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Roundup 3-15-2013

March 15, 2013

Downtown Tampa – The Proposal Wave Continues

In every business cycle, eventually Tampa sees a flood of proposals.  Usually, because Tampa lags behind national trends so the proposals come later in the cycle, many (if not most) of those proposals disappear when the next crash comes.  Hopefully, this time will be different.

A few weeks ago, there was news that the Martin apartment building in the Channel District was back on.  This week, another project was proposed:

After years with almost no new residential construction, developers on Monday filed plans with the city of Tampa for yet another new downtown tower, this one called SkyHouse Channelside.

* * *

The new tower would stand near the corner of 11th and Whiting streets and reach 23 stories tall, rivaling the Towers at Channelside on the south end of the neighborhood, and include 320 apartment units, with a ground-floor level of retail and a separate parking deck with 450 spaces.

If that sounds similar to other towers in town, here’s one reason: The SkyHouse is backed by Atlanta-based Novare Group, which built the Skypoint and Element towers in downtown Tampa.

We also should point out that the map and location description (Corner of 11th and Whiting) in the Tribune appear slightly off. (The Times says 12th Street.) According to tax records, the developer, Novare, owns lots in the middle of the block east of 11th north of Whiting.  (see here, here, here, and here)  And there is a relatively new building where the Tribune map indicates the building will go. (see here)

There was a rending in the Tribune:

From the Tribune – click on picture for article

This proposal is a bit cookie cutter, which is not surprising because Novare has other projects (mostly named SkyHouse) in other cities  that look surprisingly similar and are all 23 stories with 320 units. (See here)  We are also not so fond of the separate parking garage, which is not very urban.  We would be a bit fonder (though not really fond) if it were clear that the garage had retail at the ground level (which, from Skypoint and Element, Novare seems to understand.)

Interestingly, this is the latest proposal in a (so far mini) boom of apartment building in Tampa (not to mention St. Pete):

Residential apartments are the hottest project type in development lately, and various developers plan scores of new projects around this region: 246 units at 6608 S. Westshore Blvd.; 311 units in the “NoHo Flats” project near the University of Tampa at West Fig Street and North Rome Avenue; 231 units at the former Whiskey River site at 2206 W. Swann Ave.; 300 units at 4504 W. Spruce St. near International Plaza mall; several hundred units at the city-backed Encore development north of downtown at 1101 Ray Charles Blvd.; 367 units at the Crescent project on Bayshore Boulevard just south of the Platt Street Bridge.

Tampa developer Greg Minder, who originally was involved in the Skypoint and Element projects, also plans a residential tower adjacent to the Straz Center with 350 units – a project that has strong support from Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

Ken Stoltenberg, who built the Grand Central buildings in the Channel District also plans a tower with 316 units called The Martin, on the east side of Meridian Avenue, just south of East Twiggs Street, with a wide span of two-story retail space and a tower further to the east.

What gives?

Added together, various projects in Tampa could bring more than 2,100 units to the market in the next couple of years, almost all of them rental apartments geared to the Generation Y demographic, which developers say wants to remain as mobile as possible.

* * *

However, the financial markets have suddenly opened up for developers planning rental projects of some sort. That’s a bet that despite 30-year mortgage rates below 4 percent, more young professionals and families will gravitate for one reason or another to renting a home instead of buying one.

In other words, there is demand and financial market conditions are favorable. And the City did not even have to give the developers subsidies.  How odd is that?

And, interestingly, all these projects are at least in the urban-ish area, though not necessarily the best designs.  Nevertheless, for the most part, they are infill not sprawl.  All the better.

It is interesting that a generational change may be taking place, changing the market.  For instance, there is this report that Millennials would rather give up their cars than their phones or computers. (Also, see  here.)

Maybe the reason Hillsborough County feels it has to subsidize development – like the Estuary/Bass Pro Shops deal – is because the market has changed and now people are not buying what the County is selling – which is having to drive everywhere for everything.

Hillsborough County – A Good Idea . . . Maybe

It seems that the majority of the Hillsborough County Commission’s efforts at a collective CYA for the Estuary/Bass Pro Shops deal is causing the County to finally address, at least somewhat, matters that they should have acted on long ago.  This week the Times reported that the Commissioners considered blighted areas. (Surprise, this was put on the agenda for the same meeting they considered the Estuary/Bass Pro Shops deal. see item F-3, page 16)

Hillsborough County commissioners are now considering a similar approach [to the City of Tampa] of retaining tax dollars in specific, struggling neighborhoods in the name of promoting economic development. The money could go toward widening or repaving roads, fixing flooding problems and making the selected places more attractive for people looking to build a home or business.

