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Roundup 11-16-2012

November 16, 2012

Port – A Potential Director

The Port board acted quickly this week, short listing candidates for a new director then choosing one, the present CEO of the Jacksonville Port Authority.

The Tampa Port Authority’s governing board voted unanimously at a special meeting Tuesday to hire Anderson, who emerged as the top candidate during the four-month selection process, as its next executive director and CEO.

Anderson, 53, the CEO of the Jacksonville Port Authority, was appointed without discussion or debate in a meeting that lasted just minutes.

“We got the top-notch,” said port board chairman William “Hoe” Brown. “We got the best of the best.”

We will be honest – we don’t know that much about the chosen candidate.  However, two things give us hope that he will be good.  First,

Executives at TraPac Inc., which handles container services for the Jacksonville Port Authority, wants the agency and city officials to do whatever it takes to keep port CEO Paul Anderson from moving to Tampa.

“We have worked with a number of port executives throughout the United States and internationally, yet Mr. Anderson has proved, at least to us, that he is the most capable,” TraPac President Yoshiharu Hirakawa wrote in a letter to Mayor Alvin Brown and the Jacksonville City Council.

Unless this is some kind of port jujitsu, it is a good sign. (Though it also is a sign of a potential bidding war.)  In fact, it was Jacksonville that got the Disney import business, even though the Tampa is clearly closer to Disney. (Honestly, we don’t even know if Tampa tried.)  That is the kind of initiative Tampa needs.

Second,

The Port of Jacksonville has attracted the kinds of cargo that the Port of Tampa needs: containers. In 2011, it led the state with 900,433 cargo containers. That year Jacksonville handled 8.1 million tons of cargo, 189,000 cruise ship passengers and took in $51 million in revenue.

The Port of Tampa, however, took in just under 40,000 containers in 2011. Last year, the port made $42 million in operating revenue and handled 13.7 million tons of cargo and nearly 900,000 cruise passengers.

In other words, despite Tampa having more tons of cargo and more cruise passengers, Jacksonville’s port made more money – most likely because of containers.  That is also the kind of management we need. (In fact, it is a sign of the past complacency at Tampa’s port that this relative lack of performance has not been widely publicized and addressed previously.)

There is one issue – actually getting Jacksonville’s Port Director under contract:

Anderson’s $320,000 annual salary in Jacksonville is $70,000 more than that of his Tampa predecessor, Richard Wainio. Salary doesn’t appear to be an issue, though. Brown said Tampa would likely at least have to match Anderson’s salary in Jacksonville. The board chairman and the Tampa law firm of GrayRobinson will negotiate with Anderson.

“You’ve got to pay for talent,” said Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who serves on the port board. “You don’t want to sell the city on the cheap.”

Indeed, you do have to pay for talent. We want to develop the area by bringing people who will give a good return on investment. It is working at the airport.  The Port is moving in that direction. (Hopefully, economic development agencies will move that way, too.) It seems the area may be learning.

West Tampa – A Cause for Concern

This week, the Tampa Housing Authority chose the development group to plan and rebuild West Tampa.

The Tampa Housing Authority on Wednesday chose a private sector team led by a St. Louis-based developer to help plan the demolition and redevelopment of the North Boulevard Homes and Mary Bethune public housing complexes in West Tampa.

Housing authority commissioners also voted to pay the team, headed by the firm McCormack Baron Salazar, up to $350,000 to develop a master plan for 140 acres west of the Hillsborough River.

* * *

Its partners for the project include AECOM, a Fortune 500 Los Angeles-based consulting firm that already is working for the city of Tampa on a $1.4 million project to create a plan for downtown Tampa and its connections to surrounding neighborhoods. McCormack Baron’s team also includes firms, mostly from Hillsborough County, specializing in architecture, engineering, transportation and communications.

You might recall that AECOM is the company working on InVision Tampa, which produced a pretty but utterly not groundbreaking initial summary of its findings.

We decided to look at the McCormack group website to see what their past work has been.  To be honest, it is a decidedly mixed bag.  You can examine their work here.

