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Roundup 7-12-2013

July 12, 2013

Downtown Tampa – The Straz and the Tower, cont.

The saga of the apartment building proposed near the Straz continues.  First, among all the other things the developers offered to do, they proposed waiting until the Straz’s Broadway season is over before changing the roads.  The developer has bent over backwards to accommodate the Straz.

On the other hand, this week, the Times published another editorial on the subject and another blurb today accompanied by a graphic.  The graphic is not on the website and has clear inaccuracies of scale – which we have actually measured – and layout which would take too much time to explain but which render the graphic misleading at best.   Because it had more substance, we will stick mostly to the editorial.

The plan to build a 36-story apartment tower on a patch of downtown Tampa riverfront goes Monday to the board of trustees of the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. This is an opportunity for civic leaders to speak clearly about why this project would be bad for the Straz, bad for the library next door, bad for downtown and bad for the public.

It is clear that from the start the Times opposed the plan (as is their right).  What is not clear is exactly why.  This week’s editorial says:

The tower would isolate the Straz from the remainder of the arts district, including Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, walling off sight lines to the river and creating an unwelcome feel in the very area the city has spent tens of millions of tax dollars to foster as open, public space. While the money generated from selling the traffic median would help redesign the streets, having a tower plunked down between the garage and Straz’s arrivals court would simply exchange one traffic problem for another.

If true, that might be a reason to oppose the plan. However, the Times also put this rendering of the view from the Straz toward the Museum with the editorial on its website:

From the Times – click on picture for article

This rendering completely refutes the arguments about the project walling off anything (The river is still quite accessible, as is also shown in the inaccurate graphic from today’s paper, where it is clear that the Art Museum pinches access to the river far more than the proposed tower, which does not restrict access to the river at all, though the Straz riverfront surface parking lot is on the right of the rendering.) or unwelcoming (This is what it looks like now – not very pedestrian friendly or connective to the museums and hard to make less connective.)  This is not presently an open space (it is a road). And how does putting a building where there is a little used road behind a multistory, blank wall cut off sight lines?

Regarding traffic at drop off, we find it hard to believe it will get worse.  It may be different, but there is no reason to think it will be worse, particularly since very few people not going to the Straz will have a real reason to use the road in front of the Straz.

Finally, the Times makes an appeal to the Straz board to oppose the development with this:

A tower that hems in the Straz and the library, that looms over the river and that further restricts public space in the arts district — while adding vehicular traffic to the same overbuilt area — works against everything the city has achieved over the past decade to make downtown more livable.

As the rendering provided by the Times shows, the proposal is not “looming;” rather, like a well planned building, it provides a natural, pedestrian connection to Curtis Hixon Park – which does not exist now.

There is one nugget in the quote that seems to show the real nub of opposition to this project: when did the north part of downtown become “overbuilt?” (It looks like this)  Was it before the Museum of Art was built or after?  Was it before or after there were events at Curtis Hixon?  How did an area working to have activity suddenly become overbuilt?  Why didn’t the Times speak out then?  If it is so overbuilt now, should Tampa abandon hope of filling in the large surface parking lots in that area? (The only thing overbuilt in northern downtown is surface parking.) The reality is that there is no definition of “overbuilt” that would fit the northern end of downtown. And remember we are talking about downtown – not a suburb, not a residential neighborhood full of single family homes, not a small town Main Street – downtown of the largest city in a top 20 metropolitan area.  It should not resemble St. Armands Key or Mt. Dora.  While there is nothing wrong with those places, they are not urban centers.  Tampa is (or should be) a city with a proper downtown.

And if you think Tampa is overbuilt, please review the discussion of the locations of other performing arts centers.

Finally, in the editorial, the Times also mentions upgrading the library.  We are all for that, but we doubt it can be done at its present location, anyway.  We would really like to see a whole new facility on a decent, normal lot, maybe selling the present land to help fund the new building.)

We appreciate that the Times wants responsible development of downtown.  It is good to have watchdogs.  However, in this case, the Times’ arguments are misplaced.  There is nothing wrong with this proposal as revealed (though it still would be nice to see the whole project).  It is part of becoming a city, rather than an overgrown town or cluster of villages.  This is downtown.

