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Roundup 6-7-2013

June 7, 2013

Transportation – Mirage

Last week, following on the heels of the talks about talks about talks about transportation, there was a “town hall” meeting, which was enlightening.

The importance of having a regional approach to transportation was something on which everyone agreed Thursday night.

But the consensus broke down when the four elected officials on an Emerge Tampa Bay town hall panel were asked whether the bay area’s transportation solution should include light rail.

Yes, said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and City Council member Lisa Montelione. Maybe, but it’s too early to say, Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman said.

At least we know transportation is still important – though maybe not important enough to do anything about.

– Over and Over

First, this from a State Representative:

It depends, said state Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa. He said he doesn’t necessarily expect a rail system to run a surplus, but he thinks it’s vital that there’s a clear case made to voters about how it would benefit them even if they never venture downtown.

“How do you convey to a stay-at-home mother of four in Odessa that light rail in downtown is good for her?” he told the crowd of more than 100 young professionals at the University of Tampa.

First, we are not sure exactly what the Representative means.  If he means that there should be a message that can appeal to many constituencies, we agree.  The Mayor gave the general argument, though he still has not said anything specific:

“I think we are far less competitive as a region and certainly as a city by the absence of mass transit and rail in particular,” he said. “We are doing well, but we could do so much more. That investment in rail, as big as it is, pales in comparison to the investment that occurs as a result of the rail being there around the rail lines and rail stops.”

And more specifically, by building more urban, connected developments rather than the sprawl rail opponents love, the stay-at-home mom in Odessa has a much better chance of maintaining the rural lifestyle to which she has become accustomed.  She – and her children – will have choices, so that even if they want to live in an urban environment, they will not have to move to another state.

On the other hand, if his comment is just another way of presenting the view that there has to be complete consensus from everyone in the County and the measure of whether a transportation project is acceptable is whether a one stay-at-home mom in Odessa finds that it directly enhances her daily travels, that is just an excuse to never do anything.  It is no secret that the main point of rail – and any other transit project – is not targeted directly at a stay-at-home mom in Odessa because Odessa is supposed to be a rural outpost in Hillsborough County where no transportation improvement of any kind, even widening a road near her house, would really be good for her.  (And how does the widening of the Veterans Expressway help s stay-at-home mom in South Tampa or widening a Falkenburg help Odessa?)

If the standard is that any project must be for the benefit of all people, then nothing will be acceptable.  Consequently, this second interpretation cannot be (and never has been) the standard.

Unfortunately, far too much time is spent discussing this idea rather than actually working toward useful solutions.

– Oh Well

Ok, back to the other comments.  The County Commissioner provided this nugget:

Murman said making sure “we do this right” is why a discussion that started this month involving the county, Hillsborough’s three cities and Hillsborough Area Regional Transit is so important. The key question, she said, is deciding how to pay for improvements before moving forward.

That seems a bit different from this alleged consensus from the “leaders” summit a few weeks ago, to wit:

“There’s no mystery that I want to get it done,” said Sharpe, who leaves the commission in 2014 due to term limits, describing what he took from Wednesday’s discussion. “But rather than starting with a conversation about how we’re going to pay for it, let’s determine what it is first.”

Apparently, you have choice between rhetoric without substance or contradictory rhetoric without substance.

– Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow

At least the citizens at the town hall meeting seemed to have some sense:

Last week, Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan said it’s unlikely the county will hold a sales tax referendum on transit initiatives next year. At Thursday’s town hall meeting, County Commissioner Sandy Murman said the county first needs to identify where economic development is most likely to occur.

That’s when a member of Emerge Tampa Bay politely set the tone, pointing out the county’s employment centers are well defined.

“I am already 25,” said Cordell Chavis, a Brandon resident and Citigroup employee. “When is it going to happen?” he asked about transit improvements.

Based on past history (like the Riverwalk), at the rate our leaders are going, your children will be asking the same questions.

– You Can Go Your Own Way

There was another development that made explicit the complete lack of coordination and organization of any discussion about transit and transportation in Hillsborough County.

The Tampa Hillsborough County Expressway Authority is proposing a pilot project to create a bus toll lane on a segment of a local limited access highway.

“We’d like to make a proposal in Washington by the end of summer,” Joe Waggoner, THEA’s executive director, told the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization on Tuesday.

THEA would seek a partnership with the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority and the U.S. Department of Transportation to test the concept, whose location has not been determined.