There is some nice stuff, like this:

From McCormack Baron – click on picture for website

and this

From McCormack Baron – click on picture for website

and this

From McCormack Baron – click on picture for website

 

But for every one of those, there are more of these:

From McCormck Baron – click on picture for website

or this

From McCormack Baron – click on picture for website

or this

From McCormack Baron – click on picture for website

West Tampa does not need to be rebuilt to look like 1980’s Brandon.  It needs to be urban – really urban.  Frankly, if the plan is to develop West Tampa like the last few examples, Tampa could save a lot of money by just fully gutting North Boulevard Homes.

The fact that the Housing Authority would pick a group that advertises work like these later examples as their best work is a problem. It is up to the Housing Authority and City to hold their feet to the fire – which, given the City’s record of settling, has us quite concerned.  We hope they prove our misgivings unfounded.

Economic Development – Good But Not Excellent

This week, news broke on efforts to use incentive to bring three batches of financial service jobs to Hillsborough County.  This is how they were described:

Jobs in the balance

Depository Trust & Clearing Corp.

Future jobs: 255

Time frame: 2014-2018

Average wage: $81,000

Investment per job: $7,000

State funds: $1.4 million

Local funds: $486,500 each from city and county

Digital Risk LLC

Future jobs: 600

Time frame: 2014-2017

Average wage: $50,000

Investment per job: $1,000

State funds: $1 million

Local funds: $600,000 each from city and county

Local bonus: $140,000-$300,000 for creating jobs before 2015

Unidentified company

Future jobs: 110

Time frame: 2014-2020

Average wage: $51,000

Investment per job: $5,000

State funds: $440,000

Local funds: $55,000 each from county and Temple Terrace

Source: Hillsborough County, city of Tampa

That is a nice number of jobs.  From what we know (which, given this process is admittedly not that much), the incentives sound like a good investment.  The jobs pay relatively well.  They will put many people to work and help the local economy. (Certainly more than a Bass Pro Shop). But we still have a concern:

All three fall within the employment sweet spot for the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. As the county’s lead economic development agency, the corporation tries to recruit financial services firms, life science companies and engineering firms, among others. The requests will go to the county commission and the city council on Thursday.

Like we said, we like this effort.  However, we do not consider them in the “sweet spot.”  It should be kept in mind that many of these jobs are back office financial services jobs.  They are not HQ jobs.  Moreover, they will not create an industrial and innovative/creative hot spot that will bring global recognition and trade to the area.  To truly develop the area for the 21st Century, what we need are many more of these. (And we are not sure why the EDC would limit its tech recruiting to life sciences.  Wouldn’t we be happy with any high value tech?)

Don’t get us wrong, we like these efforts.  We applaud them.  We support them.  But the end goal is not to have the Tampa Bay area be America’s back office – it is to develop industries in which to lead.

A Look At The Big Picture

This week the Times had a long article entitled “Vision for Tampa’s future connects downtown, Channelside” about downtown Tampa. While interesting, it really did not break much new ground.  We have noticed that, over the years, articles like this pop up every now and then. (See “Iorio quietly laying down a foundation for city makeover”; “Iorio collects suggestions for downtown riverwalk”; “In eight years as mayor, Pam Iorio changed the culture of Tampa’s bureaucracy”; “Legacy of Tampa projects marks Mayor Pam Iorio’s tenure”) Frankly, we do not put much stock in them.

This article did have one interesting item that we think deserves some comment.

In the 1970s, residents fled downtown for the suburbs. For decades, Buckhorn recalled, no one really lived in downtown Tampa. Not even as recently as when he left the City Council in 2003.

“When I left office there were about 600 people living downtown,” Buckhorn said, “and 300 of them lived in the Morgan Street jail.”

Retail followed everyone out of town. In 1967, Tampa’s first mall, WestShore Plaza, opened 5 miles from downtown.

But it was the office buildings Al Austin built near the mall in the 1960s that truly reshaped Tampa. The West Shore business district is now the highest concentration of commercial office development in Florida.

