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Roundup 10-12-2012

October 12, 2012

A Man, A Park, A Plan – What Is It?

As regular readers would know, there is a proposal to build a museum (and a bunch of other stuff) in Curtis Hixon Park.  When we first reported on it, the details were pretty sketchy.  This week they became a little (a little) less sketchy.

An art collector from Palm Harbor is proposing to build a $31 million museum showcasing the American arts and crafts movement next to Tampa’s premier riverfront park.

Rudy Ciccarello would arrange the financing to build the American Craftsman Museum at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, according to a 42-page proposal made public Friday. Ciccarello also proposes to pledge his own assets to provide collateral for a construction loan and to cover any shortfalls during construction.

As the proposal says on page 31 of the pdf:

ACM will provide retail space for City of Tampa Chamber of Commerce Tourist Kiosk, an Office Space for the Tampa Chapter of the AIA and an upscale Restaurant space of approximately 4,000 square feet overlooking the River. ACM, Inc. at it’s sole cost will provide Museum Exhibition Collection, Museum Store, Art Storage and all other necessary program needs to complete the Museum.

What is there now?

The site now houses public restrooms and a pair of low-slung buildings that serve as an informal office for park staff.

What would it cost the taxpayer?

In return, the nonprofit Two Red Roses Foundation, which Ciccarello started with gifts from his own collection, is asking the public to contribute $1 million a year for the first five years that the museum is open.

* * *

The foundation also has asked for:

• A waiver from having to pay any impact fees, as well as sewer, water and electrical hookup fees.

• A similar waiver on property taxes for the life of the museum.

• Demolition of the existing structures and preparation of the site at the city’s expense.

• City help acquiring a liquor license for the restaurant.

Ok, so it would cost $5 million in cash and some other stuff.

How did this all come about?

This spring, Ciccarello and architects from Ybor City-based Alfonso Architects, which would design the museum, met with Buckhorn and his staff. The foundation was looking at sites around Tampa, but at that point had not narrowed its focus to Curtis Hixon Park.

The park made sense to Buckhorn, and in August the city issued a request for proposals from any developers interested in putting a museum and restaurant on the site. Two Red Roses was the only bidder.

Of course the foundation wants Curtis Hixon Park – it is a great park, and the Mayor obliged by issuing a very quiet RFP.  Surprise. What does he get?

The prospect of a restaurant overlooking the Hillsborough River fulfills one of Buckhorn’s long-term goals for bringing more visitors to the park and the Riverwalk.

“The addition of this museum and restaurant will bring the downtown experience to the next level,” Buckhorn said in announcing the deal.

If the City wanted a restaurant in the park, we are sure it could have attracted one for less than $5 million.  But of course there is the museum, which we are sure is important to him.

“It’s less about what’s in the museum than it is about the critical mass and synergy that will bring people downtown to Curtis Hixon,” Buckhorn said.

Ok, maybe not.

Contrary to the Mayor’s statement, it matters quite a bit what is in the museum. (Would you give $5 million for a collection of was figurines of smurfs?)  If we are going to put a 75,000 sq ft. building in the park (by way of contrast, the Tampa Museum of Art is only 66,000 sq ft., and the Glazer Children’s Museum is 53,000 sq ft.), it better be a good attraction that draws a large number of people.  There will be no critical mass without attracting a large number of people to quite a large building in the park.

We have listed what we know. What don’t we know?  We don’t know what the building would look like, how it would be massed, and how it would affect the park.  In other words, what the City would be buying for the money and how it may hurt the good qualities of the park.

As we have said, Curtis Hixon Park is the best public work in downtown Tampa in a long time. It is already very popular and works fine as it is.  Any changes to it should be done only after much consideration.

Also, it is interesting to look at the land on which the museum is contemplated.  The proposal is not clear on the issue.  The proposal has one map of the lot on which it would sit (in blue) and another map that does not show the lot but says it shows the view lines from the park (the red lines).  We have done our best to accurately merge the two:

Original picture from proposal – click for the proposal

The first thing you can see is that the footprint of the museum building is much larger than the above-referenced bathroom building, which is under the blue box.  In fact, the footprint eats all the southern sidewalk, up to the main grass.  The second thing you can see is that the views from the south part of the park go away for the most part.  One other thing you notice is that the lot goes much closer to Ashley than the Glazer museum and blocks in the fountain/park entrance, shrinking the sidewalk.

