Museum. It would occupy a narrow strip from Ashley Drive to the Hillsborough River that now has the park’s restrooms and office.

“I have been very, very aggressively trying to create the critical mass down there that will finish out that park,” Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said this week. “It has always been contemplated that that pad would be developed.”

Adding another cultural arts facility “would be the icing on the cake,” he said. He also likes the idea of bringing a restaurant to draw people and energize the riverfront.

That is all fine, depending on what it is, how big it is, how it is designed, so on and so forth.  If it is the normal Tampa “settling” design, we would rather leave the space empty.  However, we are willing to consider the idea.  Any details?

Buckhorn said one applicant submitted a proposal during the bid period, which began Aug. 3 and ended Sept. 4. The city would not release the name of the bidder, citing an exemption to the state’s public records law that gives government agencies 30 days before they have to make proposals public.

But Tampa officials have talked to the Palm Harbor-based Two Red Roses Foundation, which has a large collection of decorative objects from the 1900 to 1920 American Arts and Crafts movement. Buckhorn’s calendar shows a 90-minute meeting on April 17 between the mayor, City Attorney James Shimberg Jr., city economic opportunity administrator Bob McDonaugh, foundation directors Rudy Ciccarello and Tom Magoulis, and local architects Alberto and Carlos Alfonso.

(Only one response?) Well, the Alfonsos do some good work.  We have to admit, we are not so keen on early 20th century American Arts & Crafts.  Of course, that is our taste.  Others obviously differ, and that is fine.  However, we are not sure what kind of draw such a museum would be – honestly, we have no idea.  That is a prime spot – it should have a prime museum.

The bottom line is this – we have not seen a plan or a design.  We are not sure what is proposed for the location.  As such, we cannot really opine in detail about it.  Like we said, it is a prime spot and requires a prime feature – with an excellent design – not space filler.  We have no idea if the yet to be disclosed proposal fits that description. We await more information.

In an ideal world, we would rather the parking lots across Ashley from the park were built on first, but that is to a large degree beyond the City’s control.

The key thing is to not settle for something that is not excellent.

And change the code.

Economic Development – USF

There were a number of announcements out of USF this week that show how an economic engine can proactively work to create economic development, rather than sit and complain about market conditions.  First, USF announced a partnership with Lakeland Regional Medical Center.

The partnership would add 200 new medical residencies to the school’s existing 712, making USF’s the largest such doctor training program in the state, officials said. And it would allow the medical school to realize long-held ambitions of placing the USF name on a major hospital.

The USF-Lakeland partnership — pending approval by their respective boards in the coming week — marks the latest alliance between an independent hospital and a larger organization at a time of sweeping consolidation in health care. The trend reflects the growing pressure on doctors, hospitals and insurers to contain rising costs and improve quality of care.

The university expects to launch the USF Health System, which would include its existing 450-physician multispecialty practice, in late March 2013. And USF is seeking more partners like Lakeland Regional, an 851-bed, nonprofit hospital that touts the largest emergency department in the state.

Nice, aggressive, biotech (kind of) move with potential to grow.  We like it. (We await news on how Florida Poly’s backers will attempt to mess it up.)

The second announcement involved a tech incubator.

In the same speech, Genshaft announced that a regional partnership led by USF has won a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce to help grow Tampa Bay area technology companies and support new Web and mobile app ventures.

The money is coming from the Obama administration’s i6 Challenge grants, which are given to help create jobs and foster high-tech innovation, entrepreneurship and product development.

Look, it is not a huge amount of money, but it is putting USF out front and getting the tech sector a needed push.  It also ties into this other USF tidbit:

The University of South Florida’s research funding has topped the $400 million mark, with the latest million-dollar innovation grant arriving Wednesday.

When it comes to receiving federal research dollars, USF has broken into the top 50 public and private universities in the nation for the first time ever, according to a survey compiled over the summer by the National Science Foundation. USF research funding from all sources last year exceeded $411 million. h

Now, that is a big chunk of change.  And it can be leveraged into the incubator – and the Health System – to create synergies and opportunities. (For more on this, including what Orlando is doing, you can view this Daily Show clip. . . yes, Daily Show clip – starting around 3:20. Never mind the RNC, that is how you get good press to a target audience.)

