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Roundup 6-28-2013

June 28, 2013

Spreading Ferry Dust

Sometimes it is very difficult to understand the logic used by proponents of transportation projects in the Tampa Bay area.  Take, for instance, the proposed high speed ferry.  It is an interesting idea that has some merit, though it is not clear that the public should invest.  One of the original selling points was that the public would not have to pay the bills for operating the system.  Well:

Meanwhile, ferry proponents have backed off their $8 million transportation request to the county from earlier this month and are exploring other options, according to Hillsborough Commissioner Sandra Murman.

One possibility includes the county paying some of the $3.5 million annual operating tab while private partner HMS Ferries Inc. covers most of the $18 million capital cost of starting the service.

That is a big switch that changes a lot of the dynamics involved.  It makes the whole thing seem less expensive up front, but raises the long term public costs.  It also makes one wonder if the company proposing it still thinks they can make a profit on the service. But this money game is not what caught our attention.  (We figured there would be a money game.). This is:

Proponents of high-speed ferry service between MacDill Air Force Base and south Hillsborough County are focusing on a potential eastern dock and terminal site.

The Fred and Ida Schultz Preserve, located on the coast south of Gibsonton on the north side of the Tampa Port Authority’s Port Redwing, is part of Hillsborough’s Environmental Lands Acquisition Protection Program.

The roughly 130-acre site is co-owned and managed by the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

The peninsula was created from dredge spoils in the 1960s and 1970s to lure a shipping facility that never materialized. A vestige of the channel remains in place.

The site can be reached from the west end of Pembroke Road via an access road owned by the port. The proposed ferry service would need parking for at least 1,000 vehicles.

The land involved can be seen here and here .  Do they want the land just outside the preserve to park 1000 cars a day or do they want the preserve?  If they want the preserve, why should the public give it to them?  Why can’t they find somewhere not environmentally sensitive and not completely isolated?  This is supposed to be mass transit.

Whether the dock is in the preserve or not, the area in question has zero chance of any decent spin off development.  It will just be a scorching, flat expanse of pavement on the waterfront.  Just what we need.

And there is one other point that keeps coming up and is well summarized by this:

Because so much of the Tampa Bay shoreline in South Shore already is protected through the county’s’ Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program, it’s a good draw for eco-tourists, said Kilgore, who owns South Shore Outdoor Adventures for kayaking and other outdoor activities. Having a ferry service in the area would give people one more reason to visit, he said.

Why does everything have to flow back to some tourism scheme?

Whether this ferry plan is good for mass transportation or not and whether public money should support it is still an open question.  However, if the plan rests on tourism rather than being a real element of the transportation system of the Tampa Bay area, it should die right now.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

This week, the State and Florida East Coast Railways agreed to an Orlando-Miami rail connection.

A $1.5 billion passenger train that would link Orlando with Miami is just one deal from becoming reality.

The Coral Gables company behind the privately financed project has won two critical agreements it needs to begin construction.

All Aboard Florida railroad got approval Wednesday from Orlando’s main road-building agency to lay tracks on land along the BeachLine Expressway. A similar arrangement was made late Tuesday with the state, which also owns part of the BeachLine.

That means All Aboard Florida only needs a deal with its final destination, Orlando International Airport, to complete its route through Central Florida.

Train representatives will meet Friday with airport officials to talk again, said Mike Reininger, president and chief development officer of All Aboard Florida.

There has been no real comment that we could find from Tampa Bay area leaders, who obviously do not care that the area is being cut off from Florida transportation infrastructure.  Maybe they don’t see it.  Maybe this will help them see that risk:

All Aboard Florida, owned by Florida East Coast Industries of Coral Gables, could not build its system without permission from the state and the expressway authority to lease right of way along the south side of the toll road that connects Interstate 4 with Cocoa.

The company already has tracks that run from Miami to Jacksonville. It is selecting engines and cars, plus planning depots in West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami for what promises to be a 230-mile, three-hour route.

In other words, once the rail company connects Orlando to their system, they already have Jacksonville connected.  Only the Tampa Bay area will not be connected.

Downtown Tampa – Straz Fusion

It seems that, as noted a while back, the issues involving the Straz, the tower, and the skywalk may get worked out.

