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Roundup 8-9-2013

August 9, 2013

Downtown Tampa – Moving On

Yesterday, the Tampa City Council did what it should have done:

Council members voted 5-2 to approve rezoning for the project and a plan to vacate parts of Cass and Tyler streets to help create the site. Voting no were members Yvonne Yolie Capin and Mary Mulhern, who said the tower would just be in the wrong spot.

* * *

A final council vote on the project is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Aug. 22. At that time, the city will return to the council with a roadway construction improvement agreement that spells out the developers’ obligations in detail.

Hopefully, the Council will also do the correct thing at the second hearing and approve the project so we can all move on.  In addition,

In other action, the council also gave final approval to rezoning for SkyHouse Channelside, which, at 275 feet, is expected to be one of the tallest buildings in the Channel District.

Great.  That is progress.  Too bad we can’t say that about our next item.

Transportation – Planned Obstruction

On Tuesday, August 6, the first public forum on “transportation as economic development” was held. Too bad the County Commission and pretty much all the other elected officials involved went missing (there were a couple of Tampa City Council members in the crowd).

More than 150 people showed up for the meeting, invited to provide their views on the county’s transportation system and particularly how it can be used to spur economic development. The meeting is part of a larger effort by the county’s seven commissioners, the mayors of its three cities and the chairwoman of its transit agency to examine the county’s transportation needs.

But none of the elected officials were invited or showed, though several of them made it to a forum of business leaders two weeks ago. 

Not surprising.  Why should elected officials show up to listen to their constituents?

Their absence Tuesday was intentional, said organizers, at least for the first of what will be monthly public forums held around the county in the next 16 or more months.

“What we’re trying to get is feedback from people with different perspectives on different issues,” said Eric Johnson, the county’s director of strategic planning. “Otherwise, it would in effect be a public hearing for something that really wasn’t far enough along the path for the public to be telling the commissioners what they should do.”

Indeed. Apparently, the Commissioners, Mayor of Tampa, et al., could not be there because they did not invite themselves to a forum they set up.  Allegedly, the taxpayers are not far enough along to tell the elected leaders what they should do for two reasons: 1) Hillsborough County has been talking about transportation for at least 30 or so years; and 2) elected leaders do not want to do anything right now. (More about that later.)

Well, what happened at the meeting?

Consultant Herb Marlowe asked audience members to rank, one to five, how strongly they felt about five questions related to transportation. Then he called on people to explain.

In other words, a talking shop.  Nevertheless, predictably, the crowd was divided.

Transit supporters, wearing blue stickers that said “Try Transit,” outnumbered the other side by at least 2-to-1. They said the lack of buses and trains are holding the region’s economy back, pushing young people out of the county and costing residents time and money.

* * *

Opponents of more public money for transit cited the high costs and burden on taxpayers and said improvements should be left to the private sector. Some said the link between efficient mass transit systems and high-growth economies is over-rated.

Interesting that the pro-transit folks out numbered the anti-transit folks by that much. Of course, the anti-transit people were not silent:

Kevin Wright, who described himself as a community activist, reminded the audience of the 2010 referendum when county voters solidly rejected an extra penny sales tax for a wide range of transportation improvements, including the light rail business executives touted.

“These CEOs don’t live in our community; why should we be going to them for answers from them that negate the vote we took in this community,” said Wright, who lost a Republican primary in 2010 to the future Florida House Speaker, Will Weatherford.

Setting aside that this community organizer is from Wesley Chapel which is not in Hillsborough County, the CEO’s that spoke to the elected leaders a few weeks ago actually do live in the area.

And then there was this:

Ken Roberts, a tea party activist from Apollo Beach, said it’s not fair to stick taxpayers with a huge financial burden for mass transit that most county residents won’t ride.

“We have to tailor our solutions to the problems we have and not do everything,” Roberts said.

We agree that we do have to tailor solutions to problems we have.  We have to fix roads in the already built up part of the County that have been neglected for so long rather than spend money on roads to developments that have not yet been built.  We have to provide transportation to people who are already here and fix the areas that are already built up.  We have to deal with how to get people to jobs they already have.   We have to change to sprawled development pattern that the County has allowed to happen.  We have to have real transit to connected existing business and activity centers.  We have to have infill and redevelop less prosperous areas.

