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Roundup 10-5-2012

October 5, 2012

Master Planning – TIA

TIA has been updating its master plan, as it is obligated to do.  In another sign of the intelligent approach the present Director is taking to running the airport, the master plan appears to (we have not seen the actual document yet) 1) downsize future growth plans to keep them in line with passenger traffic, 2) update the terminal, and 3) maintain the integrity of TIA’s original design.

The highlight is a new tram that would connect passengers to a new rental car facility on the southern end, by the U.S. Post Office. It could be the start of what airport CEO Joe Lopano called an “airtropolis” — a small town on the airport’s southern sector built of rental car services, commercial development, parking garages and, maybe someday, a light rail station.

More importantly, it would free up terminal space. And that, Lopano said, could lead to a grander but scaled-down transformation of the airport: an expansion of the main terminal perhaps, or construction of a new international airside.

* * *

According to HNTB, the airport isn’t projected to regain its 2007 workload until 2016, when 19.7 million passengers annually are expected to use the airport.

But by 2031, they project 28.7 million passengers annually. The master plan will be geared to handle that growth.

The main terminal, however, is showing its 41 years. The curbside arrival and departure lanes are already at or nearing capacity. Passengers must cross those lanes to reach their rental cars. Altogether it’s causing congestion and slowing drop-offs and pickups. Traffic entering and exiting the airport is also expected to get much worse in 2016.

The rental car operation has its own issues: The counters are in the main airport but most of the cars are in the economy parking garages. Consolidating rental operations would make it more profitable for the airport.

The new automated people mover system would be a modern version of the airport’s shuttles, taking passengers a mile south to the proposed consolidated rental car facility and economy parking garages.

* * *

In the eastern sector, the master plan envisions expanding aviation-related development: more room for airline repair companies and vendors; more room for another cargo carrier to join FedEx; and perhaps room for manufacturers to set up fulfillment centers, like the one Dell has near Nashville International Airport.

What is there to say other than “good.” The remote long term garages should be connected to the main terminal with a people mover – that is the key to TIA.  It also makes connecting to any transit easy because the transit does not have to come to the landside terminal, just the people mover.  Second, moving the rental car facility opens up space in the main terminal to handle growth.  Third, instead of building a billion dollar north terminal, the plan saves money by using space (we suspect where terminal D used to be) for a new airside.  Finally, it plans for cargo growth and spin off growth in Drew Park – a true economic engine.

It is a reasonable and reasoned plan that takes care of a public facility but allows for expansion.  What is not to like? We look forward to seeing the details.

Westshore Streetcar?

And here is one more interesting nugget:

Other changes beyond the airport post office would include a bus rapid transit station — HART is planning an airport route in a few years if funding can be found — and a connection with a trolley or streetcar that some in the West Shore business district are contemplating. Also included in the 20-year plan is space for a light-rail terminal and a convenience store and gas station.

Westshore streetcar?  We have no problem with the basic idea IF it is the compatible with the downtown streetcar tracks and a connection is eventually planned.  However, if there is a plan to eventually put transit in Westshore, why does the City keep approving strip mall style development there?  Just to make a transit investment fail?

A Streetcar Named “Who the Hell Knows?”

As for the existing streetcar, there has been a lot of talk about its cost and ridership recently.  Last week the Tribune ran an article on it. The article basically says what we have been saying for a while – the streetcar is fine if it is part of a larger transportation system, not just a tourist attraction.

“We’ve got to find a way to make this work,” Buckhorn said.

The question of how to do that has no easy answer. Rider fares cover 44 percent of the streetcar operating costs, compared with a national average for transit companies of about 22 percent, but Tampa’s system faces myriad challenges:

· The 2.7-mile streetcar route between Ybor City, Channelside and downtown was chosen primarily for its draw to convention visitors and tourists rather than linking residential areas and workplaces.

· The streetcars operate with replicas of historic vehicles, which typically cost more to maintain than modern streetcars. And the historic image adds little appeal to commuters, who mostly want convenience.