Developers of a proposed 36-story riverfront tower have reworked their plans to address concerns raised by the nearby David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.

Now, says Mayor Bob Buckhorn, “basically everything that the Straz had wanted, the developers have agreed to.”

Whether Straz Center leaders agree with Buckhorn could soon become clear. The center’s executive committee is scheduled to meet today. Trustees get a project update July 15.

* * *

Developers now say they would keep the elevated pedestrian bridge connecting the William F. Poe Parking Garage to the John F. Germany Public Library and the Straz Center.

* * *

Developers say their plan aims to do two things with “minimal disruption” to the Straz Center:

• Extend Tyler Street to connect with the center’s arrival plaza, which would be expanded. (As part of the project, both Tyler and Cass streets will be reconfigured into what officials say would be safer two-way streets.)

• Demolish the existing elevated walkway to the center — to be rebuilt later — and create an interim, covered walkway and ramp to provide safe pedestrian access during construction.

* * *

The Straz Center also worries about losing money if unforeseen construction problems disrupt its season.

Smith responded that the Beck Group, which is on the development team, “has committed to providing proof of insurance to cover claims against business interruption” should construction “conflict with the performance operations of the Straz.”

Good for the developers for trying to work with the neighbors.  The developer has gone way out of their way to address the Straz/Library concerns.

Any complaints by the Straz now, except about very specific details in the developer’s mitigation of their concerns, would pretty clearly indicate either 1) they just don’t want anything going on the lot in question in total disregard for the overall quality of downtown or 2) there is something personal going on here.

In either event, that would be a flawed approach.  Hopefully they see the good will of the developer and potential good in the project and work to get this thing done.

Is That All, Cont.

This week sees the return of our “Is That All?” segment highlighting the work of the Tampa City Council (and any other body that would like to be equally silly).

This week we have a Tampa City Councilwoman’s proposal to rename Nebraska Avenue for Pedro Menéndez de Avilés.  However, setting aside the fact that the name is unwieldy for giving directions (Are we to call it PMA?  Is it supposed to be Menendez Avenue?) and that, somehow, this guy seems more famous for killing French settlers during a war than founding St. Augustine, we really are most interested in the logic of the proposal because it is classic City Council:

“I thought this would be a way of honoring our past, and not forgetting it, and not burying it,” Councilwoman Yvonne Yolie Capin told council members Thursday afternoon. “It’s a very Florida name.”

Well, it is a Florida name in the sense that it was a Spanish leader in Florida – northeast Florida.  How about a more locally connected guy like DeSoto or, our personal favorite, Cabeza de Vaca.  Sure they were not perfect, but who was? (At least one the folks whose busts are being put on the Riverwalk was slave owner. See page 9 here. And to be clear, there are important and historical people who tell our story who did some things that were not the best.  They can be acknowledged with that understanding. Or you could just ignore it.)

And then there is good ole Ponce de Leon.  Why not him – though Miami already has a street named for him?  And how are we hiding our history with a street named Avenida Republica de Cuba and everything in Ybor City?

There is another comment that we find even more interesting because it is so provincial, so Tampa Bay.

“I would suggest we do a survey of the connotation of what comes to mind when you say Nebraska Avenue,” Capin said. “I wouldn’t want to put it on our tourism brochures.” 

Plainly, people all over the world know about the reputation of Nebraska Avenue.  It is a name that conjures unspeakable terror from Kampala to Timişoara and to Vientiane. So horrible is Nebraska Avenue’s global reputation that, in fact, that, for the most part, the entire issue of how bad the street apparently is has been completely ignored by the City Council while discussing Cuban sandwiches and whatnot.  Now that is leadership.

Bro Bowl – Skate or Die, or Just Be Erased

No surprise, the City of Tampa is having trouble dealing with its history again, this time in Perry Harvey Park.

It was designed by a city parks employee, built in 1978 and is known worldwide as one of the last of its kind.

Now the Bro Bowl skateboard park near downtown Tampa has been proposed for the National Register of Historic Places.

The idea is getting a serious look.

On July 25, the Florida National Register Review Board will hold a public meeting in Tallahassee to consider an application filed by 41-year-old Shannon Bruffett of Tampa.

* * *

It’s not so much about whether the Bro Bowl is a modern skating facility, Bruffett said.