And in terms of economic development, the main problem we have is that our elected leaders have relied on taxpayers subsidizing a sprawling real estate and low wage jobs economic model and have put off doing anything in transportation for decades while cities that compete with us pass us by.

Additionally, there were some at the meeting that said we should rely on “the market.”  That is true to a large degree; however, that it needs to be made clear that there is more than one “market.”  There is a market for milk and a market for houses.  There is a market for cars and a market for wheat.  There is a global market and a local market.

When it comes to economic development, the market we are talking about is the market where the customers are companies and young professionals who can develop our economy or they can go somewhere else.  The sellers in this market are the various cities seeking to attract those customers.  The customers are looking for certain amenities and are not really concerned with the reasons one particular city does not have those amenities while other cities do.  The customers can choose from any city they want.  They just want the amenities. They will go where they can find them.  If we do not provide them, we will not compete for those customers.  That is the real market we are dealing with– like it or not.

Now, back to why this process seems to really be just one of obstruction (maybe it is not, but it sure looks like it).

The meeting was the first public forum held in conjunction with meetings of a transportation policy group consisting of county commissioners, mayors of the county’s three cities and the chairman of the HART bus system board. Facilitator Herb Marlowe said there could be 12 to 15 more of the public hearings, alternating with meetings of the policy board.

“We’re trying to very deliberately talk about the future of this community,” Marlowe said. “What you want it to become, what kind of infrastructure you’re going to need.”

That is a lot of meetings before anyone gets to anything substantive.  Why would elected leaders set up such a process?  Maybe they want information and public input, but that can be done faster and substantive ideas can be discussed during that process – and why haven’t they done that for years?

It seems this is more to the point:

Many of the transit proponents expressed impatience with the county’s proposed time schedule for funding transportation improvements. Marlowe said the transportation policy group wouldn’t start looking at ways to fund the improvements until next June. That would be too late to put any kind of tax proposal on the November 2014 ballot.

Exactly.  That way the elected officials can say they are doing something (holding meetings) without doing anything before the election.  Same old Hillsborough County.

Rays – Movement

In sharp contrast to the obstruction over transportation, there is the issue of the Rays stadium.

Over the last few weeks, here have been rumblings in St. Pete about a deal to let the Rays examine sites in Tampa as well as Pinellas. (For instance, see here)  Apparently, something happened:

Mayor Bill Foster has reached the reluctant conclusion that keeping the Tampa Bay Rays in the region means he has to let them cross the bay to explore a new stadium.

Three years ago, Foster adamantly refused a team request to look at stadium sites in Hillsborough County — citing a contract that binds the Rays to Tropicana Field through 2027.

But tepid attendance over the last few years has changed his thinking, Foster said in a remarkably candid interview Monday with the Tampa Bay Times editorial board.

“If your goal is keeping the Tampa Bay Rays in Tampa Bay until 2050, you have to let them look in Tampa,” Foster said.

Great.  Well-done.  Now we can move on to seeing if there is an actually solution to the Rays stadium issue.  Why the change?

The recession is winding down, and “you’ve got the hottest team in baseball, you’re in a fight in the AL East, and you’re not breaking 20,000. That sends a message to a lot of people,” Foster said.

“It’s a flag to the entire community. Are we a major league community? Are we a major league region? I think people need to decide what we are. We’re either going to be major league and support this team, or we risk losing them.”

Foster said he wants to commit the Rays to Tampa Bay for another generation — not just through 2027. He also wants to protect the economic and legal interests of St. Petersburg, which has spent about $150 million on stadium construction and operating costs.

We are not sure where the conversion happened but good enough.  It may have to do with the St. Pete mayoral election.  It may have something to do with the potential for Jabil building its headquarters in downtown St. Pete.  (As an aside, a downtown Jabil headquarters would be very cool as long as they do not build a suburban office complex downtown as seems contemplated by this: “in fact, under the draft plan, Jabil’s surface parking would be open for the public on evenings and weekends to accommodate Tampa Bay Rays fans.” . Surface lots?  Downtown?  Is this Owens Corning in downtown Toledo? )

Then again, the reason is not relevant. The Mayor of St. Pete also had this to say:

Foster took a swipe at his Hillsborough counterparts, who have indicated they would help the Rays build a stadium there but are shy on financing details.

