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Roundup 6-21-2013

June 21, 2013

Built Environment – Do You Want a City or Not?

This week, we had news about two projects proposed for Tampa.  The how the City deals with these projects will show whether we have outgrown the attitudes toward urban development that have held us back so often.

– Straz and the Tower

The first project in question is the tower proposed for the lot behind the library, which has raised hackles, though not well reasoned objections.

The differences between the city and the Straz Center for the Performing Arts over a proposed development next to the downtown theater appeared to have widened recently, even as groundbreaking draws near for the 360-unit, 36-story apartment building.

City officials say all the concerns of the Straz board and supporters of the John F. Germany Public Library have been assuaged and the project appears to be a go with little or no opposition.

But memos and letters among the city, the Straz board of directors and the developer reveal officials with the performing arts center have been voicing concerns.

* * *

Last week, Straz Chief Executive Officer Judy Lisi sent a letter to the theater’s board of directors seeking opinions about the tower project. She said the board’s executive committee has a meeting Monday and needs the consensus of the directors “to get a sense of where the full board is leaning.”

The full board meets July 15, she said.

The city shot a letter back to Lisi saying it was the Straz that came up with the idea in 2006 and backed the efforts of the city and the developer, Intown/Framework Group, to realign the streets and build the apartment complex. The complex would include 10,000 square feet of retail space and a 400-car parking garage.

Frankly, the article does not really indicate what the Straz Board’s objections really are, but nothing we have previously read held much water. (We have no idea how the time for breaking ground is growing near when the project has not been rezoned yet.)  At least the City now seems to be trying to sell the project, and may be having success:

Straz Center board chairman Martin Silbiger said the city and the developer have been cooperative in keeping him abreast of project developments.

“We have a board meeting next month and I want all the board members to know exactly what’s going on,” he said Monday afternoon. “There have been discussions back and forth and, yes, there are some on the board in favor and some against.”

He said the apartment tower is an emotional issue among some board members.

“This will have a significant impact on the center,” he said. “It’s important to know what the board members think. I think there is some controversy. This project changes the whole face of that area.”

Silbiger said board members “can express our opinions, but we can’t block it if the city wants to go through with it.”

“We all agree, maybe not all, but I personally believe the development of downtown Tampa is a terrific idea,” he said. “If this is part of it, that’s great.”

That is healthy attitude.

Is this project perfect? No. However, the real question is whether a poorly laid out empty lot is more in line with the desires of downtown boosters and plans for utilizing the riverfront than a well laid out, river-facing building that connects Curtis Hixon Park to the Straz.  We choose the latter, but this is Tampa, so who knows what will happen.

– South Howard Apartments

The second project for discussion is an apartment project on South Howard which the City Council rejected this week.   The question is why?

South Tampa neighborhoods are marshaling their residents against the proposed SoHo Flats apartments, with some organizers even looking into chartering a bus to take opponents to Thursday night’s City Council hearing.

As proposed, SoHo Flats includes 212 apartments, a 518-space garage and 15,000 square feet of restaurants, shops and offices.

The project site covers a little less than 3 acres and would replace a largely vacant strip center on S Howard Avenue, north of W Morrison Avenue. The site once was home to Xtreme Total Health & Fitness, owned by Joe Redner, but also includes a laundry equipment supply company.

The key issue is traffic, the developer and residents say.

Traffic is an issue.  What is the argument?

Already, residents note, Post Properties is building Post SoHo Square, with 231 apartments and retail, near Swann Avenue to the north. On the south is the 137-room Epicurean Hotel, scheduled to open late this year across from Bern’s Steak House.

“Now, we’re talking right between the two, here’s another development,” said Laura Barber, who has distributed fliers to her neighbors in New Suburb Beautiful in advance of the 6 p.m. hearing. “It just seems like it’s a little out of control. … I don’t see how these roads can handle it.” 

