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Roundup 7-19-2013

July 19, 2013

Ganamos la Copa

From Tampa International Airport – click on picture for website

As was noted on Wednesday, service Copa Airlines flights between Tampa and Panama will begin in December.

Panamanian carrier Copa Airlines will fly four times a week to and from Tampa International Airport starting Dec. 17, linking Tampa Bay to Panama City and opening up all of Latin America to travel and trade with the bay area.

* * *

Copa will depart Tampa at 7:02 a.m. four times a week: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Arrival time in Panama City will be 10:12 a.m.

The return flight will leave Panama City on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday at 6:34 p.m. and arrive in Tampa at 9:53 p.m. 

Congratulations to the airport administration and the hard work done by them and those who helped them.  It is nice when someone says they have a plan and then actually goes about executing it. (Completely unrelated to the present Airport Director, who is doing a great job, you have to wonder why it took so long for this area to get its act together.)  The threshold of a nonstop flight to Latin America (other than to Cuba or to Cancun or that Mexico City flight we had in the 80’s) has now been crossed.  This time, with the proper leadership that we expect from the Airport Director, the flight should be a stepping stone into broader service and more connections to Latin America.

— No Time for Complacency

As noted in the coverage, there is one concern:

Copa signed a one-year contract with Tampa International. In exchange, the airline will get more than $450,000 worth of airport fee waivers and marketing dollars to push the route. Both chambers have also committed to contribute $200,000 apiece in in-kind contributions, promoting Copa locally. Visit St. Pete/Clearwater will contribute $200,000 in marketing dollars for two years and start a new Latin American division solely to push tourism there. Visit Tampa Bay will donate $250,000 the first year. The EDC committed to leading several trade and business delegations to Panama, the first one leaving in February.

But because the contract is for just one year, bay area leaders pledged to do everything they can to fill Copa’s seats and convince the airline to renew the contract. Confidence is high, though, that they will succeed.

Copa, officials said, has never backed out of a market.

We hope they don’t start with us. There should be enough demand here, and we would think the flights will create some of their own demand (who wants to do customs in Miami?) The Times asked some people who often fly to Latin America what they thought:

“We feel this is a great first step to improving flights, and hopefully will lead to more flights direct to Brazil,” says Gerdau spokeswoman Kim Selph. Just don’t expect Brazil-bound Gerdau managers to suddenly switch to Copa. Some fly to Brazil via Orlando or Miami. Selph prefers flying Continental Airlines, which takes her through the airline’s hub in Houston.

Setting aside that Continental does not exist anymore, having merged with and been renamed United, Copa is in the same alliance as United (Star Alliance), so everything should work very well in terms of miles, scheduling, and service.

It is also fortuitous that the airport in Panama City, Tocumen, is undergoing some pretty rapid expansion, which bodes well for connections through Panama, as well as the experience at the airport. (see here, here, and here)

In any event, we think it will be successful and it is great to have the flight.

– The Incentive Debate

It is also worth noting that the Tribune airport coverage once again brought up incentives.

To bolster Tampa’s prospects for new international and long-range domestic flights, Joe Lopano, who became Tampa International’s chief executive officer in January 2011, inaugurated an incentive program in June 2011.

Incentives that the airport and Pinellas and Hillsborough visitors bureaus will provide helped persuade Copa to begin flying from Tampa, even though Copa has three daily and one four-day a week nonstop flights between nearby Orlando International and Panama.

If incentives worked to attract flights when the airline already served Orlando then an incentive program should have been started long ago, and those who opposed – like the former airport administration – were wrong to oppose them.  We thank the Tribune for clearing that up once and for all, both in this article and in an editorial.

To make the point further, today Edelweiss is expected to announce they are adding another weekly Tampa-Zurich flight (making it two flights every week) even after the incentives they were given run out.

— The Future

Even better is the approach the airport is taking to this service:

Tampa International’s success in attracting Copa will not change its strategy to recruit airlines including TAM for flights to Brazil, Avianca for Colombia, Aeromexico for Mexico City, and Condor and Lufthansa for Germany, airport vice president of marketing Chris Minner said.

Top domestic priorities are nonstop flights serving San Francisco with United and Virgin America and Seattle with Alaska Airlines, he said.

Perfect.  They appreciate the service.  They are thankful for the service, but they are over-hyping it and they are not resting on their laurels.  That is how the airport (and all public institutions) should be run.