Based on the Miami Marlins’ new venue, a retractable roof stadium could easily cost $600 million to $700 million. In similar markets, major league teams have put up roughly a third of construction costs, with public financing making up the difference.

“It’s somewhat humorous to watch (Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Ken) Hagan and (Tampa Mayor Bob) Buckhorn kind of backpedaling a little bit because they were all wearing their finest trying to court the Rays to look over there,” Foster said. “Now that it might actually happen, you got Ken Hagan saying he’s not going to commit any taxpayer money to it, which is naive.

“And you have the mayor of Tampa saying he could come up with $100 million. But the private sector and the Rays have to come up with the lion’s share. That’s extremely naive.”

That is likely true.  The point is not that any stadium will be in Tampa; it is that the Rays should be able to look in Tampa.  Whether a deal can get done is another question – one that now can be examined without the threat of a lawsuit from St. Pete.  That is progress.

And across the Bay, the Mayor of Tampa and a County Commissioner moved into high gear – in contrast to the glacial efforts to fix transportation.

Tampa and Hillsborough County leaders are preparing to welcome the Tampa Bay Rays into stadium discussions, encouraged by St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster’s striking comments this week that he would allow the team to explore Tampa stadium sites.

Hillsborough leaders technically still need St. Petersburg’s official OK to talk with the Rays. But, Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Ken Hagan has talked with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn about forming a committee to meet with Rays executives. The committee likely would include himself, Buckhorn, private businesspeople and members of the Tampa Sports Authority and Tampa Bay Partnership, Hagan said.

It initially would sit down with Rays executives and ask them about future plans and needs, but future discussions could include possible sites around Tampa and Hillsborough County. Private landowners who might want to develop a stadium on their property would not have seats on the committee, Hagan said.

Other leaders on the Hillsborough side of the bay have less formulated plans than Hagan, but sounded thrilled that Foster has softened his hard-line stance toward the Rays.

Since there are no talks yet (or even permission to talk yet) and there is no committee, we are not going to get into details.  Generally, we are fine with such a committee and talks.  What we are not ok with is the complete failure to do anything productive about transportation while hurrying to the Rays issue, but a Tribune columnist really laid out what is really happening:

If Bob Buckhorn wants something badly enough, he usually gets it.

* * *

Stadium projects have changed since the Bucs got that taxpayer-funded ATM known as Raymond James Stadium. There will be no more sweetheart deals like that one. But do this right and it could change downtown Tampa forever.

It might also cement the legacy of a Tampa mayor who has an appetite for winning. 

Sure. Legacy.  Great.

So, should we assume that his lack of a plan for transportation indicates that the Mayor does want to fix transportation bad enough?

Coming Out Watch – Tragically Hip

This week, Lena Dunham got into the Coming Out Watch mix:

As reported on capitalnewyork.com, Dunham’s larger point was about New York, and how middle class New Yorkers are the backbone of the city but are getting priced out of it:

Recent college graduates, she said, are “struggling to find jobs and pay the rent and if they struggle for too long, they’re leaving New York” for other cities, “even Tampa.”

She added: “we can’t have our generation’s Patti Smith moving to Tampa. That’s going to seriously f— our s— up.”

We would say “Ouch,” but anyone who has connections around the country has already heard this sort of thing many times.  What was the Mayor’s response?

Told of Dunham’s comments, Buckhorn laughed.

Then he owned up to not knowing who Lena Dunham is. “I’m limited largely … to what a 7-year-old and 12-year-old think,” said the 55-year-old father of two girls. (To his credit, Buckhorn did recognize Patti Smith’s name.)

And then he said, no hard feelings.

“I would be happy to invite Patti Smith and/or Lena Dunham to Tampa any time they want to come,” he said Wednesday. And “I’d be happy to steal New York’s best and brightest.”

“I had my sights set on Charlotte and Austin and Raleigh. I’ll be happy to elevate them.”

Not bad for an attempted deflection except that it actually revealed how low his expectations actually are and how he is out of touch with the people he is supposedly trying to attract. (Look, you don’t have to know her entire biography or every line from her show, but you should at least recognize the name.)