There were the same arguments about the Post SoHo Square project – which is now under construction.  Even more interestingly, traffic and compatibility with the neighborhood complaints were made about Old Hyde Park Village in the early 1980’s (here  and here  and here). Clearly Old Hyde Park traffic was handled and the neighborhood would not be anything like it is now without that and other developments spurred by it, many of which were opposed on the same grounds.  The complaints are always the same, but let’s be honest, you are not going to get Winter Park-like area without a main drag – and you just have to deal with the main drag.  (It does not have to be Howard; it can be somewhere else.  However, it would be nice if Tampa would in some way show that it has any idea about building such an area – somewhere.)

The funny thing is that, in reality, the choice is not between nothing and this project.

SoHo Flats would generate an estimated 2,900 vehicle trips per day, Everett said. That’s about 1,300 more than what would be generated if the previous businesses were still operating there.

Project plans try to direct some of that traffic away from Howard, and Everett would expect a little less than half of the trips to be generated in the morning and a little more than half in the evening.

Everett also notes that the garage would have 518 spaces, while city code requires 500. That should create excess parking capacity that the public could use and shouldn’t exacerbate the area’s parking crunch.

But if this project is defeated, something worse could come along, Everett said. In that case, he said, the Miami-based owners of the company would likely look to maximize the return on their investment.

The site has a commercial zoning that would allow the development of other uses, including a large shopping center or fast-food restaurant, which could generate much more traffic than the apartment complex, he said.

Some of those uses could generate as much as 10,000 trips a day, he estimated, many of them at lunch or at night, when S Howard is congested.

In other words, the neighborhood could have a decently designed (though it could be improved), walkable project with limited traffic impacts or you could have much worse – courtesy of the same Tampa government from which they sought relief.  Apparently they would like the latter.

Setting aside the traffic argument, this comment from the City Council meeting was telling:

“A giant concrete monstrosity with a little ribbon of grass used to collect cigarette butts on a Friday night,” said Scott Weber, who spoke on behalf of New Suburb Beautiful. “It’s not in keeping with the neighborhood.”

(Comments like this – and arguments like this generally – remind us of this song by Florida’s own Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers.) It may not be a perfect design, but it definitely is not a “concrete monstrosity” (in fact, our guess is that it would be mostly wood frame, and it is a generic, urban-ish building like thousands built in similar neighborhoods across the country.) And, in fact, it is in keeping with that stretch of Howard, which is all retail and apartments and has buildings up to four stories being built on it.

The real problem is that this comment can be made  about a four story building a mile or two from downtown with retail on the bottom and residential on the top  on a commercial street and then cited with approval.  It just shows how far behind in attitude Tampa is.  Look, there may be specific reasons to not approve this specific design of the project, but the “monstrosity” card is not one of them.  (And just to be clear, we are not particularly supportive of this particular project – though we would like to see similar style development.)

The problem with the entire discussion about the SoHo Flats project is not the rejection of one project.  The problem is where, if anywhere, in Tampa will a walkable, urban area develop? (In a real City it cannot just be downtown.) Unfortunately, historically every time an area gets going, someone comes along and gets the City Council to stifle it.  If you stifle enough neighborhoods, you have stifled the whole area.

All this is just another reason that the City has to change to code along Kennedy and other areas where it can build a real urban area and stick to it.  Unfortunately, the City (City Council included) seems to have no interest in the that.

In other news, this week the City Council got closer to allowing chicken farming in the city.

And you wonder why young professionals leave.

Port – Economic Impact, Growing but is it Fast Enough?

A new study of the Port found an improvement in economic impact.

The headline statistic was a 93 percent surge in overall economic activity at the port. Like many other economic-impact reports, the new study looks at the money generated directly at the port by shipping and other companies and the money generated across the state from the cargo flowing through the port.

All told, the port has a total economic output of $15.1 billion, up from about $7.8 billion in 2006, according to the economic consulting firm that did the study, Martin Associates of Lancaster, Pa. A big part of that increase is attributed to the port’s dominant customer, the phosphate and fertilizer industry. The economic output of phosphate companies using the port has soared to about $10.5 billion from $5.8 billion in the past seven years.

Other industries had impressive gains, too, but are small by comparison to phosphate. The economic value of the port’s cruise ship business, for example, has surged to $380 million from $101 million in 2006. The shipyard business has risen to $175 million from $106 million seven years ago.