Imagine what downtown Tampa’s skyline would look like — and that dead zone that abuts the Channel District — if it had Westshore’s 12 million square feet of office space. Imagine what that real estate black hole would look like with even a fraction of West Shore’s two malls, 38 hotels, 250 restaurants, 4,000 businesses and 94,000 workers.

“It’s been a huge factor,” Buckhorn said. “It doesn’t make a lot of sense to have two competing, highly dense urban districts within miles of each other, and that’s what Tampa has.”

We have discussed this before, but we can do it again.  First, we don’t remember any overt opposition from City Council to developing the Westshore area in the 80s and 90s.

Second, almost every major city has at least two business districts – downtown and another office district.  Houston has downtown and the Galleria district. Atlanta has downtown (and midtown) and Buckhead. (denser and more urban than either Tampa district – and Buckhead has the two malls). Miami has all sorts of districts like downtown/Brickell, Coral Gables, and Dadeland.  Denver does too (just search “Denver, CO 80237” in Google maps). We could go on, but the point is made.

In most of these cities, downtown is different from the other office district, which tends to be less urban.  The real mistake is that in Tampa downtown tried to compete with Westshore by becoming less urban. (Just because it is tall does not make it urban)

For many years, the main distinguishing factor between the two was the cost of parking and the fact that Westshore is more geographically central in the Tampa Bay area.  Even the street interaction of modern office buildings in downtown Tampa and those in Westshore are the same – basically none.  Neither has transit to make up for parking issues.

The real key to distinguishing the two markets– and admittedly there are a number of residential projects downtown have moved in this direction recently– is making downtown and its surrounding area really fully urban.  Require real street retail.  Over time, eliminate surface parking and the incentives for land owners to operate it rather than develop the land.  Make downtown really walkable.  Make downtown truly mixed use. And, oh, and transit.

We think the Mayor understands this.  Sometimes it appears that he does.  Other times he seems far to willing to settle for less, like this.

Finally, the reality is that Westshore exists and helps drive the area economy.  Make it more urban – though it will never be really urban which will distinguish it from downtown.  (It will be a long time, if ever, before you will be able to live and work by walking in Westshore.  Westshore will not be a cultural hub.).  Develop an urban corridor between downtown and Westshore.  There is no reason that Kennedy cannot be the spine connecting the two major business hubs with different but complimentary amenities and environments.

And change the code.

Speaking of Rail

We have been waiting a while for more real talk about rail in the Tampa Bay area – aside from the brief blurb about Pinellas.  We guess everyone was waiting for the election.  This week, the Times had an article regarding an effort to allow cities to have their own tax referenda.

Buckhorn said last week that city officials will try to round up support in the Legislature to allow Florida’s largest cities to opt out of the current requirement that sales tax referendums be countywide.

That could give the city a chance to reboot the kind of transit tax proposal that in 2010 went down to defeat in Hillsborough County even though it won support from precincts inside the city.

“All we’re asking for is the ability to self-govern and to let the voters of the major metropolitan cities to choose their own destinies and to improve their own quality of life,” Buckhorn said.

And this is not just Buckhorn talking.

The idea also has been embraced by members of the Urban Partnership, which consists of the mayors of Tampa, St. Petersburg, Orlando, Miami, Hialeah, Jacksonville and Fort Lauderdale.

Frankly, we doubt this idea will find that much support in the legislature.

We understand the logic behind this effort, and, to some degree, agree with it.  However, having such a referendum, rather than getting countywide approval for transit is likely a recipe for long-term problems for funding transit in the area.  Eventually, the counties will have to be brought into the process.  Tampa does not exist in a vacuum – either physically or economically.

The article had one far more interesting item:

Buckhorn does not yet have numbers for costs and revenues, nor details about light rail routes or other transportation improvements for any proposal the city might put forward. But he said a detailed plan would be part of anything submitted to voters.

“Before I would ever go to a referendum, I would want to make sure that everyone knew everything that I knew,” Buckhorn said. “I’m not going to the voters with some half-baked scheme that doesn’t have the meat on the bones.”