* * *

Hillsborough commissioners voted unanimously two weeks ago to consider creating the so-called tax increment finance districts in three areas: near the University of South Florida, near the Florida State Fairgrounds and in the neighborhoods of Progress Village, Clair-Mel and Palm River along Causeway Boulevard.

County Administrator Mike Merrill and his staff have been tasked with coming back with a plan to kick-start the effort March 20. The proposal comes as commissioners explore a variety of ways of refocusing county government to better promote economic development as the region continues to rebound from the downturn.

* * *

Here’s how tax increment finance districts generally work: Elected officials identify a specific geographic area as blighted or in need of special attention. They then develop a plan for how to address the blight and, hopefully, make it a more inviting place to live or work.

They would then establish a base year, after which the area’s growth in county property taxes would have to be spent there.

So if you own a home that has $1,000 in county property taxes and the taxable value increases by 3 percent next year, the $30 increase would stay in your neighborhood.

A fair idea, depending on how it is done.  Do we have any idea of what the plan is?

They’ve created grant programs for small businesses and to promote technology startups. They’re talking about re-prioritizing road projects to focus on those that promote private investment nearby and looking to designate specific parts of the county as economic development areas where they want to steer high-tech jobs.

Miller’s proposed tax-increment financing districts could meld with the idea of designating economic development areas by promoting renovation and reinvestment.

As we said, it is fine to designate troubled areas for special financing to attempt to improve them (depending on the area and what you are doing to improve them), as long as you do not cut their normal funding or short change other areas – which the County’s road re-prioritization plan will do.  And how will the County pay for the needs of the rest of existing County residents if it limits the use of revenue and takes what revenue it has not limited and uses it to pave empty space in the hopes that some sprawl will be built there?

And that is the rub.  Coming from a government that is still focused on giving taxpayer money to developers and re-prioritizing infrastructure needs to make the existing needs just disappear off the list of needs to justify the subsidies, we have little faith that any plan will really help the areas in need and/or the rest of the County. (See here for another example of how devoted to sprawl they are.)

We shall see.

Hillsborough County – Jaw Jaw not Fix Fix

This week the Tribune also had an article about discussions to upgrade Fletcher Avenue.

East Fletcher Avenue is a ribbon of asphalt running east-west through some of Hillsborough County’s most densely populated neighborhoods. Any time of day, commuters are likely to experience a traffic jam.

A plan to widen the road from four to six lanes and ease traffic congestion on Fletcher Avenue from Bruce B. Downs Boulevard to Interstate 75 is being studied. But there is a catch: No one knows when the county will be able to afford to expand the road.

“It’s unfunded, so sometime in the future,” Hillsborough County Public Works project manager William Alford said.

One can always dream.

The above description is limited to USF east. Surely this plan must address the “blighted” area around USF that the County cares so much about.

The proposed project would widen Fletcher Avenue from Bruce B. Downs Boulevard to I-75 from a four-lane divided road to a six-lane divided artery. The project would include three 12-foot lanes for east and westbound commuters, a 5-foot sidewalk, and 4-foot bicycle lanes in each direction. A pedestrian overpass would be placed at 42nd street near the USF campus.

Nope.

What about the part of Fletcher through Suitcase City (east of Bruce B. Downs), around where the County’s Innovation Land is supposed to be created? It seems that is just being ignored until the “blight” money discussed above flows in.

Nevertheless, work continues.

The lack of a target date hasn’t stopped officials from holding public hearings to get input from residents on a Fletcher Avenue project development and environment study. The most recent hearing was held at the Hilton Garden Inn Tampa North on Tampa Oaks Boulevard in Temple Terrace on March 7.

The study and the public hearings are necessary whether or not a project target date has been set.

“It’s important because we are doing the study, which is required, to federal standards,” Alford said.

By completing the preliminary planning work now, the county would be ready to apply for future federal transportation dollars when they become available, he said.

So the County won’t spend any County money to fix the road (that would interfere with subsidies), despite it being a key connection to USF and in the heart of a blighted area and Innovation Land.  They are just waiting for Federal money (guess the debt/deficit is not really an issue.)  Well, does the road need to be fixed?

