State of the City
The Mayor of Tampa delivered the annual State of the City speech this week. The speech was accompanied by this swell (and hopefully not very expensive) logo:
Like the annual State of the Union, State of the City speeches are mostly rhetorical puffery lacking substance. This one was no different:
Nice to know he is serious. How do we know he is serious?
“We can be a region with a first-class transportation system,” Buckhorn said during his second state of the city speech on Tuesday. “We need mobility options now. That means bus rapid transit, that means (high-occupancy vehicle lanes), and it darn sure means rail.
“Tallahassee needs to let cities decide for themselves what their future’s going to look like,” said Buckhorn, who has lobbied the Legislature to let Florida’s largest cities hold their own sales tax referendums. That could give Tampa a second chance at the kind of transit referendum that was defeated in unincorporated Hillsborough three years ago even as it won precincts inside the city.
Indeed, we need a first-class transportation system in the region, and it is good that the Mayor is talking about it. Unfortunately, the Mayor advocates the least regional alternative of all – the City tax/city based system. And if he wants a regional system, why did the Mayor punt during the HART/PSTA discussions? Why did he not support TBARTA – a regional organization – becoming involved? More importantly, aside from saying we need a system, what exactly does the Mayor intend? Where does he want light rail to go? And what is plan B when the Mayor doesn’t get his City tax? And how is this level of planning different from his predecessor? Rhetorical support is fine (and necessary), but to be serious you actually have to do something more than talk.
Then there was this – the headline grabber:
“Don’t tell me that I have to listen to the mayor of Detroit thank me because he’s building his light rail system with our money,” Buckhorn said. “If folks in Tallahassee don’t want to support us, we’ll find folks in Tallahassee that will.”
As rhetoric goes, not bad. As for being based in fact, not so much. (Detroit is not using high speed rail money to build its streetcar; that money went to other high speed rail plans. Detroit is only getting $25 million in federal funds, which is less than $2 billion. ) One thing this area does not need is more rhetoric confusing light rail and high speed rail. We need clarity in language and planning. (Like Pinellas seems to be developing.) We need a concerted effort to convince people that rail is useful and necessary. Why would the Mayor go out of his way to foster confusion if he is serious about actually building rail?
And we also do not need transit to be a partisan issue. The Young Democrats and Young Republicans agree. Why is the Mayor messing with that?
Setting that aside, other things discussed by the Mayor included:
We are all for improved relations between the City and the County. On the other hand, the improvement should not be at the expense of actually getting things done. And if relations are so good and the Mayor really thinks we need a comprehensive transit plan, why are we just now getting to have a conversation about transit in Hillsborough County?
• The opportunities to become a gateway to Latin America offered by the expansion of the Panama Canal and international flights to Tampa International Airport. (“I’m not playing second fiddle to Miami. It’s our turn.”)
Confidence is good, but the fact is that right now Tampa is playing second fiddle to Miami (and in many ways Orlando, too. Miami is trying to double their container traffic which already dwarfs ours. We won’t even bother talking about Miami’s air connections to Latin America. Mayor, you are playing major catch-up.). On the other hand, we welcome competing with Miami and other areas. (And why just focus on Latin America?) Tampa should be a gateway to Latin America. It is good that the Mayor is on board with all the other people who have been working for years to develop international trade, like here (or maybe he just likes to tango) Also, hopefully the Mayor realizes how far behind the Tampa Bay area was allowed to become (especially in the Port and Airport) and will refrain from irrationally impeding further efforts to keep the talent necessary to catch up with our competitors. And, now that a local Congresswoman has taken the local lead, maybe the Mayor will change his stance against trading with the closest Latin American country to Tampa, namely Cuba.
Indeed, though two of the announced towers are revisions of plans that got stalled in the recession. Having been through these cycles many times, we are curious to see what will get built and if the City will ever get around to changing the code to make sure it is urban. (unlike the Channelside project of suburban style apartments that the Mayor lauded. ) Downtown is improving, but it can still be messed up rather easily.
• The need to make Tampa competitive with vibrant, tech-savvy Sunbelt cities like San Diego, Austin and Raleigh-Durham, N.C. (“We’re not fighting with St. Petersburg. We’re not even competing with Orlando. … I am not losing my two little girls to Charlotte, N.C. I will be darned to let that happen.”)
Right, Tampa is not competing with St. Pete (though, unfortunately, in many ways at least the government of St. Pete is competing with Tampa). Wrong, the Tampa Bay area is competing with Orlando for business, for flights, for Latin American connections, for biomed, for population, for state and federal funds, etc. And, yes, we are competing with other Sunbelt cities, but not just Sunbelt cities. The bottom line is talking about competing is good. What is the plan (especially beyond real estate)?