This is interesting because of what it says about the last referendum effort, the failure of which was publicly blamed on the Tea Party.  Of course, the Mayor is right.  Any referendum has to have a full plan.  The last effort was very flawed. A better effort stands a much better chance of passing countywide.  As we have said many times, hopefully any new proposal will have learned from the past.

HART/PSTA – And Now For Something Completely Routine

We have discussed the possible merger of HART/PSTA numerous times.  We have noted that neither Board wants to even discuss it, but the Legislature made them.  This week we got the fist glimpse of the report by the consultants chosen by HART and PSTA to study the issue.

In a Tribune article entitled “Report finds no savings in transit system merger” we learn that:

A committee of Hillsborough Area Transit Authority and Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority board members discussed a draft report by McCollom Management Consulting on Monday that also indicated it would cost more than $1.1 million for a formal partnering of the transit services and about $1.9 million for a full merger.

It could be possible to save $2.4 million annually by consolidating senior staff, the consultant said, but Steven Polzin, a University of South Florida transportation professor and HART board member challenged that figure.

We are not sure if the merger costs were one time or annual costs, but in either case, there are savings which could range from a few hundred thousand to millions a year.  So the arithmetic tells us there are potential savings.  So why are we told there would be no savings?

Polzin cited examples, including one from a combined transit operation in Virginia, in which salaries for management soared as operations doubled.

Others from both boards on the consolidation committee criticized parts of the report.

“We are putting the cart before the horse,” said Susan Latvala, a PSTA board member and Pinellas County commissioner.

Latvala questioned whether the report spells out the true costs of a merger.

Her concerns were echoed by Sandy Murman, Hillsborough County commissioner and HART board member.

“I read this report after watching the Bucs win Sunday when I was in a good mood,” Murman said.

“I was not in a good mood when I finished. I think at this point a merger … is out of the question. The increased costs would lead to Armageddon.”

In other words . . . because.

The bottom line on the report is this: The Boards hired this company to do the report.  If they did not like the results, they have only themselves to blame.  If the consultant is bad, they have only themselves to blame.  On the other hand, if the report is accurate, there very well could be savings and the Boards are just standing in the way of greater efficiency:

Hillsborough officials have long opposed the idea of combining transit agencies, and on Monday, many Pinellas officials said the timing was wrong.

In any event, which ever way one goes on the report, the Boards are to blame.

It is very possible that such a merger could save money, and, therefore, it deserves further study. (And why aren’t we hearing the Taxed Enough Already people coming out for further study?)  Given the Boards’ obvious bias, the study should be by an independent organization.

That being said, we acknowledge there are issues with a merger, such as:

The draft study also highlighted many obstacles to a merger. Each county’s transit agency has two collective bargaining agreements with two different unions. Bus operators and mechanics work under different wage scales. And while Hillsborough prefers buses powered by compressed natural gas, Pinellas favors diesel-hybrid buses.

A merger would be further complicated by the fact that it would require not only state lawmakers’ approval, but also majority votes by the agencies’ boards and voter referendums.

That is why there should be further study. If service can be maintained or improved (especially by using the savings) by a merger, that is good. The Boards should be aware – they serve the public, not themselves.  Simply saying they don’t believe their own consultants will not cut it.

The merger idea deserves further study.

Coming Out Watch

When last we left Coming Out Watch, the head of Tampa Bay & Company was telling us that, because of the RNC, the word “Florida” would no longer have to follow “Tampa” when discussing our area. As we demonstrated, that was not really true.

Well, what the RNC did not do, to some degree the recent CIA/Military scandal may be doing. While wire services (our previous test) still refer to us as “Tampa, Florida,”  some major national (and a few international) news organizations have put out online headlines like this:

  • And the Wall Street Journal just refers to “Tampa” in this article.
  • And the Telegraph (UK) drops the Florida from the byline – though it is in the headline.

Not only is this event giving us the real name recognition breakthrough, it is finally getting national media to take pictures on Bayshore.  Maybe it was a good thing that it was repaved for color coordination.

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