· The streetcar has paid an average of $400,000 annually — more than 25 percent of its budget — for $100 million of insurance coverage that CSX Corp. requires for a rail crossing in Ybor City.

· With a single track along most of its route, and schedules that require a wait of up to 20 minutes — with another 15 minutes or so travel time, interest from the downtown workforce for lunch or dinner trips along the route is unlikely.

· Perhaps the most difficult issue to resolve is the lack of use and support by the general public. With cheap downtown parking available and a streetcar system with a small route and relatively infrequent service, most local residents simply ignore the streetcar.

This is all basically true, and a result of serving tourists rather than the proper development of the City – and a result of the ridiculous cost of insurance money that CSX demands. (Come to think of it, CSX is not too helpful in the east county, either. Frankly, if not for CSX, the Port would not have to put any money into the streetcar, though we doubt the Port brought that up when working on the Hookers Point rail loop, even though the streetcar is very relevant to the Port’s Channelside real estate.)

Tourists will ride a real transportation system because it gets them where they are going. (Almost every reader has probably ridden trains or subways in cities they have visited.)  Locals will not ride a tourist system because, well, it is designed for tourists, not everyday life. So what are some possible solutions?

But decision-makers must choose whether the streetcar should remain a tourist attraction or be expanded to serve more residents and more of the downtown area it barely penetrates today. The latter option could turn the streetcar into both a transportation and a tourist function like streetcars in other cities, such as New Orleans.

Underlying the debate is the question of finding additional revenue sources for operations and for any chance of expansion.

“I thought that (the mayor’s) idea of making it more frequent and free, which would actually require a greater subsidy but might ultimately increase ridership … was a great idea,” former city council member Linda Saul-Sena said on a recent WEDU-TV program.

“If you want it to be a true transportation system … it would continue to go west on Palm, south on Franklin or Tampa. But right now, it’s investment in Ybor and the Channel District that it’s sparking.”

The future of the streetcar could be tied to the future of the Channelside area it serves and continued support from the Ybor City business community. Streetcar advocates cite more than 30 Channel District residential projects and nearly 30 Ybor City development projects along the streetcar corridor.

The most immediate and significant streetcar development could be tied to hopes local leaders have for investor Jeff Vinik, who owns the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team, to gain control of Channelside’s retail, restaurant and entertainment facilities on property the port owns.

Frankly, even if Channelside (the area) has renewed growth – as we think it will – without running the streetcar like a transportation system, it will still not be a success.

At least people are really thinking about it.

And get a new deal with CSX.

Rays-Mania

There was a lot of news about potential Rays stadiums (after years of nothing happening) and not much else.  Because none of the Rays stadium plans are actually the Rays’ plans or fleshed out regarding funding and whether they actually would work, it is hard to really discuss them fully, so we won’t, but we have to say a (more than a) few things about them.

 – Carillon

From the Tribune – click on picture for article  

The first proposal is the Carillon proposal, which, from the pastel laden, wobbly-lines rendering, looks like something out of Angelina Ballerina.    We would have appreciated it there was a real rendering. (Here is a gallery from the Times.)

What exactly is being proposed:

Among the elements being considered for The Rays Park at Carillon:

– A 35,000-seat stadium that could feature either a fixed or retractable roof. Home plate would be on the south side of the property and the outfield to the north. An office building would be incorporated into the stadium structure so office workers could look out over home plate and watch a game. Parking could be designed so that people could get out of their cars and go up a flight or two to their luxury suites.

– A transparent roof. Getting sunlight into the ballpark is key, so CityScape’s plan suggests a roof that uses a transparent material called ETFE. The stadium’s back wall also could use the transparent material, allowing people outside the stadium to look in.

– Retail and other uses. The Rays Park at Carillon would be a mixed-use project incorporating 800 to 1,000 apartments flanking the property and to its north. CityScape is proposing apartments because the condominium market isn’t strong enough yet, CityScape executive Chris Eastman said. Other uses could include a live music venue, offices and retail.