• The goal of making the Hillsborough River the center of downtown activity. (“For too long, we’ve turned our back on the river. … For too long, we’ve failed to realize that that river is the best asset we have as a community.”)
Attaching downtown to the river is fine, and Curtis Hixon Park is great (hint: don’t mess it up). Of course, downtown activity will develop its own way regardless of what the Mayor wants, and Channelside, where two of the announced apartment towers are planned, is nowhere near the river. It would be good if the Mayor were also concerned with design and planning in other parts of the City, which really does not appear to be the case.
• And the importance of reducing blight in inner-city neighborhoods hit hard by the housing crash and foreclosure crisis. (“As Jackson Heights goes, so goes, Palma Ceia. As College Hill goes, so goes Culbreath Isles. As East Tampa and West Tampa go, so goes New Tampa.”)
We totally agree. It follows that he should explain why the City seems to have no interest in having good design built on Dale Mabry or most other parts of the City. He should explain his inaction on getting a proper code in place. (We are also curious why, despite an ordinance, there are panhandlers all over the City except, as far as we can tell, in South Tampa. They may be there too, but we haven’t seen them.)
In fact, there was a lot positive about the speech, even if it was just rhetoric. The fact that the Mayor clearly stated he wants rail is good. The fact that the Mayor mentioned international trade, specifically international flights, and international competition is a real positive. It shows a real transformation in the political culture has taken place since the last administration, and the Mayor feels the need to address it. The Mayor may be late to game on these issues (for instance he as not part of the discussion about changing airport directors and focusing on international flights), but at least he is getting himself on the right side rhetorically.
And he was really right about this:
The question is: if it doesn’t have to settle, why does the City keep doing it?
Actions speak much louder than words. The words are pretty good. The jury is definitively still out on the actions.
And change the code.
HART – There Is No Accounting for It – Cont
Last week we reported on HART saying they do not have money to upgrade buses in the future. This week, we learned that HART also failed to plan properly for its east-west “MetroRapid” service.
HART’s new speedy bus service will be whisking riders by late spring on a 17-mile route from downtown Tampa to Telecom Park near Interstate 75, using traffic signal-changing technology to cut trip times by 10 to 15 percent.
A more east-west route from Tampa International Airport to Temple Terrace, though, remains years away. Crucial issues like funding and specifics such as whether the route would service Hillsborough Community College’s Dale Mabry campus remain unresolved.
First, what is unresolved? Why wouldn’t it service HCC’s Dale Mabry Campus?
If it is such an attractive and efficient service, why would there be no additional riders to/from a place like HCC? Why do you need a loop through HCC rather than a stop on Dale Mabry or Tampa Bay near the campus that would add almost no travel time? How much was the consultant paid?
Anyway, back to HART’s unique style of accounting:
But unlike the north-south route, which is being built and equipped with $25 million in Hillsborough County transportation grants, no funding appears readily or easily available for MetroRapid East-West.
Planners and lobbyists are checking into potential state and federal funding sources, a more difficult and time-consuming process than when Hillsborough County financially backed the north-south plan.
Odd. No funding available? As we pointed out last week, HART gave back millions (including $5.7 million for the MetroRapid, around $ 9 million in total by some accounts) back to the County because they apparently did not need it. (And we apologize for some links – the Tribune’s revamped website inexplicably killed the old links to their articles. You can find the info elsewhere here)
This is all very strange because:
(So, essentially she sent money from herself to herself and now wishes she had given herself the money back.) If there are so many benefits, why did HART give the money back? If it did not give away money it needed to create a false veneer of thrift, HART would not have to work quite as hard raising money.
We understand that funding is limited and the $5 million to $9 million given back will only cover a limited number of things. There is still a need for more transit funding. We also think saving money is fine (good, in fact), but it is not saving money to give money away then say you need more money. It is just silly and a disservice to the owners of HART – the residents of Hillsborough County. The whole thing is laughable.
On the other hand, at this point, what do you expect?
Hillsborough County Transportation – The Wait
We thought it was interesting this week that venerable local columnists for both the Times and Tribune weighed in on the upcoming transportation talks and, though differing in styles, said pretty much the same thing, from the Times:
From the Tribune:
For us, seeing is believing, and we haven’t seen anything yet.
Reshaping the Urban Environment
We found this interesting article about how a combination of rail development and changed building design requirements is transforming Denver. See here. You should read it. As the article itself says, no one is saying that Denver does not have sprawl; it does. However, it is changing. Notably, Mr. Mayor, it also routinely shows up on lists of places people want to be and should go. In other words, it is our competition.
We often have heard that rail will not work in the Tampa Bay area because the area is not dense enough. We also hear that this area must settle for suburban sprawl designs, even in the central part of the cities, because that is what the market dictates. Articles like this indicate why neither point is really valid.
