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Roundup 5-17-2013

May 17, 2013

Economic Development – Speaking of Disruption

Last week, in discussing an article on Miami as “America’s Next Start-up City,” we discussed the concept of creative disruption.  Coincidentally, the issue arose locally in the context of developing the health care industry in the Tampa Bay area.

To get there, experts said Monday, requires the health care industry to embrace “disruptive innovation.”

It’s such a key concept behind this 10-year goal that the MediFuture conference invited the Harvard Business School professor who coined the term to speak.

Harvard’s Clayton Christensen describes “disruptive innovation” as a process by which a product or service at first takes root in simple applications at the bottom of a market but then relentlessly moves up market, displacing established competitors.

Citing the computer industry, Christensen described how the mainframe got replaced by the minicomputer, which in turn was deposed by the desktop, the laptop and now the smartphone. In each case, the next product was more affordable and accessible to more people.

Disruptive innovation can do the same thing for health care, he said, pushing mobile and cheaper medical technology further into the hands of retail clinics, nurses, pharmacists and even into the home.

Indeed it can.  However, can the Tampa Bay area, where the issue of USF and a teaching hospital still can’t be worked out, overcome its own culture to accept such disruption?  And can you succeed with an environment where you only have disruption in one industry while living in the past in all other ways or do you need to create a comprehensive culture where disruption is embraced?

To attract and retain people who will find these innovative solutions (which are often multidisciplinary), you need to create an environment which attracts them and in which they will thrive. (Like it or not, that requires real transit, not just buses, and urban development.  You can hardly claim to be a hub of innovation if your public policy is living in the 1970’s.) If you look at innovation hubs, like Boston, NYC, the San Francisco Bay area – even Austin or Atlanta (not to mention places like London, Tokyo, and Berlin) – they are cities of broad ranges of innovation in many fields.  For real innovation through disruption, there needs to be cross-pollination and an environment of openness to new ideas.  It cannot be isolated.

Interestingly, the speaker made another point which really gets to the Tampa Bay area:

Don’t confuse disruptive innovation with lesser imitators, he warned. Simply making good products better is a fine form of innovation but won’t generate new jobs. Making goods and services more efficiently will actually result in job cuts.

As far as we can tell, that applies almost across the board in the Tampa Bay area.  Simple improvements are held out as innovations, while elsewhere real innovations in politics, transportation, arts, music, science, technology, design, and development occur.   Incrementalism is not innovation.

We support developing our biomed sector, and we are happy the idea of disruption is actually being discussed here.  We are all for transformational techniques and technologies.  However, we understand that we need a wholesale opening of our culture – especially politically.

If you create an app to sell buggy-whips, you still have not accomplished anything.

Built Environment – The Sprawl Strikes Back

We have been critical of Hillsborough County’s love of sprawl.  We still are.  For a long time, the east part of the County has supported politicians that support sprawl and poor transportation planning.  Well,

Hillsborough County commissioners told residents opposed to a big box store on Bloomingdale Avenue that the commission has no legal avenue for stopping the development.

County Attorney Chip Fletcher told commissioners there is no way they can reverse a 2003 rezoning that allowed a big box retail store and multifamily residential housing.

* * *

Residents in the area, which includes Bloomingdale High School, a ball field and numerous retail stores, have collected more than 1,000 petition signatures opposing the development. They said the big box store, rumored to be a Wal-Mart, will add traffic to already congested roads around the store, making it dangerous for children and students who cross Bloomingdale.

“The proposed changes impact not only our traffic but our environment on the Lithia-Bloomingdale bottleneck,” said Theresa Cecchini. “I resent that our community had no input into this decision which impacts our quality of life, to say nothing of the investment in our homes.”

If nothing else, the community has the input of elections.  It is unfortunate the Commission has its hands tied by what its predecessors did (one of whom is still on the Commission and who happened to be the main advocate of the Estuary/Bass Pro Shops deal).  Yes, it is poor planning.  Yes, it is unfortunate.  However, you get what you vote for.  On the other hand, there is this:

The commission agreed that any payments that the developer makes toward traffic impacts will be spent on traffic improvements in the immediate area.

