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Roundup 9-13-2013

September 13, 2013

Channelside – Step One: Buy the Complex Back; Step Three: Profits

This week the Tampa Port Authority Board finally put an end to the first part of the Channelside complex saga (assuming all the courts approve it).

The Tampa Port Authority late Tuesday approved a plan to buy out the troubled Channelside retail and shopping complex for just under $6 million in cash, potentially ending years of legal and political wrangling over the nearly vacant property.

If all goes as planned — and several legal steps must be sorted out — the port authority could take full possession of Channelside in the next three to eight weeks. That, in turn, could not only open up the property for a serious face-lift, but also trigger wider redevelopment of the whole area for a potential baseball stadium site, according to several port authority board members.

* * *

According to port counsel Charles Klug, the deal also clears another potentially tricky legal hurdle. A partnership between the developer pair of Liberty Group and Convergent Capital had previously tried to acquire control of Channelside by buying out the Irish bank’s interest but were rebuffed by the port authority for offering what port officials said was an inferior offer. Now, Klug said, the Irish Bank has essentially paid off that group to release their interests.

Ok, that is step one.  How much did it cost?

Port officials said the price — $5.75 million — was pretty good. Channelside’s last appraisal was $12 million, and the Liberty bid was believed to be around $8 million. The money will come from the port’s $45 million general revenue fund. No taxpayer dollars will be used in the purchase.

Not a bad price (though, as we have noted many times, money is fungible so we are not sure the point of the whole taxpayer thing.)  On the other hand, it was never quite clear how the Port Board let the whole thing get so out of control in the first place. In any event, what next?

“I think it’s a new day for Channelside,” said Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who sits on the port board. “I think what this says is that for Channelside, the Tampa Port Authority is in control of its own destiny. We don’t have to ask anybody else. We don’t have to negotiate with anyone else. We can attract suitors for this property, and they will know coming in that we own the land and we own the building and they only have to negotiate with us.”

And now that the obvious has been stated, what does that mean?

As for Channelside’s immediate future this summer, Buckhorn ruled out the possibility of demolishing the site and starting over. Instead, he suggested the new deal would open the door for development across the wider neighborhood.

Or as another board member said (hype alert):

Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman said after the vote that she hoped the move would “kickstart more development, maybe a baseball stadium. It’s like a lawnmower, once you get the engine started, it just goes.”

We are not sure an out of control lawnmower is the best analogy for Channelside (particularly with the previous discussions of amputations), and we are not sure the Port’s move will kickstart anything.  There are already plans to build two apartment towers nearby, so the area is moving on its own.  More important is that the Port not mess anything up.  (The Lightning owner has been accumulating land nearby for a while though it is not clear what exactly he wants to do with all the land).

It is unclear why a poorly designed, dated Channelside complex with poor access to the neighborhood and the waterfront would miraculously catalyze development.  The truth is that the complex should be totally rebuilt to actually take advantage of its location and all the development that has occurred around it.  Maybe parts can be salvaged, but it really is a horrible design, especially when coupled with the poorly designed Port parking garage across the street.

The bottom line is that step one has been accomplished which is good.  To get to step three – profits, we need a good step two.  That is the key.  It is a good lot in an area that could really thrive.  Unfortunately, past performance gives little reason to trust that the Port or the City have the ability to properly guide any process and not settle for substandard designs.  Maybe they will prove us wrong (we hope they do), but only time will tell.

Abolish the PTC, Cont.

This week, the PTC mess got even messier when a County Commissioner announced he was leaving the PTC because another County Commissioner was overstepping his bounds. From the Tribune:

Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller abruptly resigned today from his seat on the county Public Transportation Commission after arguing with PTC Chairman Victor Crist over the commission’s rules and procedures.

Or, in another description, from the Times:

The commission’s board on Wednesday took several steps to stabilize leadership and operations at the agency, which regulates taxicab, limousine and ambulance companies, but not before County Commissioner Les Miller unexpectedly quit over what he later described as the “dictatorial” way fellow Commissioner Victor Crist was chairing the meeting.

We are not even going to get into the issues here. (You can read the article for the details if you want.)

The PTC also hired an interim director, but we are not going to detail that either.

The PTC is embarrassing and unnecessary.  Just abolish it, already.