Making the roof retractable is the most expensive option, with a total stadium cost of $577 million. A slightly less expensive option, at $548 million, would include a fixed roof made out of the transparent material. The least expensive stadium would be an open-air one, which CityScape estimates costing $424 million. The developer advises against it because of Florida’s climate.

First, the mixed use idea is interesting. For now, we will leave it at that.  Second, the transparent roof idea seems to us, at without more detail, kind of nuts.  We find it hard to believe that having a transparent roof in a Florida summer is a good, but we can be convinced otherwise.

Aside from how to pay for it and whether the Rays will even agree, we think there are two main issues: parking and demographics.  Parking first:

While Pinellas County Commissioner John Morroni supports keeping the Rays in the county, he is skeptical that his neighbors in Feather Sound ­— a development that borders Carillon — would back a stadium. Years ago, Feather Sound rallied against extending the runway at St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport because of noise and environmental concerns. Later, when a nightclub and restaurant called the Venue opened on Ulmerton, they became irritated over patrons’ parking in front of their houses.

“If they had that problem with a bar, just think of the amount of cars that would be coming into a game over there,” Morroni said.

* * *

To squeeze thousands of people into Carillon, LeClair has proposed adding three lanes to Ulmerton Road. The business park already has 14,000 parking spaces, but he would need the approval of neighboring companies, such as Raymond James, to use their lots. He has also built 4,300 spaces into his stadium design plans.

A spokesman for Raymond James said the company had no plans to weigh in on the potential stadium.

(see also this)

Ambitious, but we are not buying it – especially because the parking is used for other things every weekday. We did not see any reports where the big tenants or local residents were enthusiastically giving up their parking (though that could change).

The other question is demographics.  First, Carillon is better than downtown St. Pete, but we are not convinced it is the best. As the Times noted in an editorial:

A traffic consultant’s report predictably concluded that Carillon is the center of the universe and that nobody from Pinellas County would drive at rush hour to a stadium in downtown Tampa. There is too much emphasis on 30-minute drive times and no talk of mass transit, even looking out to 2035. That is a serious omission.

Indeed.  It was predictable, if wishful.  Looking at the Carillon folks’ maps

From Echelon website – click on picture for webpage

we are having a hard time working out their assumptions that exclude all of northwest Hillsborough.  But the demographics can be debated forever.

The bottom line with all proposals is that the Rays are not on board.

And, of course, despite extremely poor attendance regardless of the obvious interest in the team, the St. Pete Mayor held to his usual constructive position:

Foster, who had not previously seen the plan, said it exceeded his expectations.

“It’s a great day. We got the Rays in the room. Let’s see how they respond back,” Foster said. “When the World Series is over, I’ll reach out to them.”

And if the team balks at discussing Carillon?

“Then we’re done,” Foster said. “The city is obligated to 15 more years of the team playing at the Trop.”

It seems the Mayor of St. Pete would rather the region lose the team than they have a stadium in Tampa.

Channelside

Then in a completely unexpected move, a developer, though not the owner of the Lightning, proposed putting a stadium on the lot (plus other land) where the Channelside complex now sits. This was the little graphic from the Times website.

From the Times website – click on picture for website

This idea was pooh-poohed roundly.  You can read the article here. Honestly, a stadium would not fit on that lot, but it would fit nearby:

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said the best place for a stadium there would be on the north side of Channelside Drive, near vacant parking lots and the ConAgra flour mill.

The most interesting thing in the article was this nugget about the Lighting owner’s potential plans – which have not been released:

Vinik has proposed remaking Channelside and tying it into the Tampa Bay Times Forum arena and the city’s Riverwalk. Cantor said Vinik’s proposal, which is close to completion, also calls for a baseball stadium, although he had not seen details of it.

Vinik spokesman Bill Wickett called Cantor’s comments “uninformed conjecture” and said their plan does not involve putting a stadium over Channelside.