Change the code.
When the Walls Came Tumbling Down
This week, Tampa’s snappily named Nehemiah Project moved on.
Of those, one demolition has been finished and two are set for this week, said Jake Slater, head of the city’s Neighborhood Services Department. The department combines Code Enforcement and the former Clean City division.
Buckhorn plans to tear down 51 abandoned or derelict houses in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Buckhorn announced his plans by climbing aboard an excavator Jan. 28 and knocking the front off of a foreclosed house on North Brooks Street.
The owners of the homes can work with the City to avoid demolitions by fixing up their properties. In theory, we have no problem with the policy. However, we do have a concern shared by others.
Buckhorn says his Nehemiah Project will clear the neighborhood of havens for drug dealers, prostitutes and crime. Urban planners say vacant lots create their own problems by fracturing a community’s social fabric.
Today, Sulphur Springs has more than 150 vacant properties, according to the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser’s Office. By the time the Nehemiah Project ends this summer, about 12 percent of Sulphur Springs’ single-family residential lots will be vacant.
“I would just hope the city, when they finish demolishing those properties, they work with a developer or nonprofit to rebuild that community,” Reddick said. “You can’t just demolish houses and not have a plan to see those homes rebuilt.”
In other words – what is the plan for the empty lots? The policy is named after Nehemiah, but Nehemiah rebuilt what others had destroyed. (If the project is just to tear buildings down and walk away, just call it the Nebuchadnezzar Project.)
We do not want to see a replay of the “urban renewal” policies that messed up Ybor City for decades. Removed the blight, but there needs to be a plan for rebuilding/renewal. And it needs to be publicly stated.
Someone Has To Pay For the Subsidies
We learned this week that while the economy is starting to do better and revenue should increase, the Hillsborough County Commission is not satisfied:
So who will they hit with “fees” rather than “taxes” while they subsidize developers?
Commissioners did that Wednesday. While they offered no explicit endorsement of any particular fee hike, they generally expressed willingness to have Merrill and his staff bring back suggestions in several areas.
Classic – the injured, the kids, and the flooded. But make sure developers don’t pay any impact fees. That would be unconscionable.
Visit Pinellas – Lots of Other People Did
Pinellas tourism is going strong:
The county had a record number of visitors, including a record number of first-time visitors, who generated a record economic impact. That’s according to Visit St. Pete-Clearwater, the county agency responsible for promoting Pinellas tourism.
But the news is even better than that to the agency’s director, D.T. Minich. Why? The gains were seen across the board — European and domestic visitors, room rates and hotel occupancy levels — signaling that most tourism sectors did well in 2012.
A record 5,435,000 people visited Pinellas County in 2012, according to Research Data Services Inc. That’s 200,000 more people, or 4 percent more people than visited in 2011. That also includes 1.1 million first-time visitors to Pinellas’ beaches, another new record.
Room rates rose by 8 percent in 2012, the agency said, nearly doubling the rise in statewide average room prices of 4 percent. Occupancy was also strong, 70 percent in the Pinellas area compared to 65 percent in the rest of the state.
That is all good. What else can you say?
List of the Week I
Our first list of the week is Gallup’s Well-Being Index.
The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index score is an average of six sub-indexes, which individually examine life evaluation, emotional health, work environment, physical health, healthy behaviors, and access to basic necessities. The overall score and each of the six sub-index scores are calculated on a scale from 0 to 100, where a score of 100 represents the ideal. Gallup and Healthways have been tracking these measures daily since January 2008.
We will ignore the smaller metros, where Lincoln, NE was the overall winner. Looking at the big metros, the top five metros for wellbeing were Washington, DC; Northern San Francisco Bay Area; San Jose, CA; Denver; and Minneapolis-St. Paul. The bottom five were, in descending order: Riverside, CA; Louisville, KY; Providence, RI; Las Vegas; and – coming in worst of any major metro – the Tampa Bay area.
List of the Week II
Our second list of the week is a Business Journal ranking of the best places for young people, which would seem to be subject close to the Tampa Mayor’s heart. see also here The top 10 areas were: Austin, San Joes, Washington, Boston, Houston, Durham (NC), OKC, Des Moines, Denver, and Raleigh.
The Tampa Bay area came in 74th out of 102, just behind Orlando at 73. Jacksonville was 81st. Miami-Ft Lauderdale came in 91st. Lakeland was 97, followed by Palm Bay-Melbourne and Sarasota-Bradenton. Bringing up the rear was Ft. Myers.
All in all, quite a pathetic showing for Florida as a whole, and, looking at both lists, the Tampa Bay area in particular.
Nice speeches are not going to cut it.