It could take another 24 months for planning and design once pilot project funding is obtained from federal and possibly local sources.

The bus toll lane is a dedicated lane for transit that also allows other vehicles to use the restricted lane by paying a toll.

A price-management system adjusts toll costs for nontransit users to increase or decrease based on traffic flow to prevent traffic congestion.

Setting aside the inherent problem with variable rate lanes, this is just bizarre.  Hillsborough leaders just had their transportation summit where nothing was decided other than maybe the need to figure out what is needed.  But the Expressway Authority is going to act.  It does not know where and they surely have no idea how it fits into a nonexistent comprehensive solution, but it is going to act anyway.  We suspect it is simply a bureaucracy trying to sake a claim in any discussion, because it makes no sense otherwise – though it is business as usual in Hillsborough County.

And you wonder why people like the young professionals at the Emerge Tampa Bay town hall meeting leave.  What argument can you give to a young professional to waste a couple of decades waiting for local “leaders” to get organized and then develop the will to actually do something that is common practice almost everywhere else, namely have a real transit plan.

– Revelation

On the other hand, we did learn one useful point from the resident bus expert:

“Transit needs immunity from congestion,” Pollzin [sic] said. “It is a lot more productive to operate at 40 miles per hour than 12 miles per hour.”

Indeed, which is why MetroRapid is not BRT and cannot be the solution to our transit needs – it is stuck on the roads.

And putting buses in variable toll lanes on the highway is not a solution either. The bus expert thinks that buses in variable rate toll lanes will be cruising along during rush hour, which means the variable rate lanes will not be carrying too much traffic – and will not solve traffic problems.  Consequently, this plan cannot justify using the precious, scarce public resource – no, not money – land.

There is a limited amount of land that can be used to widen the interstates and freeways before we have to buy more right of way – which is prohibitively expensive in many places.  What is the logic of using that limited land for the few people who will drive on it and a few buses?  This scheme is in no way a solution to our issues; even the bus expert tells us so.

We need a comprehensive solution, and we need “leaders” who will get on with it.

Brand Tampa Bay – Of Style and Substance

Last week the oddly named Tampa Bay & Company renamed itself and then moved to rebrand the Tampa Bay area (sort of).

The effort to unlock Tampa’s strengths started Thursday. County officials unveiled their new tourism brand “Unlock Tampa Bay” at the Tampa Convention Center.

It’s aimed at selling the history, culture and urban-flavored experience of Tampa and Hillsborough County. But it doesn’t just sell the region. It’s selling an attitude of exploring and discovering all that the region has to offer.

“Treasure awaits” is the inviting slogan beneath the Unlock Tampa Bay logo. Look for other brand words like adventure, attitude, discover, explore and daring spirit.

It’s the first tourism brand that Tampa and Hillsborough County have ever had, officials said, and it will be pushed by the area’s rebranded tourism agency: Tampa Bay & Co. It officially changed its name Thursday to the more nimble Visit Tampa Bay.

The logo looks like this:

From the Times – click on picture for article

Aside from a detail with the keys that we won’t get into, we actually think this slogan (because it is not a brand) and graphic are pretty good.  That being said we don’t think it is magical and will solve our image problems, because no slogan will alter the reality of people’s actual experience:

A survey of tourists gave Tampa lower marks than Orlando for authenticity. Tampa’s culture and history also got low scores. Those should be strengths, not weaknesses.

* * *

But the new “Unlock Tampa Bay” brand is also a form of damage control. Market research showed that Tampa just wasn’t distinguishing itself from comparably-sized destinations like Austin, Baltimore, Charlotte, Fort Lauderdale, Louisville, Nashville and Orlando.

Visitors already think of sand and water when they think of Tampa — but most of the beaches are across the bay. There were no physical elements that distinguished Tampa itself.

“We don’t have a Golden Gate Bridge or a (Gateway) Arch or anything that marks us as a destination,” McClain said. “We’re branding an attitude, seize life daily.”

And

Tampa has searched for a defining image to capture the attention of potential visitors for years, but mostly has fallen short.

It inherited the label “America’s Next Great City” from the 1988 best-seller, “Megatrends,” but that set up 25 years of comedic fodder as Tampa’s performance failed to match the exaggerated promise.

It chose the name Tampa Bay & Company to help it launch its business recruiting efforts, although the label neither identified the bureau’s role nor anything distinctive about the area.