— Conclusion

In sum, we are very pleased to have a Latin American flight (Cuba notwithstanding).  It is a fine accomplishment given the past history of the airport and how before this director we basically gave away business.  The Airport administration should be congratulated.

While we will let much of the hype slide, there is much to do if we are to maintain and grow the service. If the flight is successful and leads to more flights and more Latin American business then is may actually be a “game changer.”  That would be something.

Economic Development – Another Mystery, Solved

This week we learned that there was another mysterious company looking at Hillsborough County.

A global life sciences company is looking at Hillsborough County as a potential site to centralize business operations and develop pharmaceutical products – a move that would create 579 high-paying jobs.

Landing the company would cost Hillsborough taxpayers up to $2.1 million in incentives. County commissioners will consider giving preliminary approval to the incentive package Wednesday.

The mystery did not last long.  It turns out that the company was Bristol-Myers Squibb.

A major pharmaceutical company, Bristol-Myers Squibb, announced late Thursday that it plans to open a “North America Capability Center” in Hillsborough County. The 70,000-square-foot center, whose location has not yet been finalized, is expected to open in January 2014 with plans by 2017 for nearly 600 jobs averaging $65,000 in wages.

Cool.  So what are we looking at?

Bristol-Myers Squibb, based in Princeton, N.J. and New York City, said its center will be staffed at first by about 250 workers in information technology, marketing services, business and finance services, and other functions supporting the company’s bio-pharmaceutical business in the United States.

Most of these positions will be filled by people living in the Tampa Bay area.

The company, which currently has no presence in the Tampa Bay market, also plans to locate more than 325 additional jobs supporting scientific and technical activities at the site by 2017 to assist future growth across the company, the firm stated.

It is nice to get the higher paying administrative jobs, but the science jobs are the jobs we are more excited about.  It was not announced where the offices are going to be located, but it was not within Tampa City limits. (Maybe there will be good business on that Frontier flight to Trenton.)

Overall, there is nothing to say other than “Great.”

(Just as an aside – it should be remembered that, while everyone is happy about this, if the County hadn’t wasted $6+ million on Estuary/Bass Pro Shops earlier this year, it could be used for this project and/or for the major manufacturer mentioned last week or other good projects, if needed.  And don’t forget that we were told Estuary/Bass Pro Shops was the model for economic development – not Bristol Myers- Squibb or Copa.  It just goes to show the lack of actual frugality in the supposedly economically conservative County Commission.)

Coming Out Watch I – Straining Credulity and Beyond Edition

With the Copa flight and the Bristol-Myers Squibb announcement, we are willing to overlook most of the slightly excessive comments made by local politicians simply because they are mostly just excited reactions to a cluster of nice news.  However, the coverage of reactions did bring out some hyperbolic rhetoric that was just too much.  The most glaring example was this mix of trash talking and insecurity (really, aren’t they always connected):

“From India to Europe to Panama, I’m here to tell you that it truly is our time,” the mayor said. “We aren’t asking anybody’s permission anymore. All of these successes, and the faith and confidence that Copa Airlines has in us by virtue of this decision, sends a message all over the world: that Tampa is truly the gateway to the Americas.”

Umm, ok.

First, we were unaware that the Tampa Bay area was asking for permission before (though, unlike the business community and a local member of Congress, the Mayor still has not publicly supported efforts to open up Cuba, so maybe he is still waiting for the green light from Miami).

Second, it is great to have a flight to Panama, and through it, to Latin America and beyond.  We really do like it, but one flight makes us “THE gateway to the Americas?” (Set aside Miami – what about Houston, Dallas,  LA, even Orlando, Phoenix or DenverChicago and Atlanta, not to mention NYC, have far more Latin American flights.) It is fine to have aspirations, but quite a different thing to just be ridiculous.  Frankly, such silliness oozes insecurity and a detachment from facts, and, even worse, is completely unnecessary.

All this brought to mind something else we have discussed before. As any regular reader will know, we dislike political hyperbole.  It simultaneously shows a lack of confidence and an intellectual dishonesty that does nothing to move our area forward   (In fact, it inhibits real discussions and assessments of our circumstance – good or bad – and indicates to others a lack of seriousness.  Frankly, it starts to sound like used car salesmen).  A great example of that is the obsessive use of “game changer” by local leaders, about which we have noted:

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.

We are happy when others support our views.  Thus, we were very gratified when, over the weekend, the Times veteran curmudgeon wrote this:

But the real game changer will be the day when some big event decides to come to the city and Tampa reacts as if it is no big deal because, after all, we deserve it and a grocery store chain can announce its plans to open a store here and the citizenry responds with a “Well, it’s about &!#$ time!”