The Straz Board should either endorse it or just have no opinion.

Economic Development – TECO Waiting Game

A few months ago we discussed a report of a mysterious TECO request to the Public Service Commission regarding a large facility.  We never learned what it was, but this week there was an update:

Tampa Electric Co. is asking the state for more time to seal a deal with a mystery company that could become the utility’s biggest customer.

TECO has asked the state’s Florida Public Service Commission to approve its request for an extension at the commission’s meeting next week, records released Friday show.

The potential customer’s identity is a secret under a state law that allows the name to be considered TECO’s “proprietary confidential business information.” The Public Service Commission regulates the state’s investor-owned utilities, triggering its involvement.

Commissioners already had approved a special contract between TECO and the business, which is “considering building a large manufacturing facility” somewhere in the utility’s service area.

* * *

The company also is looking at other sites around the country, and the cost of electricity is key to its decision, according to a Public Service Commission staff memo. It needs more time to complete its selection process.

If the company builds here, it “will create jobs, and should provide economic benefits . to the state of Florida,” the commission staff said.

TECO also asked that staff be given authority to grant another two-month extension beyond November, if needed, without getting commission approval to do so.

Why would the PSC say “No?”

What is interesting is that, from the description in two mysterious articles and the papers filed with the PSC, this project has the potential for being much more important than Amazon or Bass Pro Shops or all the other over-hyped projects in this area. Of course it could be over-hyped itself, or just fizzle, but the coverage has been quite quiet.

Time will tell.

Economic Development – Amazon Confusion

Despite all the talk about an Amazon warehouse in south Hillsborough County, the Lakeland Ledger says a warehouse is going to the Hillsborough/Polk County line.

Polk County commissioners will consider $4.5 million in property tax incentives today to lure an Amazon warehouse to Lakeland.

Multiple counties and cities in Florida are vying for the warehouses and their 3,000 jobs since Gov. Rick Scott announced a deal last month to bring the warehouses — and sales tax on Amazon purchases — to Florida.

In Polk County, Lakeland and Winter Haven officials have said their cities have sites in the running, but one of the warehouses appears to be headed to Lakeland, although outside the city limits.

Lakeland and county economic development officials were tight-lipped Monday about the deal, but Rep. Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, said he thought the deal was done.

“It’s a very positive thing for the region, no question,” McKeel said. “The number of jobs we are talking about, I would suggest, is very, very positive.”

The deal Polk County commissioners will consider today would offer 10 years of property tax incentives, reducing Amazon’s tax bill by 75 percent, according to county records. In exchange, Amazon is expected to create at least 100 high-paying jobs and make a minimum $10 million investment at 1900 County Line Road near Lakeland, according to documents, although county officials said this may not be the final site.

Will it happen; and, if it does, will it replace the warehouse near Ruskin?

Some have questioned whether both a Ruskin warehouse and a Lakeland warehouse would be built so close together, but Amazon officials plan to build two warehouses along the Interstate 4 corridor, the Orlando Sentinel reported, citing an anonymous source.

The proposed Polk location rides the county line, just south of U.S. 92.

So, no one knows. Is there a time frame for building?

If Amazon does come to Polk, construction on the fulfillment center would start in the next few months, according to an Enterprise Florida project overview. Enterprise Florida is the state economic development organization.

If construction begins on schedule, Amazon officials expect the center to open in September 2014.

That is quick, but this is all very mysterious and confusing.  Though it may be cleared up soon.

The company plans to make a final decision on Lakeland by July 31, according to state economic development records made available to The Ledger through a public records request. County and Lakeland economic development officials referred questions to an Amazon spokeswoman who did not respond to Ledger messages Tuesday.

We shall see.  Quite a bit of hype for  distribution centers (especially ones that are going to cause millions of people to pay higher taxes).

Economic Development – Woeful Exports

This week we learned another reason that the Tampa Bay area has trouble competing with other metro areas – it is quite weak in terms of exports.

