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Roundup 9-28-2012

September 28, 2012

Port – Of Trains, TEUs, and Los Angeles

This week the Port opened the piece of track on Hookers Point that finally made the tracks a loop rather than a series of dead ends.

A top CSX Corp. executive praised the swift speed of the public-private partnership that designed, funded and built the new Tampa Gateway Rail Terminal — unveiled Tuesday at the Port of Tampa — in just over a year. The railroad company teamed up with the Tampa Port Authority, the Florida Department of Transportation and pipeline operator Kinder Morgan Energy Partners L.P. to build the new $30 million, 2-mile railroad loop and pipeline system that will quickly deliver ethanol and cargo.

* * *

The CSX executive said his company is working to add even more “unit train capability” to the Port of Tampa. That’s industry lingo for a long line of 50 or more train cars delivering one commodity to one location.

Unit trains are considered faster and more efficient at delivering commodities than trains delivering different goods to different places. Kinder Morgan, for example, will be able to unload 66,000 barrels of ethanol from one 96-car train in 24 hours. CSX will bring in weekly shipments of ethanol from the Midwest to Tampa. Then Kinder Morgan will use the new rail gateway to unload the ethanol to nearby storage tanks and then send it all over Central Florida.

That is all good.  We have no problem with that at all.  Of course, it would seem that the project is basically an ethanol project, not a container or other cargo project.  However, it could have other uses.

Charles Klug, the interim director of the Tampa Port Authority, would only say that the port is working with CSX on future projects at the port. But Klug did say that the port is also using its new unit train capability to try to attract more global shipping container customers.

Good.  The Port should be using its assets to develop more container business because, as we have pointed out numerous times, we are woefully behind in the container business.

As said by a local US Representative:

“There is no other port in the country better positioned than the Port of Tampa to lift our businesses,” said U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, “and to lift our region.”

This quote would seem to be completely self-evident.  Oddly, it may not be accurate, showing just how far behind we are.

Table 4.1 of this wide-ranging Florida Chamber of Commerce report on Florida’s infrastructure from April 2011 contains a chart on page 47 of the pdf that lists Port of Exit for Containerized Exports Originating in Florida.  The Top of the list is the following:

PORT                         TEUs               SHARE

PT EVERGLADES     237,805                25.4%

MIAMI                        220,949                 23.6%

JACKSONVILLE       137,191                 14.7%

W PALM BCH            69,484                    7.4%

NEW YORK               54,333                    5.8%

HOUSTON                  48,059                    5.1%

SAVANNAH             36,940                   4.0%

CHARLESTON         30,491                    3.3%

NORFOLK                 12,760                    1.4%

LOS ANGELES         8,280                      0.9%

BALTIMORE            7,947                       0.9%

FT PIERCE                7,405                      0.8%

TAMPA                       7,217                      0.8%

Tampa is 13th, behind even Los Angeles.  We understand that the chart if for all of Florida, but the Port’s catchment area should include all of Florida. East Coast ports dominate – and crush Tampa.  The same is true of containerized imports:

MIAMI                       136,859              22.4%

PT EVERGLADES   116,219               19.0%

LOS ANGELES         58,609                9.6%

JACKSONVILLE     55,179                9.0%

LONG BEACH         50,894                 8.3%

SAVANNAH             49,131                8.0%

NEW YORK             34,837                 5.7%

CHARLESTON         15,539                2.5%

W PALM BCH         14,544                 2.4%

TAMPA                   12,794                 2.1%

Even if the Port’s catchment area is only Central Florida, the report states:

The Caribbean, Central, and South America are the key trading partners for Florida’s exports. More than 85 percent of the exports from Florida seaports are destined for these three areas.

Figures 4.4, 4.5, and 4.6 show the major Florida seaports used for the export of containerized cargo from Florida exporters, by trade lane. The shaded counties indicate the level of exports to a specific trade lane from exporters located in those counties, the darker shading corresponding to a greater concentration of exports. The pie charts overlayed on each major area of export volume indicate the distribution of seaports used by Florida exporters located in the specific Florida counties. As Figure 4.4 shows, for the Caribbean market, the Port of Jacksonville primarily serves the exports from North Florida counties, while the South Florida seaports of Miami, Port Everglades, and Palm Beach serve the Caribbean exports originating in South Florida. Both the North Florida seaports and the South Florida seaports compete for the Caribbean exports originating in the Central portions of the state. Note references to Central Florida refer in general to the I‐4 Corridor. (emphasis added)

In other words, right now, Tampa is essentially irrelevant even for Central Florida.

Frankly, it is embarrassing and completely unacceptable.

We hope that the rail helps the Port get more containers.  Even more, we hope the Port Board looks at these numbers and realizes just how far behind our complacency has left us and just how good the next Port Director will need to be.  And just how much opportunity there really is, if we care to take advantage of it.