“It’s more of a monument and a reflection of a time gone by,” he said. “There are very few examples surviving throughout the nation.”

There are three, say Bruffett and his supporters, who include some big names in skateboarding.

Of skate parks built in the late 1970s and the early 1980s — a golden age for skateboarders — the only ones left are the Bro Bowl, Kona in Jacksonville and Derby Park in Santa Cruz, Calif.

But Kona is privately owned and Derby Park was remodeled last year.

“Basically, it’s the last of its kind, because it’s a municipal park, and it’s in its original form,” Bruffett said during a June 11 meeting of Tampa’s Historic Preservation Commission.

So the bowl is unique, cool, and for the youth – and old skaters.  A little SoCal-like vibe in Tampa.  So let’s save it.  What is the problem?

But in the eyes of City Hall, the Bro Bowl is marked for demolition.

The Bro Bowl can be found at Perry Harvey Sr. Park, on N Orange Avenue, south of the Interstate 275-Interstate 4 interchange.

City Hall plans a $6.5 million makeover at the park. Part of the work calls for taking out the Bro Bowl and building a skate park nearby that would be three times as big, with parking and shade.

The City wants to redesign the park to honor the African-American heritage of the neighborhood and history of the park. (Read the article.  It is too long to quote).  This is a valid idea.  Of course, the skate bowl is also historic.

We have no idea why the City can’t both honor the neighborhood and keep the skate bowl.  The two legacies are not mutually exclusive.  It just does not seem that hard.

Coming Out Watch

This week there is actually a positive media presentation of Tampa in the form of a Five-Point Weekend Escape Plan in New York magazine.   It point out that:

After decades of suburban sprawl, this Gulf Coast city has brought new life to its neglected center by fixing up the riverfront, repurposing abandoned spaces, and embracing its Cuban-American history.

It notes the Riverwalk, as “an ongoing urban renewal project,” which it really is if you accept it was at one time urban.  It is a nice article – especially if you are looking to be a tourist rather than live and work here.  It also should be noted that it is very heavy on Latin Tampa and studiously avoids the horrors on Nebraska Avenue.

Economic Development – Just Saying Hi

This week local officials were wandering around New York saying Hi to companies that have operations there.

Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. president and CEO Rick Homans said the executives they met with seemed pleasantly surprised by the delegation’s easygoing nature.

The financial firms were expecting a hard sell to bring jobs to Tampa. Instead, they received gratitude and a no-pressure sales job.

“Our purpose in going there was simply to say thank you,” Homans said.

But that thank-you came with a subliminal message: When those firms decide to start expanding and hiring, they should keep the Tampa-Hillsborough area in mind.

Probably a decent idea to keep the lines of communication open (though it is unclear who paid for it all).  It is also good to get feedback about the Tampa Bay area, such as:

There was no sugarcoating of Tampa’s problems, such as its lack of a regional mass-transit system, Buckhorn said.

So what are you going to do about it?  And:

“All of the areas where we could do better pale in comparison to a high-tax, high-regulation environment,” he said – like New York.

That may be the case for a comparison to New York.  What about a comparison to Texas where there are low taxes and low regulation and they have transit?

We would not really discuss this any more except it is predictable that the County Commission is going to use the Mayor’s comment to explain why we do not need transit.  Consequently, we feel that we should make a specific point: we are all for increasing employment, but we do not think that the Tampa Bay area should be striving to emulate the emerging market economic model, where no taxes, no regulations, and low wages drive richer people from somewhere else to exploit our area and make a few locals wealthy while wages for everyone else stagnate.  There is nothing wrong with controlling taxes and regulations, but our area requires real investment – not just paying developers – to create a sustainable, decent economy.)

We also hope the Mayor answered the companies’ question a little less incoherently than this, when speaking about the book “The Unwinding” which portrays Tampa is a less than stellar light:

A review of Packer’s book last month in the New York Times said Tampa “seems like Hell on earth now.”

Buckhorn laughed off that assessment Monday morning.

“If Tampa is Hell, I’m getting an asbestos suit because I’m staying,” he said. “Out of this we will be stronger.” 

At least he did not call it a “game changer.”

Game Changer of the Month – Amazon

While the Mayor was wandering around New York there was more talk about the potential for Amazon to build a warehouse in the south part of Hillsborough County.

