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Roundup 8-16-2013

August 16, 2013

Transportation – More Talking

The elected “leaders” of Hillsborough County met again to discuss transportation and economic development, because providing a means for the people who live here already to get around is not enough.

A group of business leaders told Hillsborough County elected officials last month that a lack of transportation options is holding the Tampa Bay region back in recruiting new employers.

The response Wednesday from some of the people who help corporations scout new locations: Not so much.

Now we know why the County Commissioners wanted transportation tied to “economic development” – to create an excuse to do little or nothing.  But setting that aside, let’s look at what was said.

“Workforce, workforce, workforce,” said C.J. Evans Jr., director of Merit Advisors, listing the top three considerations for businesses on the move. Merit Advisors does site-selection consulting for corporations. More than anything, companies want to know they will be able to recruit employees skilled in their industry, Evans said.

And how do you attract that workforce? And how do you get that workforce to stay in the area when they want a different lifestyle?  How do you compete to keep them when they can go to places that already have the lifestyle they want?  Why should they stay in or move to the Tampa Bay area and wait for decades for our elected “leaders” to make necessary changes and provide them with what they want?

What else?

“Mass transit has not been a driving force for us,” said James Garvey, executive managing director for the commercial real estate firm Cassidy Turley, which helps companies find office space.

Maybe a little in downtown Tampa, where parking can be a pain, or even the West Shore business district, said Garvey, who moved to Tampa nearly 30 years ago from Boston, a city with a large transit network. But he said he’s not sure rail would work in this part of Florida. 

We are not surprised that mass transit has not been a driving force for finding office space in the Tampa Bay area.  If you have been trying to find real estate or relocate in Florida mass transit is not much of an issue to you.  No one who thinks that mass transit is important would relocate here since there is so little of it, except Miami and coming soon in Orlando.  Moreover, if your job is to find cheap office space for call centers in East Lake or on I-75, you don’t really care about transit.  It also does not discuss all the opportunities lost because people just would not consider the Tampa Bay area because it just does not have what they want.  In other words, so what?

As for whether rail would work in this part of Florida, why not?  Density?  That can change (and usually does when rail goes in.)  It works in all sorts of other places that start out sprawled (Denver, Phoenix, Houston, etc.).  Frankly, that comment makes us wonder whether these business leaders were there to provide informed professional opinions or just their personal take on transit.  This makes us pretty sure it was personal take:

Business people probably would view any public investment in new mass transit in terms of a cost-benefit analysis, said an industry representative.

“Being kind of a conservative lad, how much is this expanded system going to cost?” asked Steve Meitzen, past president of the Bay Area Manufacturer’s Association.

First, that is not a cost benefit analysis – that is a cost analysis.  And being “conservative” has nothing to do with it.

It is really interesting is how some self-proclaimed “conservatives” do not look to Texas (hardly a bastion of liberalism), where the state has invested and is investing in all sorts of transportation – including networks of rail transit.  The state is also attracting a high number of knowledge based jobs and workers.  It attracts corporate headquarters and technology research and factories. It manages to have other manufacturing and busy ports.

In other words, Texas disproves most of the arguments against rail and mass transit.  (So do Denver and Phoenix and Salt Lake City and Norfolk and all sorts of “conservative,” less dense or formerly less dense places.  Really, the only place where sprawl is still the master is the Tampa Bay area, the Hillsborough County Commission, and much of the local real estate industry.)  It is not about being “conservative,” it is about a present policy of choosing to be a sprawled, inefficient, low wage haven versus developing the economy, serving the modern market, and the establishing a path for the future.

But, setting all that aside, there is no problem with people providing the Committee their own personal opinions.  However, if that is going to happen, then the Committee should have public hearings where other people can provide their personal opinions that the Committee members actually attend.

Frankly, regarding the last hearing, the Commissioner who has been out in front on this issue (which is not much of an achievement since most of the rest are trapped somewhere between 1960 and 1985.) summed it up well:

County Commissioner Mark Sharpe, whose push for transit helped form the policy group, said afterward that he was not disappointed with the theme of the conversation. He said the group heard Wednesday from people representing the types of businesses already in the region, whereas he’s looking to use transit as a means to diversify the county’s employment base.

He said he’s convinced that young, skilled workers are interested in living somewhere that has transportation options.