Economic Development – More Real Estate

We have said on many occasions that economic development includes, but is much larger that, real estate development.  However, it seems the obsession with real estate is endless.

This week there was a public forum about public-private partnerships – known as P3 – and economic development.  We apologize, but to understand the point, you have to read almost the whole article.

“Public-private partnerships” — or “P3s” — were the focus of a downtown Tampa panel discussion Wednesday evening. The conclusion: Tampa Bay would have few if any major developments in the works without such risk- and resource-sharing deals.

Consider the giant Encore housing and commercial development on 40-plus acres now well under way on the northeast corner of downtown Tampa. It would not be happening without P3s (the partnering of Bank of America and the Tampa Housing Authority), said panelist Timothy Baker, principal with the Baker Barrios architectural firm that has helped design key parts of the project.

The CAMLS (Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation where the panel, organized by 83 Degrees, happened to be speaking) building is a USF Health project that would not be up and running without P3s, said panelist Karen Holbrook, USF Systems senior vice president for global affairs. She also cited the P3 relationship between the university and Draper Lab, which since 2010 operates a research facility on the Tampa campus.

Said Holbrook: “Draper’s one of the most effective partnerships USF has ever had.”

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn cited the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center and the Tampa Bay Times Forum as city anchors that would not be there without P3s. Tampa did P3 projects, he said, “even when they were not a necessity, as they are now.”

We accept that P3’s are a good thing – and are helpful in building facilities.  However, the majority of items discussed involved real estate development.  It is almost as if other economic development (like this, which does not appear to have involved a P3) is an afterthought rather than the focus.

And where is Port development (which would involve P3’s)?

Said Buckhorn: “I want to create an environment here that my daughters will want to come back to.”

We feel the same way about our kids.  But we know that if this area does not put real estate in its proper place, they will have to go elsewhere even if they want to come back.

In Another Park Down By The River

As some may know, but many do not, there is a park across the Hillsborough River from the north part of downtown, near the Straz Center. As many may also know, this area is part of an Urban Land Institute study.  Well, it turns out that the City is thinking of changing the park.

Two years ago, Tampa officials put the finishing touches on a master plan for Riverfront Park that called for more athletic facilities like softball diamonds. But that was before Buckhorn was elected. He has his own vision for the 23-acre park, and it doesn’t include softball.

“There are other, more appropriate places for softball diamonds,” he said.

Indeed.  There are better places for more softball fields.  Of course, simply not building and/or removing softball fields is not really a plan.  Additionally, this is quite a big park, with room for many things. (see here) So what does the Mayor envision for the park?

Buckhorn’s proposed budget for the coming fiscal year includes $2.5 million in Community Investment Tax spending on the park, and nearly $9.3 million in capital improvement spending over the next four years.

But the mayor acknowledges that line item in the budget is a placeholder for a detailed plan that hasn’t been written.

“There’s nothing specific now,” he said, adding that he could roll the money into budgets if the plan takes longer than expected to come together. “If we started doing design work or some planning I wanted to have the resources there available so we wouldn’t have to move it around.”

Ok, that is a reasonable step.  We have nothing against planning for the future.  We understand there are no specific plans, though the article said he had a vision.  Maybe a hint?

The park, at 1001 N Boulevard, across the river from the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, now includes tennis, basketball and racquetball courts, a small semi-circular amphitheater and a bare-bones rowing facility that stores gear in four shipping containers. It also features a large mound next to the playground and other grassy swales and humps that block the view of the river from inside the park.

Buckhorn hates them.

“The alien space mounds?” he says. “I haven’t figured out their purpose. I want to open that park up to the community, to activate it and let people enjoy the water.”

The Mayor may have not figured out the mounds’ purpose, so let us explain.  The park is large.  Unless you cut down all the trees like the lot next to the interstate, you can’t see the river from outside the park anyway.

Moreover, Tampa is flat – not uniformly flat, but basically flat.  The mounds provide elevation. (Call them Mound Nittany if you must)  Kids  like climbing and playing on them.  People like sitting on top of them and looking around.  In other words, they are something different that people enjoy and that provide a feeling of more open space.  The Mayor may want to go to Curtis Hixon Park and see how many people sit on the slope near the museums.

And he may want to ask the people living near Riverfront Park what they would like.

What would the Mayor prefer to the mounds?

Buckhorn expects recommendations in three or four months. But in February, a team from the institute revealed some of its thinking about the river — and Riverfront Park. It focused on 140 acres, mostly owned by government agencies, on the river’s western bank, north of Interstate 275.

* * *

The team also suggested finding ways to make the riverfront more active and inviting in the short term. These could include opening a farmers market, incorporating the area into the activities of college rowing teams that already visit Tampa and bringing live performances to the amphitheater at Riverfront Park.

So, an mostly an empty grass field?