Too bad the entire impact fee system in Hillsborough County is outdated and inadequate to help support the sprawl policies. Those Bloomingdale residents sure could use the $6+ million going to the Estuary/Bass Pro Shops developer.

Transportation – What Should Be On That Confounded Bridge?

The plans for replacing the Tampa-bound span of the Howard Frankland Bridge continue.

State transportation planners are studying three types of structures to replace the northbound span of the Howard Frankland Bridge by 2020-2025, with costs depending on what kind of transit corridors might be included.

Ok.  What are the options?

The price to replace the Howard Frankland with four lanes of roadway will be about $367 million, FDOT said. That does not include relieving the traffic bottleneck at the Tampa International Airport/Memorial Highway interchange.

Well, FDOT should have fixed the bottleneck a long time ago – at least when they did the Pinellas side.  But, setting that aside, that is the cost for a no-frills four lane bridge.

If the project added two express lanes in each direction to accommodate bus rapid transit and cars paying tolls to avoid the free, congested lanes, the cost would increase by $339 million to $706 million.

Logically, if you add four more lanes to allow a few people to pay really high tolls and not really relieve most people who will sit in traffic, the price is double.

And if the new bridge were built to accommodate a transit exclusive guideway — a corridor for either light rail or bus — the cost would increase by $989 million to $1.36 billion. That price would include additional work in both Hillsborough and Pinellas to accommodate an enhanced transit system and link with new transit terminals in the Pinellas Gateway and Tampa West Shore areas. 

Also logically, a rail-capable bridge would be more expensive. Then there is this:

State and federal money would be used for the new span if the current bridge is replaced with one the same as today’s, but if other features such as transit corridors are incorporated, FDOT could ask local entities to come to the table, District 7 spokeswoman Kris Carson said.

We thought it was the Department of Transportation, not the Department of Cars, so why the disincentive to creating transportation options?  Why penalize locals for planning ahead.  If there is a statutory reason, we would like to hear it and why it cannot change.  Do they make locals pay in other toll road projects? (See here)

Regardless, we favor the last option.  We need to have connections other than cars, and this corridor is the best place to put that connection.  It is well past time that this area actually started planning for the future rather than just maintaining the status quo.  Yes, it is more expensive, but:

It might be possible to modify the express lanes option to accommodate rail at a later date, but that cost has not been calculated and would be more expensive than the three primary options.

Waiting will just increase the cost.  We have already increased the cost by waiting so long. It is time to invest in our infrastructure.  There is really no reason not to do it now.  Even if buses run along the path for a while, it will allow rail to be built in the future.

In other news from FDOT:

In a few weeks, FDOT intends to release a separate study on express lane proposals, also called managed lanes, for Tampa Bay area interstates.

That concept would be similar to express lanes on I-95 in south Florida where high occupancy vehicle lanes were converted to speed vehicles through congested periods.

We understand that idea of toll lanes to speed traffic but 1) we do not have HOV lanes because our interstates have long been neglected and 2) we have a problem with variable tolls.  By allowing uncapped, variable tolls, it is entirely possible that the average driver is going to be priced out of the lanes, which seems an odd way to spend taxpayer money, especially if there are no transit options.  Of course, FDOT could surprise us.

Transportation – The Selmon Connector Moves Forward

It seems the Selmon Connector is back on schedule.

The Interstate 4-Selmon Expressway connector project, which is expected to take a majority of Port of Tampa truck traffic off Ybor City streets, is on target to be done by year’s end.

The latest schedule update is that traffic will begin using the 1-mile toll road by Dec. 31 and the entire project will be completed by spring 2014, said Bill Adams of Johnson-Adams & Associates, the senior project engineer.

That is good.  The idea is only about 30 years late, but at least it is getting done.


Motorists on the toll road will be billed through SunPass and toll-by-plate systems, with costs ranging from $1 for two-axle vehicles to $5 for six-axle trucks.

Imagine that, a fixed toll so drivers know whether it is worth it or not to use the road.