We like how USF is thinking. (We also like this Times editorial.) We like how TIA is thinking.  Now, if the Port would only join in.

MacDill News

Speaking of economic engines – and critical American security installations – MacDill is now home to the U.S. Marine Corps Forces Central Command:

The Department of Defense will designate the U.S. Marine Corps Forces Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base to be a standalone headquarters at an event scheduled for Sept. 17.

The Associated Press said the command to be known as MARCENT will be headed by three-star general Lt. Gen. Robert B. Neller. MARCENT oversees all Marines operating in the Middle East and a wider region including parts of Asia and the Marine forces in Afghanistan.

It only makes sense, given that CENTCOM is based at MacDill, but it is still great news, and we love having them here.

(Now, if only we could get those fighters back)

Yes, Virginia, You Can Renovate In Tampa

The Tribune featured just another in a growing example of renovated buildings in Tampa – the Oxford Exchange.

From the Tribune – click on picture for article

It just goes to show that the old fabric of the area (or what is left of it), which gives it much of its character, is still tenable and should not be discarded as blithely as the Maas Brothers building was.  We hope this is just another sign that the area is learning.

Coming Out Watch – cont

Well, we finally found positive international coverage of Tampa as a city.  True, we cannot prove it is directly related to the RNC but we will throw it in that category.  The Economist had an article on the presidential race in Florida which featured the Tampa Bay area that said:

Not for nothing did the Republicans decide to hold their convention in hurricane-prone Tampa even though it was at the height of hurricane season, just as it is no coincidence that Mr Obama’s Florida campaign headquarters are in Tampa’s rather delightful Ybor City.

Kudos to Ybor. (Though, we are not hurricane prone) Now connect Ybor better to downtown by working out the streetcar issues.

On the other hand, an unfavorable stereotype also was included in the article:

The main difference between the two regions, explains an enthusiastic volunteer at Mitt Romney’s St Petersburg headquarters, is that “If your grandparents live in Tampa, your great-grandparents live in St Pete.”

Great.  That will help with the first list below.

Public Service Announcement

Maybe the Economist article had a point.

The U.S. Postal Service has taken the unusual step of releasing a set of helpful tips to help reduce the number of drivers in Florida who have been crashing their cars into post offices. This year so far, eight drivers have crashed into post offices in Central Florida alone.

Please do not drive into the Post Office.  They generally have parking lots.

List of the Week I

Our first list of the week is Forbes’ list of The 20 Cities With The Happiest Young Professionals.

Los Angeles is number 1, and California cities round out the top 3 (and 5 of the top 6).  There are all the usual suspects, like Atlanta, Seattle, Dallas area, NYC, etc.  Orlando is number 15, and Miami is 19.  The Tampa Bay area is conspicuously absent.  That will not help in talent retention and development (see last week).

List of the Week II

Our second list is actually two lists.  Because they come from Travel & Leisure, they completely ignore the Tampa Bay area.  It is good to be excluded from the first list – America’s dirtiest cities.  Miami is number 8, and Orlando is number 17.  The Tampa Bay area is ignored.

The second list is of the most beautiful US skylines. Miami makes this list.

One Comment leave one →
  1. September 25, 2012 9:10 PM

    Well said on Curtis Hixon and the Streetcar. My 2 year old and I had a wonderful day Sunday enjoying the amusement that is the streetcar despite the fact that we were one of only three riders on a round trip. After heading from Channelside on an empty streetar to the terminus closer to Curtis Hixon we stayed on to go back to the Riverwalk playground by the history center along with only 3 people. In a half hour at the river walk we saw 4 people and a dog, all locals. Even as an amusement, the long wait times and inefficient stops make the streetcar an enigma to tourists. In addition, the river walk suffers from no nearby residential base behind the Forum. A pedestrian bridge from Harbor Island might assist a little. As for Curtis Hixon, if they are going to make the streetcar free, how about building more parking on Ashley and have the first two hours free!

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