In an article about the theoretical effects it would have on Ruskin (really theoretical because Amazon has not even decided to locate the facility here), we learn:

County elected leaders are calling the deal a game changer. For about $6.6 million in local tax breaks, they say, Amazon’s “fulfillment center” could scratch more than the itch for shopping deals.

Of course it is a “game changer,” but so is a fumble or a penalty or even a tackle for no gain.  A rain delay is a game changer as is Bartman.  Can a phrase be more tired and lacking in meaning?

The interesting reality for Ruskin is this:

So count Cruz among many in this southeastern Hillsborough County hamlet expressing joy that online retailing giant Amazon may build a warehouse employing 1,000 people. It’s a joy tinged with desperation for a community that all but missed the last construction boom and, so far, the recovery from the crash that followed.

In other words, nothing the County has really done – the loose regulations, inadequate impact fees, subsidizing developers, etc., has helped Ruskin, even when the economy was booming – probably because those things are mostly to help make developers money.  Not coincidentally in the Amazon deal:

The 1-million-square-foot distribution center would sit in the massive and mostly fallow South Shore Corporate Park near Interstate 75 and State Road 674.

In other words, the corporate park is mostly empty and probably not making money for its owner. (See here and here)  (It would be nice to see the deal the developer is hoping to get with the help of tax payer money, but it is unlikely that will ever happen)

So, it seems that the project is being sold in the same unsubstantiated way that most County projects are sold:

Boosters say Amazon’s arrival would bring road widening and other investments that could steer other companies to Ruskin, and employees who will eat and shop.

Strange. We were told we are already getting road widening in the South Shore boom (see last week). We have no idea what the other mysterious investments are. As for the economic boom in Ruskin:

Jim Hosler, a former Hillsborough County planner who would later seek to help reinvigorate Ruskin, notes the Amazon site is nearly 3 miles from the town’s commercial center. He wonders how many of the new workers will commute from elsewhere.

Stacy Mitchell, a senior researcher for the national nonprofit Institute for Local Self Reliance, which promotes the value of locally owned businesses, says they hire nine workers for every $1 million of goods sold. For Amazon, it’s one.

“This is not the foundation for an economic development plan that’s going to deliver real prosperity and high-wage jobs for the community,” Mitchell said.

A warehouse is definitely is not the foundation for an economic development plan – except when you are in County government.  On the other hand, it may help Ruskin some, though the article did say that all that other south county development three or so miles down the road did not help Ruskin.   As we have said, we do not oppose the Amazon warehouse.  Hopefully, it will help provide decent employment to people who need it.

However, what is definitely not acceptable is the tired, hype-filled, inaccurate, and intentionally misleading rhetoric the constantly emanated from our local government.  They sound like used car salesmen.  Key among their meaningless catch phrases is “game changer.”  Using it is just not hip.

List of the Week I

Our first list this week is Movoto’s list of the “smartest” US cities.  Of course, Movoto is the self described “lighter side or real estate,” and this list is the lighter side of smartest cities, but whatever.

The top 10 is Pittsburgh, Orlando, DC, Atlanta, Honolulu, Tampa, Seattle, San Francisco, Cincinnati, and Miami.   As opposed to almost every other list involving smarts, Florida faired very well.  Probably because both Tampa and Orlando have a high number of “media outlets” per person and Miami apparently has lots of libraries.  It is not completely clear how that is a better measure than things like college degrees per person, but, as noted, it is the lighter side of real estate.

List of the Week II

Just to emphasize the point that the previous list was an outlier, our second list is Luminosity’s list of Top 100 Smartest US cities – and, no, we will not list all 100.  Its methodology (“The study released today (PDF) used data from more than 3 million people in the U.S. between the ages of 18 and 75 who had played several Lumosity brain-training games”) is equally questionable.

The Top 10 is pretty much all college towns: Ithaca, NY; State College, PA; Lafayette-West Lafayette, IN; Iowa City, IA; Ames, IA; Ann Arbor, MI; Bloomington, IN; Madison, WI; Lawrence, KS; and Pullman, WA.  Big cities do make the list a little farther down.  The ONLY Florida city on the list is #68 Gainesville.  Quite a difference.

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