As we have said, we have not seen a design, so we cannot judge that, but the footprint seems awfully large to us.  If it has any height at all, the building will make the park seem much smaller than it is now. (The point of a Times editorial.)

We can be convinced the museum is a good idea, but we are not convinced now and we are not just taking someone’s word for it.  There are huge questions.  A restaurant can fit in a much smaller footprint.  A museum can go elsewhere downtown or in Tampa Heights.  We do not really care to see offices of AIA or the Chamber of Commerce in the park (they belong elsewhere).  The whole idea needs to make sense, especially one that costs $ 5 million + for a City that still has trouble balancing its budget.

Then there is this:

If the proposal wins approval from the city council, earthwork on the project could start as early as next October. The museum would open in April 2015, according to the foundation’s proposed timeline.

What?  What we got this week is not a proposal – it is the outline of a proposal.  A proposal would have a design.  Without a design, there should be no vote.

We like the park – don’t mess it up.  Don’t settle.  If we are buying something, we better know what we are buying.  It would be far better to have no project and keep the park in the fine form it is in than to have a bad project.

Recycling Downtown – More Hotels

This week brought the announcement that developers are planning to recycle another old downtown building into a hotel.

From the Tribune – click on picture for full article

If all goes well, the former Mercantile Bank building downtown could soon be transformed into a sleek new boutique hotel. And if that sounds familiar, it’s because several developers have looked at that property, only to see their dreams dissolve amid the recession.

* * *

Convergent developed its Mercantile Bank building plans after redeveloping the Emerald Greens Golf Resort and Country Club in Carrollwood and taking over the central shopping area at FishHawk Ranch in Lithia. At one point this year, the company considered a bid for the Belleview Biltmore hotel in Belleair but did not move forward with the deal. Convergent now owns the Mercantile Bank property outright.

Often, hotel developers build out a property and, during the process, they pick the particular brand name. Govindaraju declined to say which brand Convergent is targeting. From his description of the feel and architecture of a sleek bar and lounge, guests would see similarities in this project to a W hotel, Aloft or Soho Grand — with sleek, modern styles rather than ornate stuffiness.

Owned by Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Aloft is expanding worldwide and now has facilities at 43 locations, with recent openings in Asheville, N.C.; Nashville, Tenn. and Tulsa, Okla.

Whatever the ultimate brand name, the Tampa hotel would have 100 to 120 rooms in the eight-story building, with rates between $100 and $150 for basic rooms spanning about 400 to 500 square feet.

We are absolutely fine with this idea. Downtown could use some more hotel rooms and maybe this project can help orient downtown more towards the river without giving up precious, well designed, public green space – though the street interaction of this particular building is basically nil. (To be honest, we were skeptical about previous plans to put a 50-story condo on such a small lot.)

Also, there are enough empty (including surface parking) lots downtown that need to be filled in that we are happy for good reuse of what is already there rather than tearing more buildings down. If only someone had considered doing that for the Maas Brothers Building . . .

The article also has this tidbit to make us happy:

And an Oct. 23 groundbreaking is planned for the Epicurean hotel next to Bern’s Steak House.

Master Planning – West Tampa

The Times ran an article on how the City is seeking to master plan parts of West Tampa, which is not really news.  However, the article did contain some interesting information.

A city-led effort to reimagine and redevelop the western bank of the Hillsborough River is looking for a private-sector partner.

Working with City Hall, the Tampa Housing Authority last month issued a request for developers to work on a master plan for 120 acres near the river. It’s an area mostly north of Interstate 275, south of Columbus Drive and west from the river to Rome Avenue.

The area is 80 percent government-owned and includes:

• The Housing Authority’s North Boulevard Homes and Mary Bethune public housing complexes, which cover more than 40 acres.