The need for road improvements is based on existing traffic congestion and a lack of safety accommodations for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Let’s assume that means “yes.”  However, the County wants to change rules so congested roads like Fletcher magically stop needing to be fixed while adequate roads where the County wants to build sprawl suddenly “need” to be fixed.

So go ahead and go to the meeting.  Speak your mind.  Just don’t expect anything to happen.

TIA Transit Link – Forward Planning?

This week, there was report in the Tribune regarding the proposed transit connection to TIA, which has really not been overly discussed.

In 2007, Tampa International Airport officials produced a promotional video showing a light-rail train pulling up to the airport before heading to a new terminal.

By 2011, the recession eliminated the need for a new terminal and voters had defeated a plan for light rail in Tampa. But officials created a new plan for a hub for buses and rental cars on the airport’s south side.

Two years later, airport officials have given up on a new terminal on airport property. The latest plan calls for a transit hub 2½ miles to the southeast, along Interstate 275 near the West Shore Business District.

First, curiously, the reason the Airport decided not to build the center on its property is completely ignored in the article. Was it a good reason? Was it to favor some landowner? Isn’t the reason important?

Setting that aside, in theory, a connection to TIA with the junction all the way in the Westshore district is not awful (though it is not optimal), provided that there is a nonstop connection to the airport, that said connection does not take too long, and that there are not long wait times for the people mover. On the other hand, we have no idea why the facility – especially if it includes car rental – should be squeezed into the Westshore area rather than placed on airport property, where there is more space.  We also have no idea why the airport should pay for some questionable facility that is not part of the airport.

Of course, the details are key.

Passengers going to or from the airport by bus or light rail would use a “people mover” tram similar to those now serving the outlying terminals.

The concept of a West Shore transportation center is similar in some regards to the Miami Intermodal Center just east of Miami International Airport, which has become a national model for how multiple transportation modes can be linked.

* * *

A state-of-the-art West Shore transportation terminal would be accessible from adjacent streets and by ramps from a 44-foot-wide bus or rail median in Interstate 275.

* * *

“Before we move ahead, we need to know the best way to connect destinations and what technologies might be used,” said University of South Florida transportation professor and MPO member Steve Polzin.

First, aside from connecting to the airport, it would be almost nothing like the Miami Intermodal Center. The Miami facility is across the street from the airport.  Moreover, the Miami facility has access for cars, buses, local rail transit, and commuter rail. In other words, the Miami facility is really multi-modal, not just bi-modal or some clunky band-aid to a broken transportation system.  Also, the Miami facility is not squeezed into a small lot next to the interstate.

Additionally, our resident bus expert, who is quoted above, is incorrect – we do not need to know exactly what technology we are using to work out the basics of the location and layout of a multi-modal station.  In fact, the quote points out a major problem with the Tampa idea as described (yes, we know it is not fully fleshed out).  It seems to us that trying to shoe-horn some facility into the Westshore area tied to the interstate is a complete failure of forward planning.  It especially makes is difficult to expand the facility if new systems are built.  Say buses come first, then rail – where is the space to service both?  How about if there is a Westshore circulator system?

Moreover, what is the obsession with the interstate median?  Why is there an insistence of tying transit to a limited right of way with limited expansion possibilities, especially through the heart of a City where you would get maximum impact by a system that actually engages with the areas around it (stations in freeway medians are generally for suburbs)?  Any facility needs to take buses/rail directly, not make people walk a distance before they get to the airport people mover – long walks are not the TIA way.

Finally, HART put the following picture on their Facebook page with a post about the Tribune article (we are not sure if it is the full concept because it dies not even have a people mover in it, but they posted it)

From HART’s Facebook page – click on picture for posting

The concept in this picture is basically a parking garage with a bus station on Cypress nowhere near the airport.  It will not help make Westshore walkable.  It will not contribute to real transportation. Unless Jefferson High School is going to be sold, it will not contribute to more development in Westshore. The location is not easily accessible from most of the Westshore area for people going downtown or anywhere else (of course, almost nothing in the median of I-275 is, which is another reason it is a bad idea to limit transit to that median.)  Finally, any facility in this location will not be easily expanded.  In other words, if this is the idea, forget it.

We are all for tossing out and examining ideas, but we need to make sure that any idea 1) makes sense for today and 2) makes sense for the future.  From what we have seen, this idea does neither.

If something is to be built, build it right the first time.  If we skimp on it now, it will be more expensive to fix it in the future.  Stop settling.