The Tampa metropolitan area exported $7.2 billion in merchandise in 2012 and ranked No. 40 among the largest metro area exporters in the United States.

That’s a drop from 2011, when the metro area exported $7.7 billion in merchandise and ranked No. 38.

Key merchandise exported from the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area last year included computer and electronic products, chemicals, transportation equipment and machinery, according to the International Trade Administration, based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Mexico, Canada, Brazil, Australia and China were the leading export destinations for Tampa exports, the statement said.

When you consider that the Tampa Bay area is the 18th largest metro area in the US, that is quite sad, especially when you consider 1) much of the value is likely taken up by phosphate and 2) we have a major port. A lot of better performing cities are inland, like #10 Minneapolis, #16 Cincinnati and #18 Peoria.   Of course, a major export economy is not necessary to have a thriving economy (take #42 Charlotte), but it helps.  It also often shows economic diversity and, in this day an age, technological prowess.

The reality is that it is just another area where we punch well below our weight.  Better build another strip mall and call it an economic development plan.

(On a brighter note, we do want to point out a somewhat vague article in the Tribune that indicates the likelihood of some decent ship building work in the Port.  That is always nice, but there in not enough real information to discuss it.)

Built Environment –Street Interaction Matters

As some may know, there is a program in downtown Tampa to upgrade storefronts (from

Now the Tampa Downtown Partnership is offering businesses grants up to $2,500 to help make the urban street scene even livelier.
The Storefront and Sidewalk Cafe Grant Program supports enhancements to exterior, ground floor storefront properties.

And what is the reasoning for this?

“The purpose of the Tampa Downtown Storefront and Sidewalk Cafe Grant Program is to create a more attractive pedestrian atmosphere, and commercially vibrant environment through street level storefront improvements and inviting sidewalk cafe settings,” says Shaun Drinkard, Director of Placemaking for the Tampa Downtown Partnership. “The program began in March of this year and the applications are seeking improvements that are engaging and pedestrian oriented.”

Right.  Everyone knows that pedestrian/sidewalk/street interaction is a key to creating a walkable, urban environment.  Thus, the program makes sense (as does the tower near the Straz and its ability to connect the Straz and the Museums).

What does not makes sense is why the City government, which constantly talks about walkability, so often settles for projects that have no interaction at all – even downtown.  If you do it properly up front, you will not have to go back and fix it.

Aquarium Fest – On To Fantasyland

This week, there was finally a report that two aquariums may be too many for the market.  You can read the whole article yourself here but below are a couple of nuggets.  First, a statement of the obvious:

“As a tourist, I’m coming down there to do a variety of different things — the beach, the Dalí Museum, Busch Gardens, an aquarium. But I’m not going to spend the money to do two aquariums,” said Robison, a LaSalle University economist who specializes in entertainment venues.

“You end up splitting the business. They’re going to share the market, and that makes it difficult to survive.”

And, then this:

There’s an indelicate but obvious question that keeps cropping up at those forums: What happens when Winter dies?

Aquarium experts wonder the same thing.

“That’s a lot riding on one dolphin,” said Shepherd, the Steinhart Aquarium’s director.

“That dolphin is not going to be around forever,” said Robison, the LaSalle University economist.

To which this odd, and not very confidence building, response was given:

“People have been going to Orlando to see Mickey Mouse for decades,” said Frank Dame, the aquarium’s executive vice president, “and Mickey Mouse was never alive.”

Right, but Mickey Mouse can’t die either (or age) because he is an imaginary character, not a living animal.  Though maybe they have a brilliant plan to have an animatronic Winter.

We have said previously, and still believe, that the problem is not the idea of an aquarium in Clearwater – it is that the two will cannibalize the market.  We have no reason to think that is not true and answers like that do not give us more faith in the decision making process.

Game Changer of the Month/Coming Out Watch – IIFA

This week we learned that the IIFA will have its annual award ceremony in Tampa next year.  So there is no ambiguity, we will say clearly that we are happy the awards will be in Tampa.  It will help the hospitality industry; it will bring some new influences to Tampa; and it will expose Tampa to a new audience.  That is all good.  We have no problem at all with getting the IIFA awards show.  However, it is not a “game changer” for the Tampa Bay area.