• The 23-acre Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park and a 12-acre city truck yard just a block from the river.

• Four public schools: Dunbar and Just elementaries, Stewart Middle and Blake High.

* * *

With the request it issued last month, the Housing Authority is looking for a company to help plan the redevelopment of the North Boulevard Homes apartments and Bethune high-rise.

But that’s just for starters. The 40-plus acres where North Boulevard Homes sits is expected to be the primary site of the area’s redevelopment. As a result, the scope of the master planning will take in the entire 120-acre West Tampa Study Area.

Interesting.  We are all for fixing the area – and making it more urban.  We are not sure developers are the way to go – though they seem to be the way this area always goes.  So when are these well thought-out, transformative proposals due and how much do we think this will cost?

The deadline for developers to respond is Monday.

A contract could be awarded in November, and officials hope to have a master plan complete by March 2013. The Housing Authority expects to spend $200,000 to $350,000 on the master plan, depending on the scope of work it negotiates with the developer it chooses.

Well, that is not too much time (maybe the City has someone already in mind), and all this master planning will cost quite a pretty sum.  We haven’t done the math, but we suspect that if you took all the money for all the master plans that have been paid for by Hillsborough County and the City of Tampa in the last 20 years, you could probably run the streetcar for a decade.  What do we have to show for it?

Before we pay developers to tell us what the market can bear (suburban design of course) and how they can only do so much (“we need surface parking”) and the City have to settle (doesn’t it always?), why don’t we publicly decide what we want first then see if a developer is interested?  (Or hold a design competition)

The Rays Play Tennis

The Rays responded to the Mayor of St. Pete regarding the Carillon stadium proposal (read the letter here):

The Tampa Bay Rays have an answer for St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster’s offer to discuss a possible stadium in the Carillon area: Not unless they can consider stadium sites in Hillsborough County, too.

Principal owner Stuart Sternberg sent a letter to Foster today asking for an amendment to the team’s stadium contract for Tropicana Field. The amendment would allow the team to evaluate stadium sites in Hillsborough as well as Pinellas County, but would preserve St. Petersburg’s rights under the existing contract.

* * *

Sternberg’s letter counters the mayor’s own offer. Foster had been hoping the Rays would sign an amendment allowing them to look only in St. Petersburg or in areas that could be annexed into the city.

But the team wants to look elsewhere. “Since an evaluation of only one site would clearly be an incomplete and inconclusive exercise, the Rays seek to collaborate with interested governmental and private parties to evaluate all potential ballpark sites in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties,” Sternberg writes.

* * *

“You have my assurance that once this amendment is approved, our first call will be to CityScape LLC to discuss its site and proposal in detail,” Sternberg wrote to Foster.

No word for the Mayor yet. At least one Pinellas Commissioner was reasonable:

Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch applauded the letter and said the Rays’ request to look for new sites in both counties was reasonable.

“The letter is a very exciting development and I think it moves us towards a much needed dialogue between the Rays and their partners,” Welch said. “There’s the fear that once you open the door, they’re going to run to some other part of the country, another state. But this limits it to Pinellas or Hillsborough, and I’m very confident that Pinellas County can compete with any other location in the Bay area.

“The dialogue has to happen and that hasn’t been happening for a few years.”

No, the dialogue has not happened, and there is one reason for that.  The ball is now in St. Pete’s court.  The St. Pete Mayor can show whether he is just another decisive local politician or a leader in our region.

The Port – Cruising to Nowhere

The Times ran an article this week discussing the issues facing the Port due to larger cruise ships.  We have already discussed this issue – and the Port needs to deal with it.  Frankly, the article is simply a reminder of how the previous Port Director, knowing of the issue, just kicked the can down the road.  It is also a reminder of the kind of Director the Port does not need to hire – one who kicks the can down the road. (you can read it here)

RNC – Economic Development

This week, the Business Journal featured an article on the impact of the RNC that told us it may take a while to really see the benefit:

They say the convention was clearly a short-term benefit for Tampa Bay, even as some of the numbers related to the Aug. 27-30 event are still being sorted out. They insist it is too soon to measure the long-term impact, such as whether any corporations or businesses are considering moving to the area as a result of the RNC.