And it’s about time that it becomes the attitude of the area in general.  Be happy with what we get.  Show your appreciation, and be gracious and cooperative – act and talk like adults.

Downtown Tampa – Straz on the Tower

This week, the Straz board met and discussed the tower proposed for the lot behind the library.  As we suspected all along, there is only one real issue – is Tampa’s downtown actually going to be the downtown of a city or not?  After all was said and done:

The Board of Trustees for the Straz Center has withdrawn its opposition to a 400-foot tall apartment tower planned to be built next door to the performing arts center.

In a blind survey, board members voted 32-16 in support of the project, called the Residences at the Riverwalk. Fourteen members did not vote. The survey was held on Monday and its results released Thursday.

“We were able to present all the pros and cons of the project to the board,” said Straz Board Chairman Martin Silbiger. “And after thorough discussion and reflection on all aspects of this proposal, a very clear majority of our board is in favor of the project.”

Excellent.  Add to that the following:

The city says the project also has picked up expressions of support from the Uptown Council, an association of downtown residents, business owners and property owners; plus the Tampa Museum of Art; American Institute of Architects; Tampa Downtown Partnership and the Friends of the Riverwalk.

On the other side, the SkyPoint Condominium Association’s board favors more housing downtown but opposes the tower’s location.

Straz Center president Judy Lisi said it was “important that we now have a significant mandate in favor of the project from our board.”

Good.  Let’s move on and build some of the proposed projects downtown.  Other cities are building while we are dallying.

Tampa International – How to Act Like an Adult

Returning to the airport, this week, Tampa International delayed the contracting process from the first phase of its master plan.

Tampa International Airport has scratched the proposals of eight firms vying for a $736.2 million design-build contract, the major first-phase component of a master plan makeover at the 42-year-old airport.

TIA posted a “notice of cancellation, rejection and intent to reissue” notice on its website effective Tuesday. No date has been set to begin soliciting new proposals for the massive project, which involves engineering and building a consolidated rental car facility and automated people mover system south of TIA’s main terminal.

The Hillsborough County Aviation Authority was scheduled to award the contract at its Aug. 1 meeting. 

Why would they do that?

The Aviation Authority released a statement Tuesday afternoon, saying there was, “… some confusion about whether the requirements for minority contracting referred to the overall project or elements of the project. In an abundance of caution, we thought it best to begin the process again.”

The statement said it is not likely the request for qualifications would change substantially from the previous solicitation in April.

In other words, the airport administration is doing the right thing.  Sure, some will take pot shots at the administration, but so what?  The administration did not rationalize away a problem. They did not knowingly go forward with a flawed deal or policy and get sued, wasting money. (See Tampa City Council and Citivest.)  They realized there was a problem and moved quickly to fix it.

Well done.

Port – Cars & Lower Taxes

The Port of Tampa has signed a deal to increase import and export of cars through the port:

The Tampa Port Authority knows this well. The port’s leadership announced Thursday that it had signed a “letter of intent” with AMPORTS, one of the leading auto processing companies in the United States, to build a new terminal through which a large number of vehicles and other rolling cargoes could be imported and exported through Tampa Bay.

* * *

The Tampa Port Authority said AMPORTS will provide “expertise in processing and handling new automobile shipments” that the port could use to expand it’s nearly nonexistent capacity to import cars, which can be a very lucrative cargo for ports.

Sounds good.  How good? We are not sure because:

Financial terms and other specifics of the deal were not disclosed by the port.

That is a little bit odd.  More business is better than less business, but it would be nice to have some information – especially what commitments the publicly funded port made.

In other news, the Port has decided to lower taxes.

The Tampa Port Authority on Tuesday tentatively set its annual property tax rate at $0.1750 per $1,000 of property valuation, a reduction from the current rate of $0.1850 per $1,000 of valuation.

The proposed rate equals $43.75 of port taxes on a house valued at $250,000.

The proposed rate, which will not be finalized until September, will generate an estimated $10.1 million for the port. The money is used to build, maintain or repair port infrastructure rather than for operations.

The port has either reduced or held the rate since 1994.

That is nice. Will the tax every go away so the Port functions like Tampa International?

Anderson said he would be reluctant to eliminate the tax, even it could be reduced to near zero. He said port infrastructure brings a strong economic return on investment to county taxpayers.