First, we are not sure if the new number is based on a change in accounting or is actual.  In any event, it sounds nice.  The reports did not indicate how this number compares to some other ports in Florida, so we tried to find out.  The estimated economic impact for the port in Miami is anywhere from $18 billion  to $ 27 billion.  Port Everglades estimated economic impact is $14 billion  to $15.3 billion.  The Port of Jacksonville’s estimated economic impact is $ 19 billion. (See here and here)  Miami is definitely preparing to take the newest container ships.  Port Everglades is growing as a container port and also hoping to eventually be able to take Post Panamax ships.

And then there is this:

Despite the positive economic growth, the jobs numbers weren’t as positive. Overall, an estimated 80,216 jobs are tied to the port today, where 96,451 were tied to the port in 2006. That includes people employed directly by companies using the port as well as jobs created through the port’s ripple effect, such as supermarket jobs created through the wages generated at the port.

This compared to Miami (207,000), Everglades (160,000), Jacksonville (65,000 in 2009) .  We have no idea how all those numbers were generated, so draw your own conclusions.

Second, it is fine to have a burgeoning phosphate industry.  However, there is a question if the port’s impact grew by $7 or so billion and of that $5 or so billion was phosphate. What about the rest of the port’s business? The port needs to be far more diversified.  We know the new port director knows this and plans on changing it.

Port of Tampa Chief Executive Officer Paul Anderson said the port is “still in its infancy” when it comes to landing more container cargo, such as electronics items.

“The port of Tampa is clearly poised for future growth,” Anderson told the crowd Monday.

The question is how.

Anderson believes the port is well placed to add new businesses, new industries and thus new jobs as the recovery continues. This year the port added cargo service by Mediterranean Shipping Co., or MSC, that it hopes will boost its international cargo container business. The port is also benefiting from tens of millions of dollars in rail and road improvements that will speed the unloading of fuel and cargo from the docks.

Though we are unsure that this part of the plan is going to be really successful:

Caribbean-based transshipment centers linked to the widening of the Panama Canal allow Tampa to compete for east-west and north-south cargo traffic.

Will it really work when the ports in south Florida are working to be able to take the full sized ships and eliminate the need for transshipments?  We are not sure being on the end of spoke rather than a hub is really going to bring the growth and development we need.  (It sounds a lot like the growth plan for the previous airport director, which was not so good.)  Maybe it will work, but we have doubts.

We understand there are issues about the ships the port can handle.  We know the Skyway is too short (good forward planning) and that replacing it is not going to happen anytime soon.  We also know there are issues with the channel. On the other hand, we doubt other ports are going to hold back on improvement because we have issues here. It would be good to have a full, honest discussion and get some plans for the future laid out.

One thing in particular we do like from the Port Director is this:

And he believes there will also be opportunities for the Port of Tampa to lure manufacturing plants and distribution centers to the area.

Finally.  Too bad he was not here when this came up.

Amazon – Incentives and Hype Machine

This week, the Hillsborough County Commission approved the first part of incentives for a possible Amazon warehouse in southern Hillsborough County.

Enthusiastic Hillsborough County commissioners Wednesday unanimously approved the first piece of an incentive package they hope will persuade to build a 1 million-square-foot assembly and distribution center in the Ruskin area.

Commissioners agreed to pay $225,000 to Amazon, or 20 percent of the total state incentive package if the company creates 375 jobs here that pay more than Florida’s average wage. Hillsborough officials say if Amazon locates in the south county, 1,000 jobs will be created, with 375 of those positions paying an average of $47,581.

The commission will meet July 18 to consider a property tax break for Amazon that would lower the company’s taxes by half, to $910,000 a year for seven years. The property tax break was approved by county voters several years ago.

As we said last week, we are fine with the Amazon warehouse, though we are a bit ambivalent about the incentives.  In any event, even with the incentives the warehouse is not a done deal for Hillsborough.  Maybe that explains the hype machine going into high gear.

Commissioners gushed about the prospect of the Internet retail giant locating here, each trying to outdo the previous speaker for the most lavish superlative.

“This is our time. We’re going to be No. 1,” said Commissioner Sandy Murman, who represents the south county area.

