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Roundup 11-30-2012

November 30, 2012

InVision Tampa – Of Will, DNA, and Familiar Pictures

This week, the official initial report from InVision Tampa was revealed. You can find the report here. Generally, most of the substance was not objectionable. (Though we object to the silly, insecurity revealing, rebranding effort calling the area around downtown “Center City Tampa” – do we really want to be Philadelphia?  Or calling the area around UT “Med-Ed.”  We also object to the idea of a downtown “village.”  It should be a city, not a village. But we are not going to go on about master planning silliness.)

So what does the report say? In broad strokes:

The plan outlines five “building blocks,” as well as moves the city could make to:

• Reimagine and refocus activity along the Hillsborough River. This would include not only completing the Riverwalk, but eventually expanding it to the west bank of the river and into Tampa Heights. It also could include a water taxi and improvements to make walking or biking from one side of the river safer and more enjoyable.

• Create livable neighborhoods in the center city, which could mean working to bring in a grocery store and other retail, adding sidewalks and bikeways and writing design standards that respect historic patterns of development.

• Strengthen links between downtown and nearby neighborhoods. For example, the plan suggests turning Tampa Street and Florida Avenue — now one-way streets dedicated mainly to moving commuters into and out of downtown quickly — into local, two-way streets with lower speed limits, on-street parking and more of a neighborhood feel.

• Make pedestrians and cyclists feel safe and welcome. This could mean creating a east-west “green spine” — a multipurpose trail that could run generally from the V.M. Ybor neighborhood, down Nuccio Parkway, through downtown, over the river, past the University of Tampa and out to West Tampa.

• Create urban patterns that support transit by guiding development to create the kind of density that supports the use of transit, by capitalizing on existing centers of growth like the Channel District and working to enhance east-west transit as a precursor to a future commuter rail line.

Aside from following “historic patterns of development” (If the history was so good, why do we have to keep making plans?), the main thing above we really have an issue with is messing with Tampa St and Florida Ave. (See rendering on page 94 of the pdf )  As we have mentioned before, they are main gateways to downtown.  If, without real transit and a much wider I-275, you choke them into a single lane each way, you are choking access to downtown from the north, which hardly seems to fulfill a goal of making downtown a business/regional center. Can you say pushing people to Westshore? (It is also odd that there is no mention of narrowing and two-waying Platt/Channelside and Brorein/Cleveland and inconveniencing South Tampa.)

Before we go any further, we want to state clearly that Tampa has progressed.  However, our progress has been a casual walk while competing metro areas have been running.  Maybe the InVision project is a necessary corrective, but we are not going to get too excited.

Why? Because we have seen most, if not all of these, ideas before.     To wit:

Here is a rendering of the northern edge of downtown – which is designated to be turned into a fine residential area – from the InVision report – from page 58:

 

From InVision Tampa report - click for report

From InVision Tampa report – click for report

This is a rendering of the same area with the same goal from the Tampa Downtown Development Authority from its 1981 (yes, 1981) report:

 

From 1981 Downtown Development Authority Report

From 1981 Downtown Development Authority Report

Sure, one is 80s architecture, but, other than that and a bit of road work, there really is no difference.

Then there is the West Bank of the Hillsborough River.  In the InVision plan (see page 66), it is supposed to be an extension of downtown. (and, of course, it should be, but that is nothing new.)  The Downtown Development Authority report from 1981 shows us this dreamily 80s plan for the “West Bank,” as it was referred to in the report. (Talk about bad rebranding)

 

From 1981 Downtown Development Authority Report

From 1981 Downtown Development Authority Report

Not exactly the same thing, but the basic goal was the same.  (Not to mention the Hillsborough River Tower proposal.   For the present status)

Then, there is the coverage of downtown redevelopment plans/efforts/ideas which has, with rare, occasional exceptions, had basically the same tone for 30 years. Take this 1983 report from the Christian Science Monitor entitled, we kid you not, “Tampa swaps ‘blue collar’ for high-tech ‘white’”  (Isn’t that what we are still trying to do?)  The story tells us this:

Downtown Tampa has been able to redevelop quickly and relatively cheaply, Mr. Menzies says, because city government and private business combined forces to attract development and because the core of the city had no populated slums that had to be cleared first.