None of  uses suggested by the City planning office (aka ULI) requires removing the mounds.  In fact, the amphitheater makes up one of the mounds.  (Another question is where exactly are all these people at the farmers’ market going to park?) In fact, the park is definitely large enough to contain the mounds – which admittedly are unique, except for the smaller mound in MacFarlane Park   – and all those uses. Moreover, not all parks need to be the same – in fact, they shouldn’t be.  Focusing on the mounds rather than the complete lack of proper urban development around the park is a bit odd.

You want to make the park nicer, fine – put money into it like the City did with Kate Jackson Park.  But there are more critical items on the agenda than mounds.

Leave the mounds.  Fix the code.

More On the West Bank

Traveling up the river

The Tampa Housing Authority has issued a request for developer qualifications seeking proposals for a master plan for the West Tampa Study Area.

The 120-acre area north of Hyde Park, east of West Tampa and west of Tampa Heights was the subject of a preliminary report by the Urban Land Institute’s Daniel Rose Center for Public Leadership in Land Use earlier this year.

This is the location:

From the Tampa Bay Business Journal website – click on map for full article

What we would really like to see in this area – and this really did not need to be outsourced to ULI – much more density; urban design (rather than just suburban apartment complexes and surface parking lots); and making the riverfront a ribbon of public space. (which requires working out how to get the public around Blake High School along the river so they can get downtown)

Making the riverfront public is important.  The riverfront park does not need to be particularly wide, but it should be readily accessible and as far north and south as possible – like Bayshore.  Public space is critical to real urban development and tying the fabric of different neighborhoods together to make a city.  Additionally, public space – and the riverfront is particularly open – allows for more tolerance of density.  It becomes the city’s back/front yard. Right now, away from downtown, the river is almost completely hidden from the public – it might as well not be there.  Open it up.  Get people walking.

Of course, the first step is to change the code.

The Built Environment – Westshore

As some may know, there is a Container Store being built at Westshore and Spruce.  Because this is Tampa, it is basically a strip mall style building with a big parking lot.  This week, there was news about moves to build more around the same area.

As word spread that the 24,500-square-foot Container Store was coming to a new shopping plaza at the intersection, demand grew for retail usage there, Weaver said.

Several businesses, including a bank, signed on to move in nearby. Now Saber Corner LLC, which will own a nearly 7-acre parcel at the southwest corner of Spruce and West Shore, has filed a rezoning application for a second phase to its project.

“We’ve noticed that as the Container Store continued to gain traction, there has been a lot of additional retail interest,” Weaver said.

The new phase includes 35,000 additional square feet for retail, restaurant and potential office use.

Overall the project is expected to include 77,500 square feet of retail, restaurant and potential office use. There will be at least five buildings, including Container Store, which is slated to open in the coming months.

The project’s zoning already allows for Container Store, the bank and several other businesses. Details about the bank and other businesses have not yet been released.

The project’s second phase requires a rezoning hearing before Tampa City Council. That hearing is tentatively set for Jan. 10.

While we have no problem with retail there, the last thing Tampa needs is another strip shopping center running down Westshore Boulevard.  Frankly, looking at the rendering in the paper (below) we are not sure if the design is just another strip center, like the Container Store, or is an attempt to make the design slightly urban.

From the Tribune – click on picture for full article

It is just not clear from what the angle of the image is (is that Westshore in the foreground or the parking lot?)

The bottom line is this: do not allow another suburban design on Westshore.  Begin making the road urban.  It is just not that hard.  Do not settle.

Channelside – Tales of Hope and Woe

There has been a steady drip of news regarding Channelside.  The Channelside complex, which the Lightning owner is attempting to buy, keeps bleeding tenants. Maybe it is an attempt to clear the plaza for new ownership (and rebuilding) or maybe it is just poor management.  Whatever it is, we hope it reaches its denouement soon.

Meanwhile, Channelside the neighborhood is finally developing a retail sector.  This is good.  It shows that Tampa can build an urban neighborhood, if it wants to.

Then there is this:

Like many Florida development projects, the Channel District went through rough times. In the mid-2000s, condo towers sprouted up from abandoned warehouse lots at the top corner of the Port of Tampa. Then the bubble burst, several projects filed for bankruptcy protection, and developers refilled units with renters.

Now those projects are largely full of residents, and retailers are following the opportunity.

Developer Ken Stoltenberg built the Grand Central condo projects on Kennedy Boulevard. Now he’s planning a 24-story tower just to the north on Madison Street, with 316 rental units going for $1,350 to $2,300 a month. The Related Group of Florida is building several condo buildings along Meridian Avenue that could add 356 units to the neighborhood by summer.

We are happy the residential is filling up.  As for the listed projects, the Related Group project is an apartment complex, and a less than inspiring “stick frame” one at that (We discussed it here).  The Stoltenberg project has been discussed for a while. It would be nice if it were to get built, but when we contacted them for information, we got no response. Here’s hoping.

List of the Week

Our apologies.  Believe it or not, we could not find a fitting list of the week, though the first item on the Port does container food for thought.

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