Hillsborough’s re-branding effort began with former bureau director Kelly Miller, who left the Tampa job after a year’s tenure in late October, and Doug McClain, Visit Tampa Bay’s vice president of marketing & communications who’s now been with the agency for a year.

* * *.

It began with some sobering surveys of potential leisure travelers and of meeting – planners who choose destinations for conferences and conventions. Those highlighted major challenges regarding the city’s image – though not its assets – contrary to customary boasts of Tampa boosters.

Surveys found Tampa ranked one step from the bottom in rankings of leisure travelers perceptions for being “hip,” “exciting,” “adventurous,” and known for “art,” “history” and “culture.”

The highest ranking was second from the top on being “affordable,” and third on being ‘relaxing.”

Results from meeting planner surveys were somewhat better, but showed Tampa has an image issue.

On 11 categories that meeting planners were asked to rate, seven fell into the lower half of appraisals, with only “water” earning a top two ranking.

So the quest for a new brand aimed to highlight the diversity of Tampa attractions while seeking to promote an active dynamic – hence the brand “Unlock Tampa Bay…Treasure Awaits.”

In other words, the survey found that people’s impression was that if you are looking for a cheap place to sit around (and there is something to be said for that sometimes) Tampa is your place; if you want to do something interesting, go somewhere else. (And there is some truth there, too).  For instance:

Tourists heading to cosmopolitan Miami inevitably experience the exotic sights of nearby Miami Beach, while Miami Beach visitors also enjoy the pleasures of Miami.

That’s how tourism needs to work in Tampa Bay, says Corrada, where Tampa tourists and conventioneers can enjoy the city and spend time in Pinellas County and its beaches. And vice versa.

“We should be on the rooftop shouting what we have,” Corrada says.

Miami/Miami Beach boasts a powerful image in the minds of global tourists and conventioneers.

Tampa Bay’s image pales in contrast. “Nothing pops,” says Corrada.

Maybe nothing pops because of a lack of “poppable” material (and especially clusters of such material).  The question for local promoters is how are their target audience to enjoy the city?  Are they to drive to the mall for the most hopping dining area in town?  Or do they drive to Howard and struggle to park to get to some bars? Maybe a stroll down the fancy shopping on Kennedy . . oh wait. (Are they to enjoy our history by looking at the not renovated cigar factories in unwalkable neighborhoods, not connected by effective transit for ease of travel? Or get their impression of Tampa by taking a drive down the beautiful Busch Boulevard to get to Busch Gardens?)  The other major question is how are our features and organization better than our competitors?

While we like the slogan and logo, more important than how you are selling is what you are selling.  No slogan will change the deficiencies.  It is the job of tourist promoters to hype the style in order to sell what they want or need to sell.  We get that and the new slogan and logo are well done, but their sales job would be much easier if the substance was better.  If you have the substance you don’t need to worry about branding – reality brands you (how many “visit San Francisco” ads do you see on TV?). And the truth is that reality brands you no matter what you do.

Better marketing is good.  Better substance is better.  At least we can send bus tours to Bass Pro Shops soon.

Down By the River

The last stage of the Riverwalk got started this week, sort of, which brought a big gathering of past mayors of Tampa:

With construction about to start on a key section of the Riverwalk, Mayor Bob Buckhorn gathered his five predecessors to celebrate the city’s progress so far. Once the new segment is complete in late 2014, the Riverwalk will offer an uninterrupted 1.8-mile trail for walking, jogging and cycling.

“This is not my accomplishment,” Buckhorn said during a ceremony at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. “This is our accomplishment.” 

First, it is good the Riverwalk is getting finished.  Every little bit downtown helps create what some day will hopefully be a critical mass.

Second, a major theme of the coverage was the long road with many hurdles to getting the Riverwalk built – and it has taken far too long.  As pointed out by the former mayors in a Times article, the riverfront was once a working port.  Over the years, it required effort to change that.

Along with assembling the land — an expensive and complicated process — past mayors also had to change the public’s attitude about the river itself.

“Everybody had turned their back on the river,” said Sandy Freedman, mayor from 1986 to 1995. “Everything was built facing away from the river and flush to the river. There wasn’t any space for people.”

In 1988, Freedman organized the first annual cleanup of the river, which removed as much as 20 tons of trash in a single day.

“That’s what people used the river for,” she said. One day, she donned a big floppy straw hat for a boat ride with reporters and Buckhorn, who was then her special assistant.

What Buckhorn remembered from that day — other than the hat — was “the unfulfilled potential” of the river.