“It’s a grand slam,” said Chairman Ken Hagan.

“Jobs, jobs, jobs,” added Commissioner Les Miller.

Murman and Hagan said the warehouse would provide a needed economic boost for the economically depressed south county area.

“We’re going to energize the South Shore community that has been in desperate need of development,” Hagan said.

We have no idea what “We’re going to be No. 1” means in this context.  Number one at what?  (At least we can accept the “jobs, jobs, jobs” as relatively accurate.)

What is really odd is the inconsistency in messaging.  More specifically, regarding the economically “depressed” South Shore, how is it so economically depressed when St. Joe’s is building a new hospital with a $237 million investment in the south county?

And what of the subsidy given to South Shore Commons which was explained during the Estuary/Bass Pro Shops debate a few months ago like this:

In June, commissioners voted unanimously to give $3 million to developer of SouthShore Commons, a development that includes a 1-million-square-foot mall, offices and hotel rooms. The money would come as repayment for the developer widening Big Bend Road from U.S. 301 to Simmons Loop Road, portions of which it had to do under a prior agreement with the county.

The rationale: The road widening is needed for the quickly developing area and it would be a while before the county could widen portions of the road that are its responsibility. County officials believe it will help ease congestion near Westfield Brandon, the closest mall option for residents of southern Hillsborough, while drawing shoppers from Manatee County.

Either the area is “quickly developing” or “economically depressed,” but it is hard to say it is both.  Unfortunately, this level of hyperbole and rhetoric is what we have come to expect.

Once again, we have no objection to the Amazon warehouse (though we hope the stories of Amazon’s labor practices are accurate.  For instance see here and here), but we do object to the hype that seems to come with every decision made by local government.  The warehouse is fine, but it is not a game changer. We need to start dealing with reality.

Trader Joe’s – Could Be

So it seems that Trader Joe’s may be coming to Tampa after all.

Officials for the company are normally hyper-secretive about new locations for the holistic and organic-oriented grocery chain, and executives with Trader Joe’s on Thursday said they have no announcements ready for a store in Tampa.

However, some documents are starting to circulate in the development community in Tampa that relate to a property at 3808 W. Swann Avenue, just west of the intersection with south Dale Mabry Highway.

On June 11, contractors filed for a permit from the City of Tampa to take down the existing 11,367-square foot building on site, and construct a new, 12,301-square-foot retail shell building where there currently is a Shapes health gym.

That’s roughly the size of both a CVS drug store, and the typical size of a Trader Joe’s grocery store. The plans call out a project name of “TJ-TAMPA,” and architectural renderings include a representative brand name “Tenant Sign” on the building, written in the same Tiki-style font that Trader Joe’s uses on its stores, Web sites and products.

Well, that would be good.  Not exactly the most accessible location for the area in general, but so be it. (Maybe it is a sign they are going to put more locations in the area.)  It is about time we catch up to Gainesville.

Of course, there is a bit of extra hype in the reporting (maybe the reported was talking to a local politico):

But Trader Joe’s is notoriously deliberate in its site selection and willing to wait. It requires prominent addresses in affluent, well-educated areas and needs parking and room for truck deliveries, both hot commodities in the densely populated, built-out South Tampa.

First, South Tampa is not built out unless you are a suburban developer.  Second, Trader Joe’s locations aren’t all so prominent. (See for instance here  and here)

Anyway, we’ll take it.

Economic Development – Hillsborough County’s Model

It seems that the Estuary/Bass Pro subsidy is paying off, at least by the measure of Hillsborough County economic development standards.

The massive Bass Pro Shops development in Brandon has attracted its first satellite business to the wider complex: An enormous TopGolf driving range, sports bar and restaurant facility that’s somewhat larger than the average Publix store.

TopGolf officials are now in final negotiations with the local developer on a facility that will have 102 semi-climate-controlled tees arranged in three stories, where golfers smack computer-chip impregnated balls at sensor-embedded targets up to 200 yards away.

Each luxury bay will have misters in the summer, heaters in the winter, patio-like furniture for relaxing and competing with friends, twin HDTVs to watch other sports, and teams of waiters circulating with beer, wine, liquor and food from the gourmet kitchens.