”Most cities have ghettos that have to be cleaned out, and that causes all kinds of problems,” he says. ”We want our downtown to be residential, but we don’t have the big problems to start with.”

* * *

”In the past it has been very difficult to keep ahead of the growth,” says Ron Short, director of the Tampa-Hillsborough Planning Commission. ”Now, we’re rapidly perfecting the tools to allow the city and county to manage growth but still allow for considerable development.”

The city government has offered tax advantages to developers who will redevelop blighted parts of the central business district, and an international group of investors has announced plans for a downtown shopping center.

That could have been written this week (except for maybe the “ghetto” reference and the fact we already have a retail complex downtown . . . well, Channelside.). And this:

But residents sometimes rebel against the new image that business leaders want to create for their city. For example, movers and shakers in town wanted to build a $42 million performing-arts hall to provide the sophistication that they believe executives look for in a town to which they will move.

But Hillsborough County voters by 2 to 1 rejected a proposal that would raise sales taxes by 1 cent for a year to finance the building. Business and government leaders are looking elsewhere for the money to build the hall.

Sound familiar? (see rail) Somehow the performing arts center got built.

Or this from a 1985 article on Harbour Island:

“The one thing that is going for us is that Tampa was a late bloomer. No one had a chance to mess it up before its time came. I think we have benefited from other people`s mistakes.“

Clearly. And this from another 1985 article:

“We don`t really have a record of failure like other cities. That is a direct result of the strong working relationship between public and private,“ said Jerry Shaw, formerly a planner for the Downtown Development Authority, an advisory agency financed with $200,000 a year in city taxes.

“We planned well, and what we`re seeing is a direct result of that planning,“ Shaw added.

Bill Poe was mayor from 1974 to 1979 when much of the downtown`s rejuvenation was planned — and scoffed at as overly ambitious.

“It was a wish. I was not going to bet on any of it,“ said Poe. Now, he marvels at how the boom is exceeding some of the goals. “It`s like a dream,“ he said.

Planning and making things good for developers – sound familiar?  And here’s more that sounds conspicuously like the Economic Competitiveness Committee goal.

That also means downtown developers do not have to go through the whole process themselves and can save an average of 18 months in the permission- gathering process, Shaw said.

“You don`t waste a lot of time in Tampa, and timing is critical for developers,“ said Rotella.

Not sure that worked out so well before.  And if it did, why do we need InVision Tampa?

The point is not that the general ideas on redevelopment were bad – they weren’t, and still aren’t. (Except making everything as easy as possible for developers at the expense of following the plans.) The point is that Tampa’s problem is not a lack of ideas, it is a lack of implementation and the political will to see the ideas through to the hoped for conclusion.  While we have been planning and settling, other cities have been doing.

It is not for a lack of planning that Tampa is less competitive than it should be.  The key for Tampa is to set the proper parameters, which it fails to do.  Contrast 30 years of thinking about the north part of downtown which is still mostly empty (though with a little progress) with the development of the Channel District, where more urban zoning changes set parameters years before a strategic plan was done in 2006, after development plans had been proposed and projects really started.

With the parameters set, the Channel District grew on its own – and not as the originally contemplated “artists’ village.” You can plan all you want, but without the true political will to change the laws and codes to create the conditions for real success, any plan will just be, well, another plan.

The Channel District example also points to one more issue.  We certainly have no problem with getting input from people who already live in the area in question.  It is the proper thing to do.  A major issue for revitalizing an area is what people who are NOT there already want, as well.  What will attract them?  Without those new people, there will be no redevelopment.