Fortunately, someone stepped up to defend Tampa (though they ended up actually ripping it):

Separately, Jenni Maier jumped to Tampa’s defense on crushable.com:

Tampa is not the worst place you can possibly be in the world. I’m from there. And while I no longer live there, I’m very confident that there are far more undesirable cities for artists to be exiled. You know places where the airports don’t have monorails. Yeah you read that right, we monorail to our planes there. Sure we have our stupid “Tampa socialite” and sure we have more strip clubs than strippers, but goddamit we voted for Obama in the last election. Despite what Lena and her (literally) poor friends may think, Tampa is not a slur. And the only thing worse than her thinking it is, is the fact that I’m now driven to defend it. 

In other words, “As bad and uncool as Tampa is, there are worse places.  Why did you make me say something nice about it?”

Not all publicity is good publicity.

More Ferry

While no one knows the cost of the proposed ferry to the taxpayer or what a deal may look like, the idea is moving forward:

The Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization board on Monday unanimously endorsed a high priority designation for the proposed high-speed ferry in the MPO’s Long Range Transportation plan update next year.

The MPO will draft a letter to the Florida Department of Transportation stating its intent to assign a priority equal to or higher than express bus service for the ferry concept.

The MPO priority designation builds momentum by opening an avenue for possible state funding, MPO officials said.

And what does that do?

County Administrator Mike Merrill said in an email he did not want to commit to any date for an agreement and funding with HMS until a South County terminal site is selected, but said the MPO’s action is an important step.

“It substantiates the feasibility of the concept, as well as verifying that there could be an acceptable level of automobile trips being removed from roads if workers are taking the ferry versus cars or buses,” Merrill said.

“This preliminary endorsement by MPO gives us comfort in conducting more specific talks with HMS. Once a (terminal) site is settled on by HMS and all of the substantive issues with the site are resolved, we can then begin to discuss specific terms of the proposed business arrangement.

Merrill said the county and taxpayers should not be at risk for the up-front capital cost of the project.

“So, we are preliminarily looking at ways to incentivize or support operations within some limitations; it’s too early to speculate the level of funding incentives the county might provide,” Merrill said.

In other words, nothing really.  It also makes one wonder: if no one has really thought the whole thing out – including where the terminals will be – why is it getting approval from the MPO?

As we said before, we have no firm opinion on this ferry plan.  It could be a good idea, or maybe not.   While the idea of a ferry generally has some appeal, there really is not enough information about this specific plan.

Of course, that did not stop the hype, including this comment from a County Commissioner who also sits on the HART board:

“We have a love fest going on with the high-speed ferry,” said Murman, an MPO board member. “South County doesn’t have a lot of bus services, Why have we not made more use of our water?”

That raises the question of whether HART is just remiss in its job or if the demand in the South County is just not that large.  But setting that aside, there was also this:

“The expansion of the ferry to provide service to key economic nodes could make it an attractive transportation tool that serves an economic development goal of creating a multi-modal transportation network that meets the needs of our current workforce and the workforce we would like to attract to our county,” Merrill said.

It needs to be remembered that, even if there is full blown Tampa Bay area ferry service, passengers still need to be able to get around on land, which is something they can’t do now and something the County shows little sign of addressing.  That does not even address the fact that most people will not be served by ferry service.  Ferries are nice, but they are only a small part of a real transportation network and any attempt to cast them as more is simple dissembling.

Built Environment – More Encore

The Encore project in downtown Tampa is a nice idea.  The concept of creating a mixed use, mixed income housing development of mid density (probably should be denser, but so be it) is good.  Additionally, the idea of honoring the history of Central Avenue is great.  However, as we pointed out last week, the Trio building under construction right now will turn its back on Central Avenue and the Park and leave a surface parking lot and wall facing them.

This week, the plan for another building that fronts Central Avenue was released:

More than 60 people came this week to see the unveiling of Tempo, the fourth apartment building planned for Encore.

* * *

The design includes a four-story parking garage with seven floors of apartments wrapped around it. It is intended to evoke the musical history of the area as well as the architectural characteristics of nearby St. James Episcopal Church. The 90-year-old sanctuary is slated for conversion to a black history museum.