Trail-tastic Tampa

Tampa

One thing the Tampa Bay area lacks, with the notable exception of the Pinellas Trail, is a good system of trails, especially urban trails, to connect various populated areas and activity centers. (Hillsborough County has some trails but they are not a system and are not really connected to much of the populated County.)  This deficiency, which has been known for a while (note this 2001 Master Plan for Tampa), is now attracting more interests.

The Green ARTery group is committed to creating a network of paths, trails, greenways and shared roadways encircling the city of Tampa and eventually connecting 20 neighborhoods.

What began two years ago with a grass-roots movement and small neighborhood gatherings has shifted into a new gear. Consultants from Tindale Oliver are mapping the Green ARTery perimeter and completing a study of the project.

* * *

Recommendations for the trail will be presented to the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) and city officials this year. The next step would be securing funding and identifying the first construction projects.

* * *

The Green ARTery perimeter trail would follow a large loop sweeping through downtown, Ybor City, McKay Bay, Palmetto Beach, the Riverwalk, Tampa Heights, Ybor Heights, Seminole Heights, Riverside Heights, Live Oaks Square, the Rogers Park area, the Channel District and the Encore site.

South Seminole Heights resident Carla Gormon would like better access from her neighborhood to downtown and eventually to Bayshore Boulevard.

Sounds good, as an idea.  We like trails.  Of course, the key for trails is getting pedestrians and cyclists off of roads so they do not have to share space with cars. (See Atlanta Beltline Trail or the Pinellas Trail – note: both of these have a genesis in reusing the right of way of unused railroad tracks.  See here and here)  So what is the idea in Tampa:

A multi-use path along Bermuda Boulevard by DeSoto Park is another idea. The path would be wide enough for walkers and cylists [sic], sort of a “more homey version of Bayshore Boulevard,” Miller said.

Some neighborhood streets might be identified for “bike boulevards” where priority is given to cyclists and pedestrians over motorists.

We are ok with the walking/biking path.  We have serious concerns about the “bike boulevard” idea.  That basically looks like this:

From the Tribune – click on picture for article

We don’t know about you, but that does not inspire us to get out and exercise.  Moreover, you can write all the ordinances you like saying bikes and people walking in the middle of the road have priority, but cars will still rule.  A good trail should be a carless oasis in a built up area, not a road with a stylized bike graphic painted on it.  (A trail is a trail and a road with markings for bikes is a road with markings for bike.)  And (listen up Hillsborough County) you should not have to drive to the trail or risk life and limb travelling on congested roads.  The trail should allow access from the built up areas.

Don’t get us wrong – we like the initiative.  It is a good start. (It is too bad so much of the river is not public – which would be a great place for a trail connecting most of the City. Like you can see in ribbon of green in this view of Toronto) We think the initiative should move forward.  It is long past due.  What would be even better would be if the trail system connected more of the City and connected to the County, especially the County neighborhoods closer in to Tampa.

— St. Pete

As we said, Pinellas is ahead of Hillsborough regarding trails.  There already is the Pinellas Trail.  Now:

St. Petersburg is planning a $1 million bike path that would link the popular Pinellas Trail to a bike trail and beach path on Treasure Island. When completed in about 2015, the path would provide the first cycling route from the Pinellas Trail to the county’s barrier islands and beaches.

* * *

The proposed route would connect to the Pinellas Trail at Second Avenue North, just east of 72nd Street. It would then head to Treasure Island along the Treasure Island Causeway, crossing three bridges that already have paths for bikes to separate them from traffic.

That’s the spirit. Connect everything.  If only Hillsborough County and Tampa were that far along. 

List of the Week I

It being Spring Break time, our first list this week is Orbitz’s ranking of top Spring Break destinations. Leading the list is Orlando, followed by Las Vegas, Cancun, Ft. Lauderdale, Ft.Myers, Phoenix, Tampa, New York, Miami, and Los Angeles.  Ok, not bad.

List of the Week II

Continuing our theme, our list second this week is Coedmagazine.com’s list of 15 Trashiest Spring Break Spots. (From their website, they should be experts in trashy.)

The Top 10 is as follows: 1. Las Vegas, 2. South Padre Island, 3. Daytona Beach, 4. Myrtle Beach, 5. Orlando, 6. Lake Havasu, 7. Miami, 8. Panama City Beach, 9. Key West, 10. Ft. Myers.  Tampa comes in at 11. (Pinellas County was not included in the Tampa listing, probably because they have that wholesome dolphin.)

Looking at the two lists, it seems Spring Breakers’ preferred activities have not changed that much over the years.

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