The bottom line is that if InVision Tampa finally gets the City to do what has been known and needed for the last 30 years and change the Code to require urban development, fine with us. The real achievement will be making “Center City” Tampa a truly urban area.  Whether the creation of a truly urban Tampa follows InVision Tampa, the innumerable plans before that (and probably after) or is just the result of intelligent changes to the code and economic reality is really not relevant to us.  What is relevant is that time is being wasted while other cities are passing us by – from the 2002 article on the Hillsborough River Tower:

If Tampa doesn’t pull together soon, other large cities will continue to win its prospects, including its nearest competitor along Interstate 4, he said this month.

“I think Orlando has done a damn good job of eating Tampa’s lunch,” he said.

We need to get on with it.

Finally, kudos to the Mayor for speaking truth on one matter only tangentially dealt with by the InVision report:

“Ultimately, as a community, we are far less competitive without a mass transit option,” Buckhorn said. “We’ve got to look beyond that tea party rhetoric. In the urban core, transit is a game-changer.”

Indeed – and not just in the core. To be truly urban and, therefore, to compete, we need rail.  We have no more time to waste.

Not Dead Yet I – Rail

Coincidentally (or not) this week, there was some news about rail:

The staff of the county’s Metropolitan Planning Organization is asking its board to consider a mass transit plan that has some similarities to the failed 2010 referendum, but also important differences. An MPO policy committee will discuss the idea at a meeting this morning.

As in the 2010 referendum, the plan would use a sales tax increase to fund mass transit. This project, though, is much less ambitious – and less expensive – than the one voters so soundly rejected two years ago.

The centerpiece of the MPO’s idea is a “hybrid” light-rail project to showcase what light rail could achieve.

The initial project would run only between downtown and the University of South Florida campus. That would be a dramatically shorter route than the one called for in 2010, which would have created a light rail system running from the northeast suburbs to downtown Tampa to Tampa International Airport.

The smaller scale of the project also would carry a smaller price tag – in this case, a half-cent increase in the sales tax instead of a full penny.

You can see a map of the proposal here. It is basically the northern leg of an old plan, without going to USF. (See here)

First, we have to wonder why the proposal would not cross Fowler and go onto USF’s campus.  Eventually any system would have to do that.  It seems silly to omit it in the beginning.

Second, we actually would prefer to the TIA-downtown leg built first.  It would provide more opportunity to help redevelop West Tampa and is the key link in any future system.  Why not do it first?

Third, we wonder why there is a reliance on sales tax, seemingly without looking at other sources of revenue.

Fourth,

A major cost savings would result from using equipment heavier than traditional light rail but lighter than conventional commuter rail cars. The heavier equipment would meet federal guidelines allowing the rail system to use CSX freight tracks, though a deal with CSX still would have to be worked out.

Negotiate with CSX – we know how well that worked out in the past.

Finally, and in some ways most importantly, we take issue with how the 2010 rail referendum is portrayed in the article.

Although Tampa voters backed the initiative by a slim margin, voters outside the city were near unanimous in voting against a 1 cent sales tax for light rail and some road and bus improvements.

The comment about the voting in the County is demonstrably false.  As the Tribune previously reported, “The referendum failed by 58 percent to 42 percent, with a slim, 44 percent turnout.” Simple math would show that if it was “narrowly” supported in the City, the referendum could not have gotten 42% of the votes if the “no” vote in the County “near unanimous.”  Yes, most precincts in the County voted against the referendum, but the votes were not “near unanimous.” (If you don’t believe us, check the election supervisor website here and here)  And demographics keep changing.

While we have some reservations about this new/old rail idea, we are pleased that people are at least thinking about it.  Now it needs to be refined.

Not Dead Yet II – Bass Pro Shops

Apparently, the effort to bring Bass Pro Shops to Hillsborough County still lives.  While we have no problem with Bass Pro Shops, we still have a problem with this effort.

Bass Pro Shops is expected to anchor a major retail, hotel and entertainment complex called the Estuary between Interstate 75 and Falkenburg Road. There, Bass Pro Shops would operate a 150,000-square-foot superstore, three times the size of a typical Publix.