* * *

Amenities at the 203-unit Tempo complex include a swimming pool with outdoor theater, a two-story clubhouse with a fitness center, community space, a kitchen, a library, a computer center and game rooms, a WiFi cafe, multi-purpose rooms, a non-denominational chapel, music rehearsal rooms and exhibit space.

That’s all fine, good even.  We are happy the project is moving forward.  However, from a video posted by The Tampa Bay Business Journal, we have this screen shot of what is facing Central Avenue (on the left):

From Tampa Bay Business Journal – click on picture for website

(Frankly, the video does not make clear where all the listed facilities will fit in the building.) Once again, we understand that not every foot of the first floor can be storefront.  We also understand that the front of the building faces Ray Charles Blvd.  However, what is with the blankness on Central Avenue?   If Encore is supposed to honor Central Avenue why does it turn its back to it?

(In other news, there is a conversation going on about dealing with the Bro Bowl and Perry Harvey Park.  That is great.)

North Boulevard Homes

There was also a development in the future of North Boulevard Homes, which is supposed to be a key to the InVision Tampa plan.

Federal grant money is the key to jump-starting a years-long project that entails demolishing the aging North Boulevard Homes public housing complex and laying the foundation for a new mixed-income, mixed-use housing and retail community.

It is a project that might not begin until 2016 and be completed until 2023.

* * *

The target is $150 million to $200 million in Choice Neighborhoods grants awarded annually by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. A handful of municipalities are selected to split the money.

In other words, nothing is happening soon.  Moreover, the Housing Authority chose a developer/planner last November.  What are they actually going to ask the Federal Government to fund?  We have not seen any plans laid out yet.  Maybe the public should have plans before Housing Authority looks for funding. (The Tribune reports that the Housing Authority is going to present four alternatives of something to the School Board next week, but it is not clear exactly what.   Moreover, there is no full plan, which the Housing Authority admits.)

And this is a changed DNA?

Meanwhile In South Florida

Over the last few weeks, in the discussions regarding some projects in downtown Tampa, there have been questions whether 20 or 30 story buildings fit in the “scale” of downtown Tampa. (Even this week, the Times editorial page was still fighting this fight. ) In addition, the Mayor of Tampa said in his State of the City speech that Tampa will not play second fiddle to Miami.  Of course, he was speaking about trade with Latin America, but a major portion of that Latin American trade involves investments by Latin Americans in Miami real estate and business.

We ran across a picture this week that merges those two ideas together and illustrates how far we have to go as a City/Metropolitan Area.  It is a picture of a section (not all) of downtown Miami/Brickell area showing buildings under construction – count the cranes and construction sites.

April 2013 – from Flickr account of TIA International Photograph – click on picture for website

It just illustrates that we are at no risk of having too much density – how many cranes are up in downtown Tampa?  And notice the Metro stop right near all the construction and the MetroMover track in the background.  And here is the list of airlines at Miami International. We could get into banking or international law firms, too, but the point is clear.

We commend the Mayor on planning to go to Brazil.  We are pleased with the Copa flight.  We are happy the discussion of scale blocking development downtown seems to be going away.  Things are moving in a the right direction, though a bit slowly.

However, there is politicians’ rhetoric, and there is reality. The reality is that we have a long way to go.

List of the Week

Our list this week is Forbes’ list of Best Places for Business and Careers.   The criteria are:

To gauge the best places for business in the U.S., we rate the 200 largest metro areas on a dozen factors related to jobs, costs (business and living), income growth, quality of life and education of the labor force. Forbes uses data from economic research firm Moody’s Analytics, the U.S. Census and demographer Bert Sperling, who runs Sperling’s BestPlaces (click here for a more detailed methodology).

Des Moines is first, followed by Provo (UT), Raleigh, Lincoln (NE), Nashville, Denver, Ft. Collins (CO), OKC, Seattle, Durham, San Antonio, Salt Lake City, Dallas, Austin, Ft. Worth, Ogden (UT), Omaha, Anchorage, Charlotte, Columbus (OH), San Francisco, Atlanta, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Indianapolis, and Houston

The list has a strange love of the Midwest, Utah and Texas. It also does not like Florida much.

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