Transportation – HART/PSTA, Whatever

We noticed that the Tribune ran a guest opinion piece from one of the Tea Party members of the HART board regarding the HART/PSTA issue.  Here’s what she had to say:

When politicians don’t get results from a consultant study they want, they simply issue another study. Why not? It’s not their money being wasted. That is what is behind the $200,000 spending item inserted into our state budget to fund a study on consolidating the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) and the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART).

A consolidation study costing more than $100,000 was mandated by the Legislature last year, and the study findings were mixed. HART put the issue to rest, but special interests wanting to seize control won’t give up.

Um, it was HART that rejected the study’s findings, not unnamed “politicians” or PSTA or anyone other than HART. (For instance see here, here, here, and here)   We have no idea what the unnamed “special interests” are either.

Rail advocates want to take away local control of HART, which has been successful in meeting budgets while accommodating increased ridership demands despite less revenue from the down economy. This is about forcing HART to alter its 10-year Transit Development Plan, which includes six cost-effective bus rapid transit routes throughout the county, to instead support the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority’s master plan that includes 250 miles of costly rail. This is about bypassing the HART board made up of folks from all ends of the political spectrum yet are united against the merger.

* * *

HART has a five-year balanced budget that routinely shores up its reserves, and early budget projections indicate it will have enough revenue to expand weekend and night service. On the other hand, PSTA taxes property owners at a 40 percent higher rate, and its own CEO recently indicated publicly that PSTA will deplete its reserves and go in the red in 2015.

Its seems her real opposition to studying whether money can be saved and better service provided is that she does not want rail.  (She apparently thinks it is a UN plot after all. ) But even setting that aside, it is hard to square her other claims with what has been reported.  First, as the Tribune reported, HART does not have funding for its second Metrorapid line, let alone four more.  Moreover, as the Tribune reported, HART does not have money to replace older buses.   Additionally, HART has already cut services and raised fares, (see Tribune report and Times report) though maybe they will not have to do the same this year. (See Tribune report that HART may luck out because property tax revenue may increase enough to add some service and also Creative Loafing)  Even the resident bus expert thinks there is a problem with HART’s future plans:

At Monday morning’s monthly board meeting, HART board member Dr. Steven Polzin said he was concerned that a gap was growing between what the current budget calls for and community expectations. “At some point we need to close that gap,” he said.

While many of you might think this is all problematic, the following may explain why the Tea Party Board member thinks it’s all good:

Jaroch’s stance on mass transit seems to have lessened slightly, but she still would like to keep public transportation small within Hillsborough.

“I would prefer private transit, but I’m not there to beat HART out of existence,” Jaroch said. “I’m there to work with it and improve the economy.”

One of the things Jaroch said she would push for is a smaller bus system, a view that differs from HART’s more recent goals of providing public transportation for everyone.

“I don’t know if we want a bus company that will serve everybody in the community,” Jaroch said. “That’s not feasible. But as a cost safety net to serve the people who really need it, I don’t have a problem with it as long as it’s done in a fiscally responsible way.”

That isn’t to say Jaroch is opposed to the idea of large public transportation on face value. She simply does not want everyone to pay for a service that benefits a few.

“If HART provides a service that is faster and cheaper and more convenient than other forms of transportation available, people will try it and would very likely adopt it in their routine,” Jaroch said.

“She simply does not want everyone to pay for a service that benefits a few.” What a pithy philosophy. We’ll go with that.  All roads should be toll roads – why should we pay for the road to your house when we never use it?  We haven’t had a fire in while, so why should we pay for the fire department to help you?  All schools should charge tuition – why should we pay for your kids to get educated? (And that includes the full cost of that degree – no, not the tuition, the full cost – this Board member got from USF.  Why did she attend a taxpayer subsidized school?)

It is difficult to defend HART’s obsessive attempts to not examine how to better serve the taxpayer, and the guest opinion piece does not really address that actual issue except in the vaguest rhetorical terms.  Then again, given this HART Board member’s apparent priorities, that is not a surprise.  The real question is why the Hillsborough County Commissioners put her on the HART Board in the first place and if, knowing what they now know, they would do it again.