Rays – More of Nothing

Last week, we noted that nothing has really happened on the Rays and the Mayor of St. Pete is back to his old tactic of blaming everyone else for the failure to move forward. We also noted if he wants people to believe anything he says, the Mayor of St. Pete should put all the facts out there.  This week we got some facts, though not nearly enough.

Talks between the Tampa Bay Rays and city officials about the team’s lease at Tropicana Field have stalled, largely because team officials say they won’t pay the city any compensation if the Rays leave the stadium before the contract expires in 2027, according to two City Council members.

That hardline stance was the Rays’ response to a city offer allowing the team to move to a new stadium if it agrees to pay an undisclosed amount for every year remaining on its lease and to pay for demolition costs of the Trop and any outstanding debt on the stadium, said City Council Member Bill Dudley.

City Council members on Thursday blamed Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig for the impasse, saying he is behind the Rays’ negotiating position.

“We offered them a price,” Dudley said. “Selig has told them don’t give us anything.”

Well, that is one detail.  It fails to tell us what the Mayor demanded from the Rays – which is kind of important in gauging their response.  As anyone who has been involved in negotiations knows, if one side makes an outrageous demand, the other side often responds with an equally outrageous offer.  Of course, we have no idea if that is the case or if the Rays and MLB are just not going to pay anything, and the Mayor isn’t actually talking about details.

Mayor Bill Foster said he could not talk about negotiations because both sides agreed to keep them confidential. He confirmed there are no further talks scheduled with the Rays. Foster is the city’s sole elected official who has been participating in the negotiations and has staked out the city’s position since he took office. Until recently, Foster has insisted the team honor its obligation to play at the Trop through 2027. City Council members have not been directly involved in the negotiations but receive updates from Foster.

The only thing he is doing is laying blame at the feet of the admittedly not very sympathetic Commissioner of Baseball:

In a memo sent to City Council members Wednesday, Foster said talks with the Rays had been “productive” until an Aug. 15 meeting of MLB owners, when Selig threatened possible intervention in the stadium issue.

“It has become apparent to me that Major League Baseball has no intention of assisting the city and Rays in reaching a mutually beneficial solution,” Foster said in the memo. “Nor does Major League Baseball seem interested in a cooperative effort to keep the Rays in the Tampa Bay region for the long term.”

On the other hand, it is a negotiation and St. Pete’s (and the Tampa Bay area’s) hand is not very strong.  The point is, we really still don’t know anything other than what the Mayor says, which is less than fully credible (we just have no idea if he is telling the truth or spinning another yarn.)  As the Times said in an editorial on the subject:

St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster wants to blame baseball commissioner Bud Selig for his own failures. Selig is hardly a sympathetic character, but he’s not the reason stadium negotiations between the city and the Tampa Bay Rays are stalled. The reason is Foster’s lack of leadership and poor negotiating skills . . .


Transportation – Pasco Road and Lexus Lanes

A couple of weeks ago, we wrote about a proposal to build a private toll road in Pasco County.  We noted that, while we are not sure about this proposal, the need for the road exists and the proposal should be investigated.  This week, the Times had an editorial opposing the private road.  While the plan may have flaws, we are not sure the Times pointed them out.  This is how they summarized their argument:

If the need is there, then the state should build the new lanes even if they are toll lanes. But the state shouldn’t be in such a hurry to cede its toll-road authority to a private entity. The result could be an undesirable two-tiered transportation network serving more affluent commuters with private roads and forcing everyone else onto the underfunded public highway network.

Maybe the plan is good; maybe it is flawed.  In either event, the Times’ main concern is not a major issue. There is nothing inherent in the state retaining tolling authority that prevents a two tiered system.  We have been discussing variable rate toll roads and the two tiered system that is the stated purpose of having them. (See Transportation – How Do Variable Toll Lanes Really Work?) We don’t remember the Times opposing that scheme. (Maybe we missed something; if so, let us know and we will acknowledge it.)

We do not see why a definitely two-tiered transportation run by the state is ok while the mere speculative possibility of a two-tiered system in private hands is rejected out of hand. (Though, as we readily admit, there may be other reasons to reject such a proposal.  See here, here,  and here)

We need the road.  We should examine the possibilities.  We are not saying a private road is the solution, but it should be examined.  And any tolls charged – private or public – should be capped.