For those not playing golf, there are two full-sized bars and restaurants, live bands each night and a rooftop terrace with fire pits and private cabanas for parties.

We have nothing against Top Golf, but we do have something against helping to pay for it, directly or indirectly.  It is worth noting that, unlike the Estuary/Bass Pro Shops/Top Golf developer, St. Joe’s is paying $2.6 million for a traffic light and some road improvements around its hospital in south county.

Interesting County priorities.

WiFi – As Goes Downtown So Pays Everywhere  Else?

The move to get WiFi downtown is moving forward:

City Hall is seeking a private-sector partner to bring free Wi-Fi to downtown Tampa’s parks.

“Wi-Fi will be a draw,” Mayor Bob Buckhorn said Tuesday, and not just for visitors. “I want people of all ages and backgrounds to come downtown and be able to work and play at the same time.”

That is cool.  We are for WiFi downtown, but there is a catch:

So what’s in it for the company?

For one thing, access to city property for its transmission equipment.

“They need our infrastructure,” Buckhorn said. “That’s the way this makes sense. We allow a provider to use our poles or to erect antennas on our buildings to provide, to whatever degree possible, a blanket around the city. In return for that access what we are hoping for is free Wi-Fi in certain areas, largely centered around downtown and the waterfront.”

City officials believe that vendors could help support the free Wi-Fi by charging for it in other areas of the city or through online advertising. Proposals are due July 30.

We have nothing against having ads (well actually ads are annoying, but, if we get free WiFi, it may be worth it), but why would the City even bring up charging for service in the rest of the City?  Is the City really willing to have free WiFi downtown but not in Westshore, which is considering creating parks and a walkable neighborhood?  How about in Hyde Park, the west side of the river or Ybor? What about East Tampa as a redevelopment effort?

Here’s an idea, put out an RFP without suggestions for how to pay for it or with just allowing ads and see what happens.  Why are you giving anything away before the process starts? Why give anything other than access to City property? Is this RFP wired (no pun intended)?

There is much more to Tampa than downtown.  It deserves WiFi (and good planning), too.

List of the Week

Our list of the week is a US Conference of Mayors list of metro area GDP’s from a July 2012 report.

The top 25 are: New York; Los Angeles; Chicago; Washington, DC; Houston; Dallas-Fort Worth; Philadelphia;  San Francisco-Oakland; Boston; Atlanta; Miami-Fort Lauderdale; Seattle; Minneapolis-St. Paul; Detroit; Phoenix; San Jose; San Diego; Denver; Baltimore; Portland; St. Louis; Pittsburgh; Charlotte; the Tampa Bay Area; Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA

Of course, the official Tampa Bay metro area has a bigger population than St. Louis, Portland, Denver, Charlotte or Pittsburg. (See here, yea, it’s wikipedia, but only because the census list is not easy to read) The media market is even bigger. Clearly we punch below our weight, as it were.

We’ll see if the 2013 report shows us doing any better.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. B. Wills permalink
    June 21, 2013 10:49 AM

    Regarding the Skyway bridge, our typical penny-wise, pound-foolish ways have come back to haunt us yet again. After the old Skyway bridge fell, there was talk of replacing it with a tunnel, but, as usual, we did the bridge on the cheap instead and now the port of Tampa is at a disadvantage. In addition, the bridge design has been maintenance-intensive (painting, concrete pier repairs due to rusting tension cables, etc.). Start planning now for a tunnel and be done with it for 75 years or so.

  2. EJB permalink
    June 22, 2013 10:26 AM

    As the article points out, the BOCC speaks out of both sides of their mouth at the same time. South Hillsborough is depressed/up and coming area. I requested that the BOCC post on their website, the full application that Amazon filed to obtain our tax money. So far, nothing. I wanted to know (still do) if the money that went to South Shore Corporation to build roads will also help with road costs for Amazon. Were the taxpayers sold another bill of goods? BOCC saying the South Shore was for retail development when it is really another slight of hand for Amazon? As far as “above average” wages, what does that mean? One person making $75,000 while three others make $25,000 each “averages” out to approximately the $40 plus wages that are being touted.

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