The reason we put this in a Game Changer of the Month/Coming Out Watch is not the substance – it is the hype:

Another delegation member, Deborah Wilkinson, called the International Indian Film Academy’s choice of Tampa for its 2014 awards ceremony a “game changer” as far as spurring international trade.

“And that is something that is needed because that’s something that’s not been targeted yet in this area,” said Wilkinson, executive director of the Tampa Bay Trade & Protocol Council.

“It now puts us in front of those CEOs over in India,” Wilkinson said, “and how we can bring them to do business in Tampa – with our airport, with our port, our colleges, our tourism board and with our chamber (of commerce).”

The Times even headlined an article: “Hosting Bollywood Oscars is ‘game changer’ for Tampa Bay.

So let’s look game changing aspect, stating with the economic impact.

The Film Academy’s multiday event is expected to bring thousands of visitors. Previous events have generated upwards of 24,000 hotel room nights with more than $11 million in economic impact to the host community.

By contrast, in 2005 the Times reported the following:

The last time the Super Bowl rolled into Tampa, it brought about 100,000 visitors. Each of them spent an average of $2,500, with the high-rollers spending as much as $10,000 each. Using those numbers, the NFL figured the economic impact on Tampa that year at about $250-million.

The Super Bowl figure is probably inflated a bit, but still quite a bit more than the IIFA estimates.  In any event, it is not a Super Bowl sized event.  And that is fine, but should be acknowledged.  Not every thing needs to be the biggest thing to be good.

So the economic impact looks good, but not overwhelming.  On the other hand the IIFA probably “does put Tampa out there.”  However, with all the other big events we have held and the claimed world exposure from the RNC, isn’t Tampa already out there?  If not, why not? Why have local leaders failed so miserably?

Even, more importantly, something is not a “game changer” until something major and sustained comes out of it – in other words makes real day to day change.  Dieting for one day does not make you lose any weight.   The IIFA is a good, one time event. But is the IIFA going to create high paying, knowledge based jobs in the Tampa Bay area?  Is it going to expand trade, develop an urban environment or fix our transportation problems?  Is it going to stop the brain drain?  Did the RNC?

No – but that is not the fault of the event.  (The event is good, and it is good that it is coming to Tampa.)  It is the fault of the people claiming the event will do things it cannot do.  The event will not change the game.  A proper vision and the political will to carry it out will change the game.  Nothing less. (A nonstop flight to San Francisco or Frankfurt with good connections to Asia would be more of a game changer because it would help practical business realities.)

There may be some spin-off from the IIFA (we hope there is), but we have not seen any real day to day, substantive change to our area based on these events.  We have not fixed out transportation, raised our incomes, diversified our economy, etc., because of any of these events.  These events are nice, but to really change the game requires daily hard work over decades to change all sorts of those things listed above and more – practical things – not one or two day events.  The hype (and acting like holding big events is an economic development plan) needs to end.

Except in one case. We will give a pass to one guy who was full of hype because he is supposed to sell tourists and big events on the area:

“These are the types of events that this bureau will pursue,” he declared. “There aren’t always opportunities or invitations to bid on a Super Bowl or a political convention or a World Cup, but there are events like this that bring international attention and visitors to our destination and Tampa will take its rightful place among those well-known and highly visited destinations around the world.”

That’s what he gets paid to do.  It is worth noting that he pointed out this obvious deficiency in the area that Hillsborough politicians have done nothing to address:

Corrada admitted that hosting the event will not be easy. Transportation (as usual) is probably the biggest concern. With so many visitors potentially coming to the area, he thinks that Tampa’s lack of transit options could come into play if hotel rooms inside the city limits fill up for awards weekend and attendees are forced to stay farther away from the event sites.

Maybe political leaders celebrating now should take his hint.  Helping to fix those problems is what politicians, like the County Commissioner who went to Macau to lobby for the IIFA but can’t propose a useful solution to our transportation issues, is supposed to do.  They are not supposed to make the area sound like an insecure teenager (and earning Coming Out Watch honors) like this:

Buckhorn was not surprised they liked what they saw.