While the river was often unloved, that is not exactly how it happened.  The City government had a hand in the problems as well as successes. (Remember this is a city that still routinely approves buildings built to the sidewalk that do not have doors opening to the main road.) We thought it might be useful to review a few things.

By the early 1970’s, the riverfront included the publicly built Curtis Hixon Hall which did not face the river; the Requin submarine (here, here,  here,  here, and here  (which the City got rid of though it surely could be used now as an attraction next to the Liberty ship); and a municipal parking garage (on the right of the last picture which was built right on the waterfront). The Gasparilla invasion occurred on the riverfront (see here, here,  and here) which the Crosstown bridge changed.  Later, Curtis Hixon was replaced by the government built convention center, which faces the water (sort of) in some places and completely cuts people off from the water in other, key stretches, a problem that cannot be fixed until the building is replaced.

And when the Convention Center was built, Curtis Hixon was demolished and a park built on the site.  That park was not very popular and was rebuilt when the Tampa Museum, which also was near the river, was moved to its present site.  Then there is the Beer Can building, which was approved by the City and built along the waterfront with a parking garage covered by Kiley Gardens – both of which cut Ashley Drive off from the waterfront and do not face the river.  There were also a number of buildings built downtown during this time – none of which face the river.  The City approved and promoted all of that. (On the other hand, the early 1980’s the Downtown Development Authority reports contain never built plans for the west bank of the river.)

In other words, let’s be honest – what happened was that people were aware of the utility of the waterfront and there were many plans, but the City failed to fully execute them and settled for what was easy and quick.  The public institutions had as much, if not more, to do with the lack of a riverwalk and the orientation of downtown away from the river as “the public.”

And a reason to bring this up is not to blame any specific individual or say we are opposed to the Riverwalk (we aren’t).  The point is that in the 1970’s everything was in place to have a Riverwalk built but the City – both the government and the people – passed on the opportunity.  Tampa settled, and people just went along.  It took decades to finish a project that should have taken years.

Thankfully, the Riverwalk is being finished, but the decades of delay have created a downtown that does not take full advantage of it and is behind other cities in terms of development and attractiveness.  Hopefully, that will change.

The key lesson is that the will did not exist to carry out the project.  People knew it should be done, but they just did not do it.  Other areas fixed up their waterfronts and created pedestrian friendly downtowns, but Tampa kept talking and taking very small steps.  It is just another example of this area progressing – but doing slowly while our competitors move quickly, just like with transit.

It is a case study of our problems.  Hopefully, we will learn from it, but the transportation discussions referenced above do not indicate that we have.

Westshore – Same Old, Same Old

As if to emphasize that the City – government and media, at least – still have not worked out what an urban design is, this week we learned this:

A number of semi-casual and mass-market restaurants are coming in, too. Construction could start this month on a new LongHorn Steakhouse, Olive Garden and Pei Wei Asian Diner in a new complex of buildings on West Shore Boulevard, just south of Boy Scout Boulevard.

At one point, those brand names were just hypothetical ideas in an architectural rendering that made the real estate rounds in town. Now, executives with those companies have signed leases for the site.

That site is in the shadow of the new, quite-popular Container Store that opened this year in what real estate executives call “The Corner” at the entrance to International Plaza.

“The Corner development has been in the works for almost five years,” said Larry Anderson, a real estate executive in Tampa who does work across the East Coast and first envisioned a project there years before the downturn.

* * *

Both those stores far exceeded their sales projections upon opening, Anderson said. In the next few weeks, lawyers should close a deal on Anderson’s Phase 2, the site immediately to the south on West Shore Boulevard with Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, AT&T Mobile, Pei Wei and the workout gear store Gym Source.

That will take the place of a Rainbow airport parking lot that’s now being cleared in preparation for ground work.

We don’t particularly care about what the restaurants are – we have seen very urban McDonald’s.  We are concerned about the design.  As we noted last week, “the Corner” is hardly in line with the supposed plan to make Westshore walkable and more urban.  Adding more of the same will just make it worse. (Hopefully this will be different, but we doubt it.)

We are not surprised that the development is successful for now.  It is new and has a unique store.  However, governance involves more than simply approving permits.  It also involves planning for the future and not working at cross purposes with yourself – like approving and promoting sprawl while claiming to discuss the walkability of the Westshore area.

