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Roundup 11-9-2012

November 9, 2012

A Museum Not In the Park

Negotiations regarding the recently announced crafts museum for Curtis Hixon Park have apparently broken down.

A private art collector has terminated negotiations to build a museum and riverfront restaurant at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park after growing frustrated that he couldn’t get a five-year commitment of financial support from City Hall.

“It has become apparent that, after nearly a year of discussions regarding the terms of the proposed agreement, the city of Tampa does not have the willingness to fully embrace the project,” Rudy Ciccarello of Palm Harbor wrote in a letter this week to Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

The city seems to like the idea of the museum, Ciccarello said, but it wants to “totally control the process” and will “show no political courage to commit to support the museum in its infancy.”

* * *

Unfortunately, Buckhorn concluded, the city couldn’t strike a balance between Ciccarello’s needs and “our ability to participate given the current fiscal environment.”

* * *

Ciccarello, who did not respond to a request for further comment, told Buckhorn there were other problems with the city’s offer: The budget approval for the money wouldn’t come until October 2013. The city wanted to limit space for the restaurant and gift shop. Commercial enterprises and special events at the museum would be restricted. Construction would have to take place in no more than two years.

More disturbing, Ciccarello said, was that Tampa officials proposed terms in the lease covering potential defaults that could put the ownership of the building into the city’s hands.

* * *

Because the city budgets its money annually, it just wasn’t in a position to give the project the kind of five-year commitment that Ciccarello sought, said Bob McDonaugh, the city’s administrator for economic opportunity.

We are not going to get into the veracity of that last point.  Frankly, we are not at all bothered that the talks broke down.  We were not convinced it was a good idea when it was first announced.  Subsequently, we visited the park again, with the museum project in mind, and our skepticism was increased.

We are pleased the City realized that just giving away the money was a questionable idea.  However, we are confused why there was a big announcement about the museum before a deal was struck.  Did the City just float a trial balloon?  Did they have second thoughts?  We have no idea.

We are also pleased with this:

As a result, Ciccarello said he will look to acquire his own site, possibly elsewhere in Tampa or in St. Petersburg.

Why?  Because we are not opposed to the idea of the museum.  We just question the choice of location.  Thus, we are not opposed to this, either – in fact we favor it:

. . . Buckhorn said in his statement. “I will continue to explore new ways to activate the Riverwalk as well as to expand our cultural and arts amenities.”

That is all good.  Just don’t mess up the park.

Port Manatee – Is Tampa Watching?

We have noted before that the Port of Tampa should be working to not just transport goods, but develop the manufacturing sector of the area.  Well, down the road in Port Manatee, they seem to get it:

Attempting to avoid a snag in the sale of about 30 acres where a new manufacturing plant is slated for construction, the Manatee County Port Authority Thursday OK’d documents designed to eliminate legal obstacles that could have derailed the deal.

Air Products and Chemicals Inc., a Pennsylvania company that wants to build a plant near the port that would employ 250, requested the partial release and an agreement from the authority in order to clear the way for the land purchase, county documents said.

The company hopes to buy the land at Piney Point from HRK Holdings, which is in the midst of a bankruptcy case.

The bankruptcy judge already has approved a plan that would exempt Air Products from environmental obligations required by the state. As part of that plan, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection will receive $2.5 million in proceeds from the Air Product sale for immediate clean-up at Piney Point.

This is economic development.  It is the type of action that the Port of Tampa should be engaged in.  One has to wonder why there is not a major push to have more major manufacturing at or very near the port. (And what happened to this?)

An Idea Whose Time Came Decades Ago

Long ago, Pasco County considered building a road from I-75 west to US 19.  In fact, it was (and may still be) on planning maps for a long, long time.  However, for whatever reason – does Tampa Bay ever need a reason – it never happened.  Apparently, the idea is back:

Gehring’s pitch? Now is the time for Pasco to pursue a raised toll road that would run above the median of State Roads 54 and 56. The east-west road could serve as the foundation for a limited-access toll road, similar to the Selmon Expressway. As envisioned, it would allow faster travel by individual vehicles willing to pay, but also carry “bus rapid transit” that could attract business workers assured of “predictable commutes” without the hassles of driving.

* * *

The county official wants to act quickly, taking advantage of low interest rates and, consistent with Pasco’s desire to stay ahead of growth, start a project likely to take eight or more years before southeast Pasco’s already congested roads get overwhelmed.

Gehring was joined in a post-tour discussion by Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad and Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA) executive director Bob Clifford.

Their message? A raised expressway has great possibilities. Making it a toll road will help pay for some of it in a time of lean state budgets.

The price per mile of a raised, four-lane expressway would probably top $28 million for a total cost close to $600 million, depending on its length, estimates Gehring, who has held preliminary talks with investment firms on financing.

Prasad reminded his audience that state Rep. Will Weatherford, a former Wesley Chapel real estate broker, becomes speaker of the House in Tallahassee this month. Weatherford, says Prasad, “wants to go on the offensive in transportation.”

Advised Prasad: “Think big.”

Just do it.  It would help the whole region and will never be cheaper than now.  It is well past time a road of this nature was built.  We don’t even mind the BRT in Pasco, if it is integrated with a regional system including rail in more urban areas – now that would be thinking big.

Left Behind

The Business Journal ran an article reprising the issue of rail transportation in the Tampa Bay area.  While it continues the confusion between light rail and high-speed rail that caused problems in the referendum, it is interesting:

“We are disappointed, but we will start working right away to help bring this before voters again,” then Greater Tampa Chamber Chairman Chuck Sykes said in a statement after the defeat.