“They’re selling what they know,” Sharpe said of Wednesday’s speakers. “My focus is resetting the economy, attracting a type of industry we haven’t attracted before.”

Exactly.   Unfortunately, we doubt a majority of the County Commissioners is with him.

— Post Script

In other news:

Meanwhile, the county government responded to a request from pro-transit groups to create a timetable for the policy group’s work. By Nov. 30, the group should identify economic development areas and a transportation network that will serve those areas.

After that, the policy group will create some type of governance mechanism that would implement the plans. That mechanism _ yet to be identified _ would be in place by Jan. 31.

The governing group would adopt a business plan by Sept. 1, 2014, which would include some way of funding the projects. By Oct. 1, 2014, the initial projects would begin.

County Commission Chairman Ken Hagan insisted that the plan’s timetable be flexible and the policy group agreed. Leaders of the coalition pushing for mass transit said they were happy with the plan.

“They provided a schedule with robust public input,” said Kevin Thurman, director of Connect Tampa Bay, a pro-transit group. “It shows elected leaders and county staff are committed to not only discussing this issue, but taking action on it and taking action in a reasonable amount of time.”

Actually, all this shows is that elected leaders understand the bait and switch.  They present a nice schedule then say that the schedule is meaningless.  Moreover, starting “initial projects” is meaningless.  Just because they start an “initial project” of one bus shelter or a small stretch of sidewalk starting on Oct 1, 2014 does not mean anything useful will happen.

We have seen this movie too many times. Any trust will have to be earned by more than words and vague calendars.

HART & the PTC

This week, HART got political (like it wasn’t before):

A HART legislative committee on Monday instructed a consultant to begin focusing on four key issues before the 2014 Florida Legislative session convenes, in particular tracking a likely bill to kill Hillsborough County’s agency that regulates taxis and other vehicles for hire.

In more detail:

Study a possible bill expected to eliminate Hillsborough County’s Public Transportation Commission. The transportation commission is the only group of its type in the state and has drawn fire from elected officials including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. It was the center of a bribe scandal in which former County Commissioner Kevin White was sentenced to three years in federal prison last year for his activities as chairman, [sic]

Why is HART even getting involved in the mess that is the Public Transportation Commission?

But the Public Transportation Commission (PTC) unexpectedly came up when board member Karen Jaroch said the agency continues to block innovative private transportation options for citizens. 

This prompted Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman to reveal that there will be a bill introduced before the 2014 session that will look at trying to kill the county’s PTC, which regulates taxis, ambulances, tow trucks and other vehicles in the county — and is the only agency of its type in the state of Florida. (The agency has been under fire for years for various ethics lapses, none bigger than a situation involving former County Commissioner Kevin White, who was convicted on bribery charges related to his position on PTC.)

In Pinellas and Sarasota counties, entrepreneurs who want to offer private car services simply need to complete some forms and get background checks. Jaroch said there are far too many regulations in Hillsborough that are adding more burdens to HART because of excessive regulations.

We agree, as do others:

Murman told CL after the meeting that she isn’t prepared to name the legislators, but at a public forum held earlier this year in downtown Tampa, state Rep. Jamie Grant spoke disparagingly of the organization, and said he would like to work with local lawmakers in getting legislation passed that would eliminate the agency.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn blasted the PTC at that same forum, calling it “an archaic, antiquated body.”

Before we go further, it might be useful to know who is on the PTC.  We note that the County web page for the PTC does not have an obvious list of the PTC members  , though you can find it on the meeting minutes.  Here it is: PTC Chairman Victor Crist Board of County Commissioners; Vice-Chair Yolie Capin City of Tampa; Commissioner Ken Hagan Board of County Commissioners; Commissioner Les Miller Board of County Commissioners; Councilman Frank Reddick City of Tampa; Commissioner David Pogorilich Temple Terrace; Commissioner Billy Keel, of the City of Plant City.   Maybe that helps to explain why it is hard to disband the PTC.

As we have pointed out before, the PTC is a restraint on the market to protect vested interests to the detriment of potential competitors and the community at large, as shown again this week.   It has no place in a modern economy and should be abolished.

Because it is so obviously a tool for trade restraint and political self-promotion, it makes sense that there is bipartisan support to get rid of the PTC, at least by politicians who do not sit on the PTC itself.  It is well past time we got rid of it and moved on, but this is Hillsborough County.