“The RNC was an event that just lifted the name Tampa Bay to the nation and the world and raised consciousness,” said Rick Homans, president and CEO of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. “Does that mean they pick up the phone in September and say they are interested in relocating a business here? Probably not.”

This is undoubtedly true.  Economic development takes a while.  We understand and are ok with that.  The article lays out all sorts of issues and reasons why it may take a while and what was done.

We feel compelled to point out that we were told many times that the RNC was a great economic development opportunity for the Tampa Bay area, our “coming out,” etc. Such as this, a Tribune article from 2011 posted on the Host Committee website:

Millions of dollars and months of preparation focus on four days in August when tens of thousands of delegates, media, protesters and hangers-on will join Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul and friends at the 2012 Republican National Convention.

But the greater payback for host city Tampa could take place in the years after presidential and vice presidential candidates are selected.

Sustainable improvements in transportation, economic development, security  and high-tech communications are the Tampa Bay Host Committee’s key goals beyond a short-term outlook to fill hotel beds and project a favorable regional image to a worldwide audience.

“For the long term … we aim to provide a sustained economic boost for the entire Tampa Bay area not only from a tourism industry standpoint but also from a business development and relocation standpoint,” Tampa Bay and Company spokesman Travis Claytor said.

Officials in Tampa and beyond say the prospective benefits of hosting a national political convention fall somewhere between landing the Olympics and the Super Bowl.

One such effort was FrontRow Tampa Bay, by the Tampa Bay Partnership:

The Partnership produced a four-day webcast during the convention that showcased the region’s economic opportunities and quality of life. The Partnership claimed the online production, called Front Row Tampa Bay, received nearly 17,000 viewer streams from 73 different countries. Another 2,000 new people have visited the production website since the convention ended a month ago.

That sounds good, but:

A spokesman for Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development agency, downplayed the impact of the August political convention.

We didn’t promote the convention as economic development,” said Stuart Doyle, vice president of corporate communications. “That wasn’t a message that we drove or communicated.”

Still, the agency paid $50,000 as a top-tier sponsor of Front Row Tampa Bay, with Enterprise Florida President and CEO Gray Swoope participating on one of the program panels. Swoope is expected to attend the CoreNet convention, Kadzis said.

“We didn’t set any goals as far as what it might do for the economy,” he said. “If we get any leads – great. But we didn’t specifically target the convention as an opportunity to go after business.” (Italics added)

Well done.

List of the Week I

Our first list of the week is the October 2012 version of the On Numbers Economic Index.

The index measures the relative economic vitality of all 102 U.S. metropolitan areas that have more than 500,000 residents. It is updated on the second Monday of each month.

The methodology can be found here.

In sum, Florida is stinking it up:

Four Florida markets showed up among the 10 weakest metropolitan areas for growth, including the Tampa-St. Petersburg and Bradenton-Sarasota areas.

Bradenton-Sarasota was ranked 96 and Tampa-St. Petersburg was ranked 99 out of 102 markets, according to the On Numbers Economic Index for October 2012.

Miami-Fort Lauderdale, ranked 93, and Jacksonville, ranked 97, were also among the 10 weakest. Other Florida markets on the list did not fare much better. Lakeland was ranked 87 and Orlando, the highest Florida market on the list, was ranked 74.

Good thing they did not target economic development at the RNC.

List of the Week II

Our second list of the week is the Tax Foundation’s 2013 edition of the State Business Tax Climate Index.  Florida ranked 5th.

We are told by the Business Journal:

States with the best tax systems will be the most competitive in attracting new businesses and most effective at generating economic and employment growth, the report said.

Based on the poor showing in first list this week and Florida’s favorable business taxes climate, it would seem that that proposition is not completely accurate.  In fact, contrary to the economic prosperity or competitiveness efforts of our local governments, it would seem that taxes and real estate fees do not hold the key to economic development.  Sure, they are important, but so is quality of life and services provided.  Maybe someday our politicians will get it.

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