“It just reinforces what we tried to do throughout the RNC,” he said, “which is tell the world that, in Florida, there are places other than just Miami and Orlando.”

The fact is that if Orlando or Miami or Las Vegas or LA got the awards, they would be happy and say nice things, but they would not feel the need talk smack or hype things because they do big shows all the time.   It is what they do.  We will not be like Orlando or Miami until that is the case here, too.  The game will have really changed when leaders are not so insecure that they feel the need to claim everything is a game changer.

The Tampa Bay area should learn.  Act like you’ve been there before, then get back to work on the real issues the area faces.

International Trade – Cuba

We ran across an interesting article in the Miami Herald about Tampa and Cuba.   It strikes an interesting tone and actually makes the Tampa Bay area look far more professional than almost any other coverage of the area we have seen in a while.  You should read it.

Economic Development – Startups

We also ran across an article in the Miami Herald about the Miami startup culture.  Once again, we are not going to discuss the entire article here, but it is interesting and should be read. (see here) It provides perspective on what you read and see in our local media.

Trader Joe’s – More Rumors

We have been following the Trader Joe’s rumors – especially that it is definitely going into a South Tampa location.   This week, we happened to notice rumors of Orlando getting a second location (one was already announced in Winter Park).  What really caught our eye was this:

Winter Park Planning and Zoning Director Jeff Briggs said it appears Trader Joe’s prefers to open two stores in one overall geographic location “because one store becomes so swamped and overwhelming that it diminishes the shopping experience.” He said he understands the chain bypassed the Tampa area because of challenges in finding two locations it could open almost simultaneously.

There is no way to know if it is true that Trader Joes by-passed Tampa (maybe it is just talking smack). We can think of a number of areas in the Tampa Bay area to put a second (or first) store.  Whether it is true or not, the fact that the Tampa Bay area is lagging in another store expanding in Florida is quite telling about how we are viewed as a market.

(And while we are discussing Orlando, we just want to note that the beltway around Orlando is well on its way to being completed, even though it involves a number of counties.  At the same time, there is no decent east-west road connecting I-75 or I-275 to the Suncoast/Veterans and on to US19.  In other words, there is no Tampa Bay beltway or any real plan for one – and no real coordination between the local counties.)

List of the Week

Our list this week is Nerdwallet’s Best Places for STEM Graduates.

The best place is San Jose, followed by DC, Huntsville (AL), San Francisco, Trenton (NJ), Boulder (CO), Seattle, Boston, Ann Arbor (MI), and Kennewick-Pasco-Richland (WA).

While some of these places may seem surprising, they really aren’t. Hunstville has a number of government science facilities.  The Trenton metro area has Princeton University and the associated cluster of research that goes with it.  The other places have known colleges or industries.

What is not on the list is the Tampa Bay area.  Apparently, despite what we heard last week, we are not quite a force to be reckoned with, though hopefully one day we will get there.

One Comment leave one →
  1. July 12, 2013 3:08 PM

    (New topic for tampasphere)
    The City of Tampa and Hillsborough County are joining forces with St. Petersburg and Pinellas County representatives, including the Chambers of Commerce, for the Centennial Celebration of The World’s First Airline. On January 1st 2014, Fantasy of Flight founder and CEO (and veteran pilot) Kermit Weeks will re-enact the inaugural flight of the 1914 St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line. This historic short hop between the St. Petersburg yacht basin and Davis Islands is expected to draw visitors to the Tampa Bay area from all parts of the world. Kermit’s full-scale reproduction of the original Benoist Airboat is a more accurate version of the single-passenger seaplane built by the Florida Aviation Historical Society and flown for the 70th anniversary of the airline in 1984. The short-lived “heavier-than-air” scheduled operation with two flights daily in each direction is widely acknowledged as “The Birth of The Global Airline Industry” – both passenger and air cargo, and it is hoped US and foreign air carriers will join in our Centennial Celebration.

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