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Roundup 10-26-2012

October 26, 2012

Urban Tampa – Which Way Will It Go?

There have been a number of developments in the area around downtown Tampa in the last week or so that illustrate much of what we have discussed since this blog was started – the good, the bad, and the choices for the future.  They point out issues of design, development strategy, timing, and choices the City must make.

1. The Epicurean

First, the Epicurean Hotel on South Howard broke ground.   As we have said numerous times, we like the design, the location, and the idea.  This is what is good with Tampa. (Though South Howard has numerous examples of bad buildings, too.)

From the Tribune – click on picture for article

2. NoHo Flats

NoHo Flats apartment complex also broke ground this week. This is the continuation of the West Park Village north of Kennedy which, aside from the crazy electric meter location, we generally like.  As we discussed earlier, the problem with NoHo Flats (aside from the “NoHo” thing) is that the City caved to the new developers. Instead of having the development be the original urban development, the City allowed the developers to mess with the roads and use a large surface parking lot because of “market conditions” – which this rendering conveniently avoids showing.

From the Times – click on picture for article

The idea of apartments fitting the street is fine, but allowing surface parking lots is plainly bad for urban redevelopment.  Moreover, this development is very near the area the Housing Authority/City has just issued an RFP for developers to come tell the them what can be built in West Tampa.  See here and here.

NoHo Flats illustrates one of the problems with picking a developer for a large area before you even have said what you want them to develop.  You are at their mercy (Like Temple Terrace and its ill-fated downtown project.)  What happens when the developer comes along and says “market conditions” require surface parking lots facing the street, single family houses, strip malls, and no street retail or nothing can get built? (As the NoHo Flats developer said: It will be a long time before you see development in this area if you don’t allow surface parking[.]”) Is this how West Tampa is to be redeveloped? Even if the City has the guts to call the developer on it and the agreement has an escape clause, how many years will be lost waiting for a new developer?

This can best be illustrated by our next project of interest.

3. The Heights

As many of you know, the Heights was a project to redevelop the east shore of the Hillsborough River just north of downtown.  The dreamy rendering, the concept of which we like, looked like this:

From the Times – click on picture for article

As the Times told it in 2010:

An innovative project to revive a weed-strewn stretch of Tampa industrial riverfront is facing foreclosure.

Fifth Third Bank sued the Heights of Tampa LLC this month for defaulting on a $12.5 million mortgage on about a quarter of the property.

Developers want to build about 2,000 condos and 260,000 square feet of offices, stores and cafes on 48 acres acquired over the past decade on the southern tip of Tampa Heights.

For manager Darren Booth, the loan default is just a blip on a full-speed-ahead project.

It was quite a blip, because this week

After being tied up in bankruptcy court for more than a year, the project long known as the Heights is re-emerging with new ownership.

Riverside Heights Holdings, a company formed by Tampa investors Adam Harden and Chas Bruck, paid $2 million about two weeks ago for the 4.7-acre site of the old Trolley Barn, a red-brick warehouse with “Tampa Armature Works” painted across its top.

With that acquisition, Harden and Bruck, who run the private equity firm SoHo Capital, own all of the riverfront property of the Heights between Water Works Park on Highland Avenue and N Boulevard.

As the rest of the project comes free of Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceedings, Riverside Heights Holdings, along with a minority partner, Lakeland-based Hillsborough River Properties, expect to own or control a total of about 30 acres north of Interstate 275, across the river from Blake High School.

At least the new developers say they want to follow the basic idea of the original plan:

“We see the project being developed generally within the framework of the existing master plan,” Harden said. As previously approved, that plan called for 1,900 multifamily housing units with a projected population of 4,300, plus 100 boat slips and 260,000 square feet of offices, stores and cafes.

Now, we should point out that the Heights did not involve a whole region of the City.  It was a limited development that failed due to the market.  Luckily, it just fell apart and was not filled with suburban housing.  But a lot of time was lost because of the developers’ problems – at least 6 years (see here).  What if the failing developer has rights to a huge, public, West Tampa redevelopment?  Is that what we want?

It is of note that the new Heights developers also are bidding on the West Tampa matter.

Through SoHo Capital, Harden and Bruck already own the 165-unit Columbus Court Apartments on the west side of the river, south of Columbus Drive.

For the Housing Authority proposal, they have teamed up with Lennar Homes, a national home builder; Columbia Residential, which has overseen mixed-use, mixed-income redevelopments in New Orleans and Atlanta; and the Richman Development Group, which specializes in helping affordable housing projects use tax credits in their financing.

In its proposal to the Housing Authority, SoHo Capital’s team says its vision is to create “vibrant public places that support strong mixed-use and mixed-income communities,” with new pedestrian and transit connections to downtown and West Shore.