Other issues HART is interested in include:

• Be attentive to initiatives to establish bus toll lanes on local interstate highways, which HART’s MetroRapid bus service might use.

• Pursue a solution for the TECO Historic Streetcar to alleviate its $400,000 annual insurance premium on a policy CSX Transportation insists upon for an Ybor City railroad crossing.

• Explore possible funding sources to help HART’s plans to replace its old buses.

Which is all fine, if too bus-centric – though, of course, all HART has is buses. (Maybe that is all they should have and any other transit should be part of a new organization.)

And HART is now offering an app to track bus arrival times in its system, which is nice.

Now we know that the HART board can be reasonable, so why is it that so often they are not?

So How Is The Economy?

There has been a lot of interesting news about the economy recently. (Isn’t there always?)  There have been the job announcements (some like this, though not all of them good ) and the Copa flight.  We also learned this week that housing prices remain on an upward tear.

Tampa Bay home prices last month made their highest year-over-year jump since the housing boom, soaring 27 percent over July 2012 and reenergizing worries about a new bubble.

That is good, but this is not, at least not fully:

Though cash buyers remain king of the market, buying up 42 percent of the homes sold last month, their share of the local sales slid for the seventh month in a row. Cash-rich investors from hedge funds to local flippers are finding fewer home deals that could leave them room to earn a profit.

In other words, home prices are being inflated by non-resident investors, not people buying them to live there.  It will make it harder for people to actually buy a house.  That is a market distortion, though hopefully it is easing a bit.

Even with unemployment going lower, there also are real issues about the job growth.

The upshot: Collectively, we’re earning less money with more people clustered in lower-paying jobs in retail, tourism and health care. There are more part-timers and workers combining a couple of part-time jobs into one full-time paycheck.

* * *

The bulk of available jobs, however, continues to flow from the same industries. The top five advertised occupations in Florida in June: registered nurses (12,815 ads); retail sales (8,514); retail supervisors (6,389); customer service reps (6,078); and first-line supervisors of food preparation workers (5,951).

To a degree, Florida’s experience is a mirror image of the rest of the country. Manufacturing is slumping while retail and tourism remains strong.


According to Alpert’s analysis, 69% of the jobs created in the second quarter – and 57% in the first half of 2013 – were in the three lowest-paying sectors of the economy: retail trade, administrative and waste services, and leisure and hospitality. These jobs, which account for 33% of all private sector jobs, pay an average of $15.80 per hour.

“What you’re seeing is now the spreading of low wage growth,” he says, noting those trends continued in Friday’s July jobs report. “Really we have become a nation of hamburger flippers, Wal-Mart sales associates, barmaids, checkout people and other people working at very low wages.”

The growth of low-wage jobs helps explain why the majority of Americans continue to believe the economy is in recession, despite a falling unemployment rate – now down to a four-year low of 7.4% – a record-setting stock market rally and a rebound in the housing market.

This is seen in the latest preview of Florida stats:

Florida’s unemployment rate has fallen steadily since 2010. But, at 7.1 percent, it still remains well above a level consistent with a healthy economy. A drop in the labor force participation rate also points to a persistent problem of sidelined jobless who have temporarily stopped seeking work and are therefore no longer counted in the unemployment rate.

Moreover, many of the newer jobs have been in lower-paying industries such as leisure and hospitality, retail and health care. 

(Aside from a host of other issues caused by low wages, the combination of housing price increase and low wage jobs leads to housing affordability issues.)

So in sum, the economy is still a question.  Housing is doing ok, if at inflated prices, and retail is fine. What we need are manufacturing and higher paying jobs.  So why is the County Commission subsidizing strip malls and subdivisions with taxpayer money?

Tampa Joins the Rest of the State – Trader Joes

Trader Joes finally announced that it was going to open a South Tampa store.  Good.   As we have said, the point is not that getting Trader Joes is a huge achievement, though it is nice.  This is exactly what it is not:

Trader Joe’s decision to locate here is self-affirming for Tampa, like having (and keeping) a baseball team or attracting an Amazon warehouse.

“It signals to cities that they’ve made it,” Dabbs said. “It’s part of our checklist of cool things to have here.”

It is nice to have Trader Joes, but it does not signal you “made it” – it signals that you are not completely behind all the other places that already have the store – like the 4 in or planned for Palm Beach County or two in Orange County, or hundreds elsewhere (like Omaha; Lincoln, NB; Des Moines; Baton Rouge; Greenville, SC; Lexington, KY; Dayton; Buffalo; and Rochester).