Insecurity Watch – Branding St. Pete

There was an interesting article in the Times this week about a move to brand the south part of downtown St. Pete.

Just south of downtown, a quiet section of St. Petersburg has evolved into a jumble of research, academics and jobs.

Hospitals, government agencies and a university campus employ at least 8,000 people. About 6,000 students seek college degrees. The district’s economic importance to the city has few geographic rivals.

Now, community leaders want to add one important quality — a common identity.

“You need something to market, something everybody knows,” Mayor Bill Foster said. “You want to be able to say, ‘Meet me at the Corridor’ or ‘I’ll be at University Place.’ This is the next greatest economic project that is going to happen in this city. To make that a tightly knit area.”

The idea extends beyond a pithy name and clever logo.

City officials are discussing street closings, signs, bike trails, leafy pedestrian walkways and major changes to Fourth Street S. Better pedestrian flow, plus a name for the district, will stimulate collaboration and attract new players, officials said.

As far as that goes, it makes sense.  There is nothing wrong with tying a neighborhood together and making it more attractive, although they might as well just call it “Bayboro” and move one.  But, as with most such moves in the Tampa Bay area, the hype is excessive to the point of silliness. For instance:

The arrival of Johns Hopkins Medicine in 2011 accelerated that push for commonality.

“You are talking about the Harvard of health care being dropped into this mix of people already trying to find opportunities,” said All Children’s president, Dr. Jonathan Ellen.

Actually, this is the Harvard of health care.  And the area around it looks like this, with three major hospitals, research labs, other colleges, etc., all in walking distance.

And then there is this:

“Individually we are impressive. Together we are transformative,” said Kanika Tomalin, Bayfront Health’s vice president of external affairs.

“We can compete with the Research Triangle all day long if we package this right,” said Amy Maguire, vice president for government and corporate relations at All Children’s Hospital, referring to North Carolina’s university-heavy Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill region.

Maybe we are missing something, but the Research Triangle is an area that includes multiple cities  and three, full, major universities – not small campuses – and a number of smaller institutions.   (And the Research Triangle website is much better than the Tampa Bay Partnership’s) And while the south part of downtown St. Pete has this to offer:

Right now, the district is roughly 30 square blocks, with three focuses:

• General academics — represented by the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

• Marine science — including the Florida Institute of Oceanography, USF’s College of Marine Science, engineering firm SRI International, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the U.S. Geological Survey.

• Medicine — including Bayfront Health, USF Health and All Children’s, now merged with Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins Medicine.

The Research Triangle has just this in the area of medical technology:

Major Organizations


Almac Diagnostics


BD Technologies

Betsy Johnson Hospital

BioMedical Devices


Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina

Cardinal Health

Central Carolina Hospital

Chatham Hospital

DaVinci Biomedical Research Products

Duke Raleigh Hospital

Duke University Medical Center

Durham Regional Hospital



FirstHealth of the Carolinas

Franklin Regional Medical Center

Gilero Biomedical

Granville Health System


Johnston Health

Maria Parham Medical Center

Medis Medical Imaging Systems

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)

Novant Health

Person Memorial Hospital



Rex Healthcare


Teleflex Medical


UNC Health Care

WakeMed Health and Hospitals

We won’t even get into the other clusters in the Research Triangle. The point is not to say that St. Pete should not work to develop its economy.  It should.  We are all for it.  And, as we said above, we are all for tying the area together to increase its appeal. No one is saying that St. Pete does not have assets; it does.  No one is saying that St. Pete should not work to improve itself and attract businesses; it should.

The problem is with St. Pete, and the Tampa Bay area generally, trying to be what it is not.  Why can’t St. Pete just sell what it has?  Why do people feel the need to make statements that are so easily shown to be inaccurate?  Who are they trying to convince?

The real point is that 1) the hype is silly and 2) if we want to compete with the Research Triangle and other areas, then we have to have a region-wide approach to development. Such an approach has to involve thinking regionally involving business, development, transportation, marketing, and yes, with things such as the Rays.  It happens occasionally in the Tampa Bay area, but not nearly enough, and it is not just St. Pete that has some problems thinking regionally.  Hillsborough County is quite weak when it comes to thinking regionally, too. (see HART)

As we keep saying, we have made some progress, but there is a long way to go.  The effort in St. Pete has merit, but all the hype actually makes it appear less serious.