Transportation – Do We Want a Ferry?

Over the years there have been a number of proposals floated for a ferry in the area. Frankly, it is a bit odd that there is not one, but there isn’t.  Now:

Turanchik, a lawyer with the Akerman Senterfitt firm, has been quietly pitching a proposal to some civic leaders and elected officials on behalf of a client hoping to operate a commuter ferry service in Tampa Bay.

The ferry service would focus on shuttling employees of MacDill Air Force Base to and from their homes in southern Hillsborough County, where many of them live. During noncommute times the ferries, with an initial capacity of 250 people, could potentially be used to carry passengers between southern Hillsborough, the Channel District in downtown Tampa and downtown St. Petersburg.

Ok, what does it cost?

Here’s the rub: Turanchik and his client, HMS Global Maritime of New Albany, Ind., are seeking public money from the county, the state and possibly the federal government to build the docks, dredge bay beds near them and buy the boats. The price tag Murman says she was told: $24 million.

In exchange, the company would cover the operating costs, bearing the risk if it can’t turn a profit, she said.

Since we have not actually seen the proposal, we can only speak generally.  Generally, we are fine with a ferry.  We are not sure that the government should pay for it.  On the other hand, in the greater scheme of things, $22 million is not really that much for a transportation project – if it works.  The bigger question is whether it will attract passengers and, given our lack of proper transit, how any passengers get around when they land?  How will the lack of real transit limit the success of the potential ferry?

We are curious to see the actual details.

Downtown Tampa – Same Ole Decision Making

Last week, we discussed the apartment tower proposed for the lot behind the library and the objections to it, which we think are mostly without basis.  In our discussion, we noted the skywalk issue and that it was not an insurmountable problem.  Then the Tribune ran a column that hints at what the real problem is.   We are not going to get into the whole article, partly because the arguments against the project are quite weak, especially this:


That was Jan Platt’s signature word during her time on the Hillsborough County Commission and Tampa City Council. She argued and voted against projects and proposals so many times she got the well-earned nickname of “Commissioner No.”

* * *

“That area is the crown jewel of downtown,” she told me Friday when I called her for a follow-up. “That high-rise is misplaced. To put it slap-dab in the middle of the cultural district is just weird.”

(Just to be clear this is the lot in question.) The opposition to the idea of a tower in that location is misplaced. Putting a tower with street interaction on that lot makes perfect sense because it is now an uninviting turn lane that does nothing to enhance the “cultural district.”

It should also be noted that the failure to build a dense city leads to more sprawl, not less.  If one wants to protect the environment, one of the best ways to do so is to build a denser city with good transit so there is no reason to pave the entire county.  Of course, for all the time this opponent was in office we did not have or develop density nor did we have good mass transit (we still don’t).  Always saying “no” can be counterproductive.

What was the Mayor’s reaction?

“She’s doing exactly what she has done for 28 years — attempting to kill any good project,” he said.

Instead of actually explaining why the project is good, this is basically a personal attack, which also counterproductive. And there is this, from the former County Commissioner and City Councilwoman, which is more about process and personality than the actual project:

“This has been rammed down everybody’s throat without any dialogue,” she said. “That’s why I said what I did. This has just upset me so much. I am proud of downtown. I want to see it first rate.”

So do we, which is why we think the proposed idea is ok.

On the other hand, there is some truth here.  It is not effective to just announce a project and expect everyone to fall in line and approve it.  While Tampa has a “strong mayor” system of government, the Mayor does not govern alone. If he believes the project is key, he needs to sell it – to be entrepreneurial.  He has not done that. (For instance see here)  And he needs to communicate better.

On the other hand, it is not ok to reject a plan just because the Mayor may have done a poor job selling it.  If it is good, it should be approved.  So far, we have not heard any good objection to this plan.  In fact, many of those complaining now started off supporting the project.  (see here  and here) If there is an isolated issue like the skywalk, work it out and move forward.  (And if politicians don’t like each other let them play a winner-take-all game of cribbage and get back to work.)