We have no problem with that description and we have no problem with them bidding, but we have a problem with the RFP. Once again, why put all our eggs in one basket?  (And what transit?)  Why not get a conceptual framework for West Tampa all worked out and put separate parts of it out for separate bids?  If the same group wins and can execute it all, that is fine with us.  But why rely on one group?  Why give them massive leverage (and see item on Channelside below)?

4. One Last Thing

Oh yea, and what about InVision Tampa? That project that:

Using federal grant dollars, InVision Tampa is creating a master plan for the City Center of Tampa, Fla., spanning from downtown to Ybor City on the east, Armenia Avenue on the west, and north along historic Nebraska Avenue to Hillsborough Avenue. Working closely with Mayor Buckhorn, experts and scholars with worldwide experience and insight have walked, talked, photographed, mapped and — most importantly — listened to you about the nuances of your neighborhood as well as the things that matter to you and your families now and in our future. We are now working on a community master plan that will catalyze prosperity and a high quality of life for all of Tampa and Hillsborough County.

What is its timeline?

A first draft of the InVision Tampa plan, including design ideas, concepts and structuring, is slated to be complete by the end of October 2012. Goers expects an open house when the initial draft is released, giving residents the opportunity to view the plan and give feedback.

* * *

In December 2012, InVision will begin work on the Nebraska Transit Corridor plan in more detail. Public meetings will be scheduled on this portion of the project.

Noting the Housing Authority timeline:

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.

Maybe the reports and website are not accurate. If they are accurate, it appears that these timelines either conflict or InVision Tampa will just be a rush job, unless public input on the FIRST draft is going to be completely ignored.

Our point is this: We support redeveloping the ring around downtown into an urban area.  We have no problem with the City working on that – in fact, we support it.  We do have concerns about the process.  We have concerns that the City is seeking developers before it has a publicly vetted plan.  We have concerns about putting all our eggs in one basket.  We also have concerns that the City will not really require urban design, and will settle.

What we want (and Tampa needs) is something along the lines of the development on the right of this rendering of a project in Houston [strangely reminiscent of the old Heights rendering, really] and not the preexisting red roofed apartments (very Tampa-like) on the left of the rendering:

From – click on picture for website

What we do not need are more surface parking lots, strip malls or fake urban (like this and this) Stop settling.

And while you’re at it, change the code.

Rays – The Continuing Saga

The silliness around the Rays stadium issue continues.  This week, we were given an excuse for St. Petersburg’s threat to sue Hillsborough County if it talked to the Rays.

More than parochialism and pride is at stake as Mayor Bill Foster and the City Council ponder their soon-to-come communication with the Tampa Bay Rays about possible new stadium locations.

The team’s recent request to explore sites in Hillsborough County has a potential downside: It could weaken the city’s legal position if the Rays try to leave town without permission, several lawyers said last week.

That worry — how the city would fare in a knock-down court fight — has colored council discussions for years. Now, a proposed stadium in the Carillon Business Park has returned it to the front burner.

Setting aside the legal issues, this is silly from a practical level – it will not help keep the Rays, it will not increase attendance, and it fails the leadership test.

In a Times editorial entitled “30-year-old thinking on the Rays,” the paper criticized the St. Pete administration:

For those scoring at home, the Rays reasonably want to look in both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties for a site for a new stadium to replace the outdated Trop. A regional franchise needs to look at its entire market, and the Rays have ranked at or near the bottom in attendance despite fielding a competitive, entertaining team. Foster refuses to let the Rays look outside St. Petersburg or nearby Pinellas.

This is a fatally flawed strategy. Every year that ticks off the lease makes it easier for the Rays to leave Tampa Bay. Pinellas County commissioners understand the need for a regional discussion, and they plan to meet with the Rays. So do Hillsborough County commissioners, who should not back down. So does Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. So does the business community on both sides of the bay. So do pragmatic St. Petersburg City Council members such as Jeff Danner and Charles Gerdes. The number of public officials hiding with Foster behind pinched legal opinions shrinks by the month.

This is all true.  The Mayor of St. Pete is living in the past.  Too bad the Times endorsed him for mayor:

Yet formidable challenges await the next mayor, including deciding the fate of the Pier, answering the Tampa Bay Rays’ call for a new stadium, addressing homelessness and managing city finances strained by the economic recession. Among the 10 candidates for mayor, Bill Foster is best-prepared to lead with a steady hand in uncertain times.

* * *

In this crowded field, one candidate is best prepared to methodically build upon the city’s recent successes and pragmatically address the challenges ahead. In the Sept. 1 primary, the Times recommends Bill Foster for mayor.