We understand the reluctance to get rid of funding source – even if it is just to have a fall-back – and we favor positive, productive investment in infrastructure. However, it would be nice to remove the tax, if possible.

Meanwhile in the Rest of Florida

Speaking of ports and infrastructure investment, we noticed this very interesting article about the effect of the expansion of the Panama Canal on Miami, which is actually preparing for it with improvements like this:

The project goes hand-in-hand with more than $2 billion in improvements at PortMiami, including a tunnel that will speed truck traffic to the port, an on-port rail link, and dredging Miami’s shipping channels from 44 feet to a depth of 50 to 52 feet — deep enough for the big ships.

* * *

The first phase of the rail link is expected to be delivered in October. With the new, more efficient Florida East Coast Railway link, cargo arriving at the port of Miami will be in striking distance of 70 percent of the nation’s population within four days, said Johnson.

Well looky there – an “on-dock intermodal rail” link going up to the biggest ships.   (Our much hyped rail link is good, but it connects to the container ship equivalent of regional jets with no plans to get much bigger. ) The work at the port of Miami is projected to add up to 33,000 jobs to the South Florida region (and that does not include anything done at Port Everglades).  On the other hand, the Port of Tampa is preparing for the expanded Panama Canal by trying to catch up from being too complacent and failing to see the future in container shipping a decade or two ago. (Which is not the present director’s fault, though a little more action would be nice.)

You can read the whole article here.  Increasing cars (see above) and minor container upgrades are all good, but, given events at other ports, we still risk being left behind regardless of claims we are no longer playing second fiddle to Miami (in Latin America or otherwise).

Trader Joes – Maybe Yes

This week the Times reported that:

Forget the rumors. Trader Joe’s is definitely planning to build a grocery store along Swann Avenue near Dale Mabry Highway.

A variance request filed with the city of Tampa says Centennial American Properties is in the process of permitting and constructing a Trader Joe’s store at 3808 W Swann Ave. The site is home to Shapes, a women’s-only gym.

The request marks the first time city documents have referred to Trader Joe’s by its full name at that address. Previous architectural drawings referred to the project as TJ-Tampa and showed a “Tenant Sign” in the Hawaiian-style letter widely use by Trader Joe’s.

The developer is seeking a variance to more than double the amount of signage approved for the 1-acre site. The proposal calls for four signs — one on each side of the building — totaling 299 square feet. City code allows for 134 square feet based on the building’s proposed 12,301 square footage.

Ok, that’s pretty close (at least the developer wants them there), especially when you add that the Shapes presently at the location is closing.  But as the Tribune told us:

There’s no official statement from the company, or a formal opening date. Rather, the details come by way of a procedural filing made by lawyers for developers building the site regarding signs.

It would be nice for Trader Joe’s to actually announce something but that will probably only come after variances are granted.  Unfortunately, for whatever reason, they seem to have chosen a location that does not even open onto Dale Mabry.  Of course, there is so much traffic and congestion, maybe the neighbors will complain and, the City will deny the variances.  On the other hand, we doubt they would risk the wrath of the Trader Joes aficionados.

Coming Out Watch II – Why is Tampa so . . .

This week we have a second Coming Out Watch featuring an Atlantic Cities article on the work of Google autocomplete:

Harkening back to this project, Atlanta resident and Cities reader Nate Shivar recently repeated this pseudo-scientific experiment with the 50 most populous metro areas in the U.S. And his results will likely strike even closer to home.

* * *

And now we won’t feel so guilty any more about wondering whether Tampa is kinda trashy. Because Google says it’s so.

This is the graphic of the top autocomplete suggestions for Tampa:

From the Atlantic Cities – click on picture for website

Apparently, politician’s puffery notwithstanding, there is still a lot of work to do on our image.

List of the Week

Our list of the week goes hand in hand with the recent concerns regarding distortions to the housing market caused by the massive buy-up of houses by investors. (See here)  Our list is RealtyTrac’s best cities to flip houses.

Coming in at number 1 is Orlando, followed by Las Vegas, Phoenix, Tampa-St. Pete, Memphis, Miami/Ft. Lauderdale, Lakeland, Nashville, Sarasota, and Tucson.

In other words, other than California, the best cities in which to flip a house are also the cities where the foreclosure crisis was worst.

One Comment leave one →
  1. July 19, 2013 11:05 AM

    Sometimes I think you read my mind when you are writing your blog. Good stuff…as always.

    Here’s to NEVER losing Joe Lopano! He is a shining star.

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