And we are a top 20 metro area, we should not need a rather small grocery store that is present in many smaller metros to be “self-affirmed.”  The fact that “self-affirmation” is even in the discussion shows how far we have to go.

The real question is why we were so low on the list and why that seems like a trend.

Coming Out Watch

This week’s coming out watch comes from a wire story about the problems in the proposed merger between American and US Airways.  First, flashback to the hype around aftermath of the RNC when we were told this:

No longer will the word “Florida” have to be added when others around the country talk about Tampa or Tampa Bay anymore, Tampa Bay & Co. president and CEO Kelly Miller told the gathering of nearly 600.

“It’ll be a stand-alone top 20 (metro area) for the rest of our lifetimes,” he said. “I think we’re all on a real high right now.”

And similar things.  Well, we were reading the AP article and found this:

For instance, American and US Airways are the only two airlines to offer one-stop service from Fresno, Calif. to Tampa, Fla. American offers three daily flights connecting in Dallas; US Airways has three connecting in Phoenix. In a merger, some of those flights are likely to disappear and fares could increase.

(Apparently, the AP editors were on vacation when the Post Office introduced two letter state abbreviations.)  Which we would have shrugged off, except for this, from the same article:

For instance, from Miami to Cincinnati, American recently offered a nonstop flight for $740. United Airlines and Delta Air Lines had connecting flights for the same price — $762. US Airways however offered a connecting flight for $471.

Cincinnati . . with no “Ohio.” Of course, Cincinnati already has a Trader Joes.

Sulphur Springs – At Least Something is Left

In a small victory for historic preservation:

Tampa’s approximately $288,000 restoration of the more than 85-year-old gazebo at Sulphur Springs Park, 701 E. Bird St., is complete. The next step is to secure the structure’s future as a formally recognized local landmark before re-opening the gazebo to the public.

A public hearing, and a vote by Tampa City Council, to consider the gazebo’s nomination is scheduled Aug. 22. A final hearing and vote is slated for Sept. 12.

From the Tribune – click on picture for article

It is nice that something of the old Sulphur Springs area has been restored.  Far too much has been ruined.  A little background:

They served as family “crests” for developer Josiah Richardson who built the iconic Sulphur Springs’ arcade and hotel in the 1920s. The gazebo and the iconic Water Tower park are all that remain of Richardson’s tourist mecca along the Hillsborough River.

He bought about 100 acres surrounding the spring-fed waters of Sulphur Springs and built cottages, a swimming pool with a giant slide, a bathhouse, an alligator farm, a dance pavilion, a Ferris wheel and the European-style arcade with a hotel on the second floor and shops on the first floor.

By 1934 Richardson was broke and had to sell his property. The arcade thrived into the 1960s. Then in 1976 the arcade was torn down to expand a parking lot for the now-closed Tampa Greyhound Track next door.

This was the arcade:

From – click on picture for website

Tearing down a fine old building that could have been renovated to expand a dog track parking lot is classic Tampa/Hillsborough County economic and real estate development, and you would be sadly mistaken if you thought that the same economic and real estate model is not very common today. (Look at the lot where the Maas Brothers building once stood and then listen to a County Commission meeting).  Things have changed, but not that much . . . yet.

List of the Week

Unfortunately, we did not find a list this week that met our rigorous standards.  If you really need to see a list even if it does not meet any standards at all, feel free to check out this (apparently completely arbitrary) list of the allegedly most miserable places in the US.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Elizabeth Belcher permalink
    August 16, 2013 10:24 AM

    I know that you are more interested in the city than the county but what happens in the county affects the city. For example, are you aware that the city of Tampa is going to supply Bass Pro Shop with water and sewer? I have the docs. Copied them from the originals in county files. Relay for Life a fund raiser for cancer is holding a dinner at The Regent in Sept. I asked if the organization was getting the room for free. I was told that the Regent Center refused because if they did for one, they would have to do for all the Relays! The Regent Center is supposed to be a community center, built totally on taxpayer money (7m) and in the agreement with the county is supposed to host one free community event a month. Check their calendar. I do not see one event, let alone one a month, billed as a community event. The one listed that might be is actually being held at the Arts Center at the Brandon library.

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