Courtney Campbell Trail

This week, the Courtney Campbell Trail opened.

A bridge that runs alongside the Courtney Campbell Causeway is now open for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Joggers could be seen running across the 16-foot-wide bridge’s apex, 45 feet above the water, on Monday morning.

The state Department of Transportation built the 4-mile span at a cost of $14.6 million from federal enhancement money set aside for pedestrian projects, said Kris Carson, DOT spokeswoman.

* * *

It will be the only motorless bridge to span the bay since the Friendship Trail Bridge, adjacent to the Gandy Bridge, closed in 2008.

The trail on the causeway is nice, but we have a question: how do you get to it from normal streets?  As far as we can tell, you have to drive to one of the parking lots at either end of the causeway, which is not that useful.  While the reports say further phases (obviously more money) will connect to trails in Pinellas and Hillsborough, it is hard to see how any useful connection can be made especially given the lack of nearby neighborhoods on the Hillsborough side.  On the other hand, the Friendship Trail Bridge, which Hillsborough County, and maybe Pinellas County, seem eager to be rid of, does connect to other trails/paths/streets/neighborhoods.  Yes, it would cost more (estimated $25 million) but it is more useful because of those connections. (And money allocated for the demolition could have been added to the Federal money to cover most of the cost.)

We have nothing against the Courtney Campbell trail, except the connection thing, but we wonder why some hurried to let the Friendship Trail Bridge go away when the money for the Causeway could have been put to the Friendship Trail.

Flights – Meanwhile in Competitor Cities

There was, appropriately, much celebration with the announcement that Tampa would get Copa flight and the expansion of the Edelweiss flights. (And a little more this week.)  However, as we often point out, while there may be accomplishments here, we have a long way to go to become a fully competitive region.   To gauge our progress and know how far we have to go and wade through the hype, we have to know what is happening elsewhere.  Last week, we found these two items.

First, Austin – a city without that many nonstop destinations  – is getting five flights per week on British Airways to London.  So you are thinking “Tampa has flights to London on BA.  What’s the big deal?” Well, the Austin flights are to Heathrow which is the main hub and the main business hub for British Airways, with connections to pretty much their whole network.  Tampa’s flight is to Gatwick, which is more of a tourist airport, without nearly as many follow-on connections.  We love having BA, but to fully compete, we need to get to Heathrow and the fact we do not have it says something about the perception and reality of our area. (The fact is that Tampa does not have a flight to any of the biggest hubs in Europe – BA to Heathrow, Air France to Paris, and Lufthansa to Frankfurt – or even KLM to Amsterdam or Iberia to Madrid, not even to the hubs of Air Berlin or Swiss [though Edelweiss has codesharing with Swiss].)

Second, Orlando is getting another international connection, this time to Copenhagen on Norwegian Air, which is a new-ish low cost airline that also flies to Ft. Lauderdale.   Yea, we know all about the arguments about Orlando’s tourist appeal, etc.

Just so we are clear – we are happy that TIA is getting more international flights, and the present director is doing a much better job than his predecessor. Because of previous administrations, TIA has a long road to travel to catch up with other airports. Hopefully, we will get more positive announcements soon.  But we need to know where we are compared to those with whom we are competing.

List of the Week I

Now that summer has officially ended in most of the county, there is a surfeit of new lists.  In order to avoid list overload, this week we will feature three.

Our first list this week is the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation the 20 Hottest Startup Hubs in America.

Not surprisingly, first place goes to San Jose, followed by San Francisco, Cambridge (MA, the home of Harvard and MIT), Denver, Seattle, DC, Salt Lake City, Raleigh (you know, the aforementioned Research Triangle), Bethesda (MD – is this different than DC?), Austin, Portland (OR), Wilmington (DE), Phoenix, Dallas, Santa Ana (CA), Ft. Lauderdale, Atlanta, Kansas City, New Orleans, and San Diego.

For all the talk of a local start up culture, we are behind Kansas City, San Diego, and New Orleans.  The reality is that, as far as we can tell, Tampa or the Tampa Bay area does not even appear in the report.  Like we said, we have a long way to go, and, if the report is to be believed, it will take a while:

But, the Kauffman Foundation’s report concludes, “No place can transform itself overnight. Boulder has only entered the national consciousness as a start-up hub in the last decade, yet it has enjoyed an increasingly dynamic tech sector for much longer than that.” Start-up communities are networks — glorious in all their messiness and chaos. However, they aren’t simply organic phenomena, Boulder-based venture capitalist Brad Feld told me in an interview on this site last year. “You have to have leaders who are entrepreneurs. They have to have a long-term view,” he explained. Developing a robust start-up hub is a generational event.