In years hence, when the present Mayor is invited by the then Mayor to a ribbon cutting for some “walkability enhancement” in Westshore – like a fancy sidewalk between parking lots – and our present Mayor waxes eloquently about how Westshore used to be all rental car lots where you could watch rabid squirrels get run over by speeding drivers and how hard it was to get anything done to make it urban, you will know why it is taking so long.

Another Proposal for the Channel District

This week there was news of another possible apartment tower in the Channel District.

A multi-family apartment developer is under contract to buy the former Amazon Hose & Rubber plant property and plans to develop a 20+-story tower.

The two-acre property at Kennedy Boulevard and 12th Street in the Channel District is home to two dilapidated warehouses and a parking lot. It is in the middle of a 30-day due diligence period now, said NAI Tampa Bay broker Sean Lance.

The buyer, who Lance said he could not yet name, could build up to 250 units on the parcel. The land originally was a target for a mixed-use development that included hotel, condo and retail when Amazon Hose & Rubber left the site in 2005 for its new facility at 1103 N. 50th Street in Tampa.

* * *

The property at Kennedy Boulevard stretches from 11th to 12th streets. The property would likely close 60 days after the due diligence period, Lance said. The developer would like to break ground before the end of the year, he said.

By our count, that is the third apartment tower in some state of proposal for the Channel District in the last few months.  This is exactly why the City should not settle for mediocre and suburban-ish designs in its urban areas.  Demand will return.  Have some pride and some patience.

International Trade – Port Manatee Gets Moving, We Think

Our other port, Port Manatee, made some news this week:

Port Manatee and the Rio de Janeiro Port Authority (Docas do Rio de Janeiro) are becoming International Sister Seaports.

The relationship will establish new opportunities for foreign trade between the U.S. and Brazil and marks the first time a Florida Gulf Coast seaport has entered into such an agreement, Port Manatee said in a statement.

In all honesty, we have no idea what that really means.  Does it mean there will be more trade or is it just one of those fluffy marketing things?  In any event, it does sound good, and, the truth is, we are happy if Port Manatee grows.  All it does is add to the regional economy and push the Port of Tampa, which, thankfully, the Directors of the Port of Tampa and TIA recognize.

Commuter Adjusted Population

We came across an interesting article last week about commuter adjusted population.

First, what is commuter adjusted population?

About 1.5 million people live in Manhattan, an imposing number that’s larger than the entire populations of Phoenix, Dallas and San Francisco. More impressive, though, is what happens on the island by day: So many commuters come in (and so few residents commute out for work) that Manhattan’s population nearly doubles in size.

This latter number – 3,083,102, to be precise, according to American Community Survey data collected between 2006 and 2010 – is in some ways an even more important one than the population figure we typically affix to places. If Manhattan ever needs to evacuate by day during a disaster, the city has to figure out what to do with all 3 million of those people. The city’s transportation planners are responsible for every one of them, whether they live in New York or not. And anyone who does business in a service industry on the island – from lunch counters to dry cleaners to department stores – cares a lot more about how many people pass through during the day than who passes out in Manhattan at night.

“Commuter-adjusted populations” tell us a lot about where the jobs are and which communities do little more than give people a place to sleep. Count people where they work, and not where they live, and the resulting picture also further blurs the divide between cities and suburbs (and how we think about who is invested in which places).

Ok, the article was not that interesting, but the map  from the census report was interesting.  The map in the article is a bit hard to read, so we zoomed in on the southeast US.

Source: Census Department

We often find that ideas, like the center of the Tampa Bay area (and other metro areas – like how Palm Beach and Dade have net gains while Broward has a net loss and how Orange County is more central to the Orlando area) become clearer when shown in graphics.

List of the Week

Our list of the week is not really a ranking, per se.  It is the Credits.org list of ten of the world’s best movie theaters.   By its own admission, it is not actually a ranking per se, but on the list are State Theater, Traverse, MI; Ciné 32, Auch, France; Tampa Theatre; Busan Cinema Center, Busan, South Korea; Cinémathèque Française, Paris; Sun Pictures Theater, Broome, Australia; Cine Thisio, Athens; Raj Mandir Theatre, Jaipur, India; Archipelago Cinema, Thailand; and Matadero Cineteca, Madrid.

We are not surprised Tampa Theatre made the list.  It is a fine old building that was saved because of a small group of devoted people.  The sad thing is that we have allowed so many other fine old buildings to be torn down whether in the name of expediency or progress.  (The Maas Brothers Building comes to mind)  Just another example of settling and eliminating our culture and history.

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