“The Tampa Bay Partnership remains committed to its view that investment in infrastructure, including public transit, is absolutely necessary to building inclusive, sustainable and productive prosperity for the entire Tampa Bay region,” then Partnership Chairman Gary Sasso said in a post-election statement. “We cannot give up on this vision anymore than we can give up on Tampa Bay.”

Yes, but . . .

But there are no transit initiatives on Tuesday’s ballot in Hillsborough or Pinellas counties. Most of the people I talk with don’t foresee a new transit proposal reaching the ballot next year or even 2014.

Right.  Many people recognize the need to enter the 21st century in transportation, but not much is happening . . . at least not in this part of Florida. Elsewhere, however:

A few months after the 2010 transit referendum defeat, Gov. Rick Scott waved off $2.4 billion in federal investment and killed the proposed bullet train between Tampa and Orlando. Scott sent the money back to Washington, where it was redistributed to other states.

A second, more critical phase of the bullet train would have linked Orlando and Miami. Now Florida East Coast Industries proposes building a privately financed, $1 billion fast rail connection between the two cities.

Orlando also is busy building the SunRail commuter line at a cost of more than $615 million in federal, state and local tax dollars. The local trains are expected to start running by 2014.

So others are “thinking big” and moving forward, connecting their regions while we are left uncompetitive.  So, you ask, how can we get connected to the Miami-Orlando project?  Well, it will be hard because it all depends on either our old friends CSX or the Governor, or both.

The Miami-Orlando project is being undertaken by FEC. Take a look at the map below (sorry about the size – at least it is easy to read).  The yellow rail on the east coast is FEC rail.  The passenger service will run up that until it nears Orlando.  FEC is going to build a final stretch to Orlando. (Though there are some issues with that stretch.)

From FDOT – click on map for website

The leg from Orlando to Tampa would have to run down I-4 or connect to and run on CSX rails, including going through the CSX mess near Winter Haven which the state is helping to fund.  Given our streetcar experience, we doubt CSX would help make a run down their tracks economically viable.  We also have serious reservations about the State helping either – though maybe with the new legislature, our legislative delegation could push it.  Moreover, it is not clear that FEC even wants to connect to Tampa.

As the Orlando-Miami connection grows stronger, and those cities show more dedication to making progressive transportation improvements, Tampa Bay risks looking more like a secondary destination within Florida and becoming more diminished at the national level.

“Those projects are real game-changers,” likely to attract all sorts of related development and job activity, a commercial real estate broker told me this week.

It is not a risk – it is a reality.  The Tampa Bay area is standing in place while those around us move forward.  There are many causes.  One major cause is a lack of unity among our political leaders in moving the area forward properly.

By the way, not connecting the Tampa Bay area internally or to the rest of Florida is not “thinking big.”


Regional unity is a very fragile thing.  It is key to moving our area forward.  We already have built-in issues, like the Mayor of St. Pete.  We really don’t need any more.

As many of you know, this election day, the Pinellas Elections Office seriously messed up “[w]hen robocalls from the Pinellas elections office mistakenly told thousands of people Tuesday that they had an extra day to vote.”

It was a screw up, no doubt.  But it was a Pinellas screw-up.  Unfortunately, the Mayor of Tampa commented on it.

On Tuesday, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, a Democrat, sent out a Twitter message saying Clark, a Republican, should be “fired” by voters. Buckhorn stuck by that sentiment Wednesday.

“When your primary job is to show up on Election Day and do it right, you’ve got to do it right,” Buckhorn said. “There is no excuse for not performing on the one day that matters.”

Buckhorn denied he was sticking his nose into Pinellas business.

“It could have affected the outcome of the election in Pinellas, which could have affected the outcome in the state of Florida,” he said. “It’s just inexcusable.”

Look, he has a point. Like we said, it was a screw up (though the decision on who to elect in Pinellas is really not up to him.  Also, to be balanced, he should have said something about the officials in southeast Florida [largely of his party] who have seemed incapable of running an efficient, proper election for over a decade now.). And if he were simply a party official or private citizen, the comment is no big deal.  However, he is the supposedly non-partisan Mayor of Tampa and has a number of responsibilities and issues on his plate.  Many of those issues involve working things out with Pinellas, which happens to have a largely Republican government. It would be a shame if relations got more poisoned.

It would have been better to act in the same way he is acting regarding the Rays stadium – which is balanced and constructive.

Let’s Not Get Carried Away

The Times ran a blog/column about a Wall Street Journal article about the “third coast” – the Gulf Coast, including the Tampa Bay area – as an emerging economic power.

Kotkin’s key point is that the gulf coast is gaining population and economic power as an energy center and international shipping and trade region best situated to take advantage of doing business with Latin America. Granted, Kotkin focuses on Houston as the rising star and America’s next great city, but the context of the gulf coast region, which he cites as stretching east to Tampa Bay, suggests this metro area is part of a bigger geographic and economic trend.

* * *

Got to love the futurists. Read this Kotkin piece for a different slice of where Tampa Bay may fit in the economic days ahead.

If you read the actual WSJ article (which you should), it is almost all about Houston, with a bit on New Orleans and Mobile (airplane factory, etc).  In fact, basically, the Tampa Bay area is really an afterthought. (And if we do not have much more of this, we will definitely be an afterthought)

That should be the real point.

List of the Week

Our list this week continues on a recent theme – the list of top end incomes (by percentage of residents with income over $150K) by state (with DC).

The top 5 are DC, New Jersey, Maryland, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. Florida is 25th and we still have to talk about proposals to use taxpayer money to attract low paying jobs.

One Comment leave one →
  1. B. Wills permalink
    November 9, 2012 12:11 PM

    Spot-on as usual. Orlando and South Florida march ahead while Tampa Bay remains in the dark ages.

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