Everything about this process is business as usual in the City government.  The DNA has not changed.  And you wonder why young professionals just leave for other cities and don’t look back?

Channelside – Show Us the Money

The recent, highly hyped offer to take over the Channelside complex went before the Port Authority Board and promptly ran into reality. (And we are not even going to get into the very odd “decorum” issue. See here  and here)

After two weeks of nonstop negotiations, Liberty Channelside LLC came to an impasse on Wednesday with the Tampa Port Authority over its proposed purchase of the failing downtown waterfront entertainment and retail complex.

The Tampa Port Authority staff wants Liberty Channelside and its principals, real estate investor Santosh Govindaraju and hotel developer Punit Shah, to pay $8 million in escrow up front before allowing the port’s governing board to vote on the deal. The Tampa Port Authority owns the land Channelside was built on, so the board must approve any sale of the lease.

But Liberty has offered to put only $2 million in escrow. Neither side appeared ready to back down on Wednesday.

Both the port and the ownership group would sign off on using the money, but it would all be used by the prospective new owners to pay for their proposed improvements to Channelside.

We have absolutely no problem with the Port Authority’s position.  It is well past time to get this whole thing right.  If the new guys really want to fix up the Channelside complex, especially if they are asking for public money, they can commit fully. And not only that:

The port said there are several reasons why it needs Liberty Channelside to pay such a large financial guarantee up front. For one, the port wants proof of financial commitment in exchange for all of the rights that Liberty Channelside is asking the port to surrender.

* * *

“But if we give up our rights then we have no control. It just continues the death spiral.”

The escrow would also give the port financial assurance that the Liberty group will actually spend the millions it has pledged to put toward upgrading and revamping Channelside. Liberty has proposed spending anywhere from $13 million to $22 million to bring in new restaurants, new shops, add office space and build a boutique hotel on top of the building.

We have no problem with that position. And this:

But it’s not just Liberty that’s saying no. Klug said the port has, for now, rejected Liberty’s request to have the port help pay for new pedestrian skybridges to the parking garage.

We agree with that, too.  We are glad to see a businesslike approach from the Board.  In many ways more importantly:

The port wants Liberty to show it is financially committed to revitalizing Channelside, and not just buying and repainting it. But that’s not the only issue frustrating the port. Officials said the Liberty group’s plans for the complex, like its funding, are still too amorphous.

Exactly.  We still do not know what the real plans are, so why sign off on anything yet?  We do not really care if this group or another group takes over the complex, particularly since we have not seen real plans from anyone.  We care that Channelside is finally laid out and run properly so it enhances the area.  There have already been many mistakes made.  Thankfully, it seems that the Port Board may have learned from those mistakes.  Hopefully, they will do it right this time.

Trader Joe’s – Not Yet

Last week we discussed all the rumors about Trader Joe’s in South Tampa and noted that there are plans for Orlando and Miami.  Well,

The popular Trader Joe’s grocery chain known for carrying unique products — like turkey meatloaf muffins and chicken cilantro mini wontons — said it has signed a lease to open at the PGA Plaza in Palm Beach Gardens next year.

You can see the urban oasis in where they are opening in Palm Beach Gardens here.

So what exactly is the issue in South Tampa?  Maybe Trader Joe’s is about to announce a location or maybe not. Based on this map of wealthiest zip codes, if they are having trouble with their targeted site, maybe they should consider more options in the area.

List of the Week

Our list this week is the Men’s Health Best and Worst Places to Exercise (also known as the most active and laziest cities list)  This list ranks 100 locations with number one being the best place to exercise.

The top 10 are: Portland, OR; Boise, ID; Salt Lake City, UT; Minneapolis, MN; St. Paul, MN; Denver, CO; Seattle, WA; Madison, WI; Oakland, CA; and Aurora, CO.

The Florida cities on the list are St. Pete at 45th, Miami at 49th, Jacksonville at 64th, Tampa at 70th, and Orlando at 76th.  For a warm and supposedly active state, that is not very good.

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