Hillsborough County will be asked to contribute $8.25 million toward the project, all of which will be used for road improvements. Hillsborough County commissioners will vote on the issue Wednesday.

* * *

Hagan said Bass Pro has commanded $10 million to $40 million from other local governments, compared to the $8.25 million it would get here. Technically, the road improvement subsidies would go to the developer for the Estuary project rather than Bass Pro Shops, Hagan said.

Right, this is a subsidy to the developer to build a large strip mall in an area that already has a huge amount of retail.  Contrast that with the much less expensive recent effort to bring higher paying jobs to Tampa.

With little discussion, county commissioners approved spending as much as $973,500 to bring up to 1,000 jobs to the area.

And those jobs are much higher paying than retail jobs.  Or look at the recent, though quite vague, proposal to spend hundreds of millions of private money to bring pro soccer and sports medicine facilities to Hillsborough County. (We don’t comment on the prospects, just the idea.)

There is no reason to give $8.25 million in taxpayer money to a developer to just build retail.  We need a better return on any investment.  If Bass Pro Shops wants to come, let them, but do not use taxpayer money on the deal.

Economic Development – Truly Changing DNA

The Tribune had an interesting article on the changes in economic development leadership positions in the area.   We are not going to go through it at length.  You should read it.  The main point is really up front:

U.S. Census figures show the median household income for the Tampa area was just under $44,000 in 2011. That’s almost $500 less than the median Florida household income and a whopping $6,600 less than the U.S. median.

What’s more, the trend is going the wrong way. The median household income last year was 13 percent lower than in 2007.

But leadership changes at several of the agencies that affect local economic development could bring a fresh outlook that might help alter the Tampa area’s longstanding wage gap.

New leaders have recently taken over — or are being sought for — the Port of Tampa, Tampa International Airport , HART, Visit Tampa Bay & Co. and the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn says the area needs “to change our economic DNA.”

“I think this is a transcendent moment for Tampa,” said Buckhorn, who views the changes atop key agencies as the final piece of the puzzle required for the area to fulfill its potential. “We should not settle for mediocrity.”

Indeed, we should not settle for mediocrity (hope the Mayor remembers that when looking at projects to be built in the City) or give taxpayer money to create low paying jobs (See Bass Pro Shops, above).  Frankly, we are not concerned if good performance comes from someone new or an incumbent that steps up their game.  We just want results.  We are very pleased with TIA.  We are cautiously optimistic about the Port.  Hopefully, the trend continues with the other positions.

We also hope those new leaders read these two very interesting pieces on startup cities (none in Florida) and MIT startup success. Maybe they also can apply some lessons to efforts like Tampa Bay Wave.

Springs and Sprawl

The Times ran an interesting article on vanishing and/or polluted springs in Florida.  While it is not initially obvious how this relates to most subjects in Tampasphere, the reality is that poor planning, inefficient land usage, sprawl, and simple complacency are threats in many ways – including to the environment.

Regardless of political persuasion (save the most nihilistic extremes), there are strong arguments for preserving and protecting the environment and natural resources.  They are community assets that should not be squandered.

List of the Week I

For those still devoted to the real estate based economy, our first list of the week is the metro areas with the lowest housing vacancy rate. San Jose has the lowest, followed by Lancaster, PA, and Minneapolis-St. Paul. The Tampa Bay are comes is 99th out of 109.  The only bright side is that other Florida cities are even worse rounding out most of the bottom: Miami is 100th, Orlando is 101st, Melbourne is 103rd, Lakeland is 104th (really not so good because this is part of our area, but not in the Census Bureau’s eyes), Sarasota-Bradenton is 105th (Ditto), Port St. Lucie is 106th, Daytona is 107th and Ft. Myers is 109th.

List of the Week II

This week’s second list is the Travel & Leisure list of cities with the best looking people. Miami is number one. Orlando is 32 out of 35. Because it is Travel & Leisure, despite the RNC, the Tampa Bay area does not exist. (At least we don’t have to worry about “Florida” coming after “Tampa” on their list.)

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