It was a safe choice, and he has been steady – if wrong (Maybe, it just shows a dearth of leadership in our area). But, once again, why does anyone expect anything other than what we have gotten from the man who said this three years before being elected mayor:

Some St. Petersburg city officials also have urged the team to dump the Tampa Bay in the name in favor of St. Petersburg.

“St. Pete anything,” said City Council Chairman Bill Foster. “I just think it’s time to recognize where the team plays and the commitment of the community that built the stadium.”

Hopefully, one day, a regional view will be a requirement for major office.

TIA – Master Planning

We reported a few weeks ago that TIA was working on updating its master plan with a special emphasis on moving the rental car facility to near Spruce.  We are not going to rehash whole discussion. (You can read it here).  For more information, there is an abbreviated presentation given to the Aviation Authority Board here.

Channelside – Whatever

This week took an interesting turn in the ongoing tale of Channelside – The Complex.  The Lightning owner, who everyone assumed was right about to buy Channelside, “suspended” his attempt to buy it.

A new facade and color palette; a new roster of shops and restaurants; an elevated pedestrian walkway; all designed to link the entertainment complex to the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

That’s how Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and his partners planned to revitalize the moribund plaza and turn downtown’s waterfront into the attraction the city has long dreamt of.

Then came Monday’s shocking announcement: the Vinik group was suspending their efforts to take control of Channelside.

“They had a good proposal,” said Mayor Bob Buckhorn. “They were ready to execute it and move forward. I think the city would have embraced it.”

If only Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp., the plaza’s previous owner, could have embraced a deal with the Irish bank that now controls Channelside. The bank foreclosed on the property in 2010 after the New York real estate firm defaulted on a $27 million loan.

But in that 2010 court agreement, the bank granted Ashkenazy the right of first refusal. Channelside’s old operator has 10 days to match any offer for Channelside for the same price plus $375,000.

Surprise.  The old owners, who just bought Harborplace at the Inner Harbor in Baltimore while letting Channelside die a slow and painful death, are working to make a deal for themselves.

The Lightning owner still might get back into the game, but we’ll see. Hopefully, it will all work out (and be improved properly) because the old owner has no apparent interest in doing anything with the complex.

Frankly, the most telling thing to us is how Tampa, like a provincial backwater, is getting screwed while a large company goes on its merry way in other places.  We feel we have seen this play before.

Coming Out Watch

This week we celebrate the return of Coming Out Watch.  Thankfully, this segment has not had anything to report for a while.  Unfortunately, it is back.

This installment’s comments come from the head of Tampa Bay & Company, the Hillsborough County convention and tourism agency.

No longer will the word “Florida” have to be added when others around the country talk about Tampa or Tampa Bay anymore, Tampa Bay & Co. president and CEO Kelly Miller told the gathering of nearly 600.

“It’ll be a stand-alone top 20 (metro area) for the rest of our lifetimes,” he said. “I think we’re all on a real high right now.”

Given that he is in marketing, we thought he would know this, but the Tampa-St. Pete metro area has been in the Top 20 metro areas in the US since 1990 (if you do not count San Juan, PR).

It would be nice if Tampa did not have to be followed by Florida (and really, it doesn’t but it usually is), but that should have already been the case and with some publications it already was. So, for real national and international weight, we did the major wire service test: see here and here. No change.  If you really want to drop the state as an indication that you have arrived, you have to do more than host a convention. (see Charlotte and St. Paul versus Denver here and here Note: Denver metro is smaller than Tampa-St. Pete metro.)

On the other hand, the RNC helped hotels:

Occupancy rates in Hillsborough peaked on Tuesday of RNC week at a high of nearly 92 percent of rooms filled, up 60 percent from a year ago. Room revenues that Sunday were up a stunning 526 percent from a year ago in what is typically a slow seasonal month.

“We’ve never seen numbers like that. Ever,” McClain said. Shy of landing another political convention or the Olympics, he added, “Those are numbers you’ll never see again.”

Exactly – never again. Good for them, but how is that real economic development?

List of the Week

Last week we discussed a list of housing affordability.  This week we feature the Center for Housing Policy and Center for Neighborhood Technology list of least affordable cities for the middle class in the US.

The report was meant to highlight the growing squeeze on middle income families, as combination of rising housing and transportation costs and stagnant incomes are eating up more and more of the household budget.

Miami is the winner (loser?).  Tampa comes in third.

In Tampa, Florida, the third least affordable city on the list, housing costs were not out of sync with media[sic] income, but transportation costs were higher than anywhere else in the country.

Interestingly, we are the largest metro without rail (other than Detroit – which was number 2) and our transportation costs are the highest.

Good thing we have HART, such fine urban planning, and developer/tourist-centric economic development.


One Comment leave one →
  1. Bud Wills permalink
    October 26, 2012 12:35 PM

    This blog should be required reading for all local elected officeholders (not their assistants, but the actual officeholder).

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