We’ll just wait until we see the plans.  This process, while thankfully moving a bit, is still a long way from anything other than the St. Pete Mayor’s obstinacy.

Tampa Bay History Center

Lat week was museum week.  We took advantage of it to visit the Tampa Bay History Center in downtown Tampa.

First, we should say it is a fine building.  The view from the main entrance is very nice.

However, we were a bit disappointed in the displays.  The Tampa Bay area has a rich history that deserves telling.  The problem was that the museum tells much of it in confused way.  There are definitely interesting displays, but they are not in chronological order.  We were hard pressed to even understand when the cities in the region were established and who the main players were.  There is not much about Mr. Plant and his railroad.  There is little discussion of Ft. Brooke.  It is more like a nice dinner with a local historian telling anecdotes – which is fine, but not necessarily how to build a museum.

Including a basic history does not require removing the cigar industry or military displays.  It just requires presenting a narrative.

Look, the museum is nice, and we are not attacking it. We are trying to make it better.  Its displays seem to us to be a microcosm of how the Tampa Bay area presents itself generally.  The museum presents interesting facts, but not in with an organized, concise narrative that is easily understood by someone who is not from here.

So Tampa Doesn’t Read, How About a Better Library

A while back, our list of the week involved a list of the best read cities in America.  Tampa was not on that list.

This week, the Times ran an editorial about things downtown Tampa needs. While we do not necessarily agree with everything or prioritize exactly as the Times did, it was a good editorial. (Really, you should read the whole editorial) Included in their list was one thing not spoken about much:

The city should also look to collapse the aging downtown library complex and build a more usable facility.

The library system is not an exclusively city affair (for more about the structure now but you can look here and here) but the City owns the lot on which the downtown library sits.

The fact is, as much as the staff is hard working and helpful, the downtown library facility itself is outdated and substandard.  We are not sure how to pay for it (maybe take some money for removing mounds in Riverfront Park), but replacing the library should be on the midterm plans for downtown – which means planning for it should already have started.

List of the Week

Our list of the week is the Businessweek Best Cities to Live. The Top 10 were relatively predictable: San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, Boston, Portland (OR), Denver, NYC, Austin, San Diego, and St. Paul.

Tampa was 34th, tied with Lincoln, Nebraska and behind Rochester, NY (32) and New Orleans (14).

We are dubious of a ranking system that creates the results this list has.  Regardless, 34th is pretty sad.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. B Wills permalink
    October 5, 2012 11:29 AM

    Regarding a suitable stadium location in Tampa for the Rays, the public housing tract along Nuccio Blvd. is the BEST site, not the ConAgra mill site. The Nuccio Blvd. site is less congested, and in view of and convenient to Union Station where we might eventually see more than 2 trains per day, which would potentially provide an opportunity to cast a wider net for fans, and an alternate way to reach the stadium–especially if a local rail system is ever built, and includes a stop at Union Station. This location would also eliminate the wasteland between Ybor and downtown if developed properly along with neighborhood amenities, would fit with the trend of downtown stadiums, and should open up Brandon and points east to potential fans, which the Carillon location does not.

  2. B Wills permalink
    October 5, 2012 11:37 AM

    Regarding a solution for the streetcar, junk it. The mayor whines that we’ll have to pay back 40 million to the feds if that happens, but, if the right-of-way was salvaged for an bonafide elevated METRO line, the feds could be convinced that the $$ need not be returned. The problem with the streetcar is that it is somewhat mixed with traffic, is too slow, the ongoing CSX/insurance cost and lack of appeal as transit vs an amusement ride. An elevated line would eliminate the insurance issue, remove the potential for accidents with cars, and provide a nice demo project for purposes of selling the larger vision of an elevated regional METRO system, which should eventually link to Westshore, the malls, the airport, and Pinellas via an elevated Kennedy Blvd alignment, .No to dowdy, slow, light rail mixed with vehicular traffic. Yes to an elevated regional METRO system aligned along existing high-activity corridors.

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