This new study provides a much needed corrective to faddish magic bullet policies and initiatives — from tax breaks and incentives for tech companies to incubators and local publicly supported venture capital funds —  that aim to turn cities into tech hubs over night. Such efforts will do little without the the [sic] longer term gestation and underlying social structure of innovation required for high-tech success. 

In other words, you need a whole system to create a start-up hub, not just a few companies and a lot of hype.  Without wholesale changes in the approach of the Tampa Bay area – and Hillsborough County in particular – setting aside the real estate and sprawl focus of economic policy, including how transportation is addressed, we do not have much chance of anything other than incremental progress any time soon.

List of the Week II

Our next list of the week is Cvent’s Top 50 Meeting Destinations.  (The full list is here)

We are not going to list all 50, but we will do 20.  First place goes to (unsurprisingly) Orlando, followed by Chicago, Las Vegas, Atlanta, San Diego, New York, D.C., Dallas, Miami, Phoenix, San Francisco, New Orleans, Denver, Nashville, Scottsdale (AZ), San Antonio, LA, Boston, Houston, and Austin.

Tampa came in at 28, between Rosemont, IL (which is where O’Hare airport is)  at 29 and Indianapolis at 27. And this included the year in which we had the RNC. Really. (Apparently, no one here uses Cvent.)

List of the Week III

Our third list of the week is an Atlantic Cities analysis of the Best Cities for Recent College Grads. You have to read the article for the methodology.

Top of the list, as usual, is San Jose, followed by DC, Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, Raleigh, Austin, Hartford, Detroit (?), and Baltimore.

Once again, this list has the usual suspects, and they do not include the Tampa Bay area.  How is it that certain cities can consistently, year in and year out, rank highly on all sorts of list while the Tampa Bay area struggles to get acknowledgement.  We could go on and on about the local hype machine (and we probably will) but the reality is that, while we have made some progress, we are nowhere near being where we need to be.  More importantly, we have not created the environment to get where we need to be and many, like most of the Hillsborough County Commission, do not seem willing or able to create that environment.  Maybe the local leaders will finally accept that their strategies have failed and that things really need to change, not just having a few highly publicized meetings in the midst of focusing on sprawling real estate and 1970’s style development and transportation.

One Comment leave one →
  1. September 13, 2013 12:32 PM

    Rankings. Now you are speaking my language. I am sitting at the 1st joint meeting of the Transportation Management Area (Hillsborough MPO, Pinellas MPO, Pasco MPO) still fuming over tha latest Kauffman Report. Not because I am surprised, but because there remains complacency within Hillsborough County to take action prefering the McClellan approach to Grant.

    Your post listed significant economic engines within the region. There are many more. The problem is that we don’t collaborate very well and at times enjoy fighting each other or watching the other guy fail for sport. This meeting gives me hope that the region is finally ready to go beyond the hollow rhetoric of “super region” which surfaces annually in a feel good conferences and then evaporates before the last speaker heads back to DC. and work together to link our economic centers which have often acted as islands unto themselves.

    Remember: We have ports, commercial centers ( think Gateway, Westshore & Wiregrass. Yes there are many many more), healthcare (from AC & JH in St Pete to TGH, St. joe & USH Health / Moffitt, Byrd, Pepin Heart, VA in Hillsborough County ) entertainment (Busch Gardens – think Medical tourism and a Downtown Busch Garrdens venue) and sports and recreation (great beaches & bike trails & Bike Share is heading our way)

    So link the islands and then look west to Orlando and get real about building a true super region with actionable steps. Once the Orlando Intermodal Center is linked to a planned Westshore Intermodal Center (minutes from our airport which is going to build a billion dollar rental car and parking facility) we are light years ahead of where the region is now. Business will be drawn to the region and our nascent startup community will get the kick start it needs to explode on the scene attracting talent – cool new businesses both large & small which will help us radically alter the economic landscape of Tampa Bay.

    That’s when we begin to move from unmentioned to top 10.

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