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Roundup 9-20-2013

September 20, 2013

Bro Bowl – Going Round And Round

This week, the City, trying to build support for its Perry Harvey Park redevelopment plan, showed off the plan and some nice renderings.

Lost in the debate about the fate of the “Bro Bowl” skate park, Tampa officials say, is an important piece of local history.

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What’s lost, they say, is the history of the project that prompted skaters to petition to put the bowl on the National Register of Historic Places.

That project is a planned $6 million redevelopment of Perry Harvey Sr. Park — the 11-acre park where the Bro Bowl is located. Planning for the makeover began seven years ago next week with a series of community meetings, the first of them just as tumultuous and charged with emotion as the current debate.

Now the city wants to pause, hold a meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday and remind everyone about the plans for the larger park and how they were created.

“This is basically an opportunity to expose more members of the community to how the plan has evolved over time,” said Bob McDonaugh, the city’s administrator for economic opportunity.

That’s all fine, but just because there was a process does not mean that the product of that process is the best possible product or that it positively addresses the most possible interests.  Maybe it could be better.  But first, what is in the plan?

Construction at Perry Harvey Sr. Park is expect [sic] to start early next year and take 18 months to two years to complete. Although officials in Washington, D.C., have yet to decide whether to add the Bro Bowl to the National Register of Historic Places, the city is proceeding with plans for the larger park’s redevelopment. On Thursday, the City Council awarded a $36,000 contract to Cutler Associates of Tampa to prepare construction plans and cost estimates.

At the heart of the city’s design is an effort to honor Tampa’s African-American history, especially as it grew up along and around Central Avenue.

Central Avenue, established by freed slaves after the Civil War, was a black enclave unlike anything Tampa has seen since.

* * *

But the entire neighborhood — 387 multistory buildings — was bulldozed after riots in 1967 damaged buildings and the nearby Maryland Avenue slum was razed, forcing out Central Avenue’s workforce and customer base. City Hall received a federal grant in 1973 to convert the area into the long, grassy corridor that became Perry Harvey Sr. Park.

Today the park includes the Bro Bowl, some basketball courts, a playground and not much else.

But as planned, the next version of the park would include:

• A history walk that would take pedestrians through a timeline outlining Central Avenue’s development, its businesses, buildings and people.

• A fountain featuring lights and music.

• Open lawns with space for concerts or other events.

• Historical markers, but more than just bronze plaques. Some could be three-dimensional. Some could be interactive. Some could use photos to re-create a scene of life along Central Avenue. Some could use QR codes to connect to photos, video, sound or other online resources.

And that is all good.  We have no problem with having all those elements – in fact, we have not heard of anyone who has any issue with having all those elements.  And we understand this heart-felt sentiment:

Cheryl Rodriguez’ s father Francisco Rodriguez had an office on Central. He was one of the first black attorneys in Tampa.

“I do respect their history, what the skateboarding community feels it needs,” she said. “But African-American history has just been so ignored in this city. I find this an opportunity to promote and celebrate its history. This is something we deserve, a recognition of our history.”

There is no question that there should be recognition of African-American history, and it is a good thing to do it in the park.  The only thing is that we think it can be done and still save the Bro Bowl.

In light of all that, we have a few observations to make about the City’s plan.

First, very little actually has to change in the present plan.  For instance, this rendering was featured in the Times:

From the Times – click on picture for article

What is pictured is no where near the Bro Bowl and would fit perfectly without any changes to the Bro Bowl.  To understand why, you really need to consult the Perry Harvey Park Plan:

From the City of Tampa – click on picture for document

If you look at the map, the park is broken up into five segments going south to north (we will refer to them as segments 1-5, starting at the south end).

Segment 1: the southernmost has the features in the Times rendering;

Segment 2: essentially an open field with nothing on it;

Segment 3: also essentially an open field;

Segment 4: an open field with the notation that it might become the playground for a proposed middle school across the street.

Segment 5: the northernmost and the proposed location of the new skate park.

The Bro Bowl is located on the left side of the park covering some of segments 2 and 3. (See under the trees on the left/west side of the park here) The proposal has a walkway between segments 2 and 3 (an east-west walk) with a Perry Harvey statue on the east side, which would be fine even with the Bro Bowl.

However, there is a Community Leaders Walk that would cover some of the space where the Bro Bowl now is.  This is the only element of the proposal for the park that would have anything to do with the Bro Bowl.  The Community Leaders Walk is now an east-west feature.  However, there is ample space going north-south or in Segments 2 and 3 (which are planned for being empty space) to put a really nice Community Leaders Walk.

Moreover, if you want to keep more open space near the heart of the park, the Middle School playground could go in the northernmost segment where the proposed new skate park is planned, leaving Segment 4 for activities.  The side of the park touching Central Avenue would still be free for all the elements honoring Central Avenue’s history.

What is the benefit? You get all the planned elements and honor African-American history.  You also keep the Bro Bowl and expose all the skateboarders to that African-American history. (In the present plan, the skate park is nowhere near any of the historical elements and the skaters aren’t going to be exposed to any of it.)

Finally, some might say that leaving the Bro Bowl destroys the symmetry of the park. Look at the park plan – it is not symmetrical at all.  There is no symmetry to break up.

The above is just one idea.  We are sure there are others that can be productive and serve everyone’s interest.  The real point is that this is not that hard.  As we said from the beginning, there is a solution to be had – and not even a hard one – if everyone acts with respect, good will, and the goal of honoring all of our history.

Enterprise Zones – Hillsborough County Shenanigans

When the Hillsborough County Commission discusses transportation, economic development or almost anything else, they toss around the idea of designating areas for economic development areas and pouring money into them.  This idea makes some sense if the process is fair and honest with good parameters.  However, what evidence is there that the County could pull that off?

Well, the Tribune had an interesting article about the University Area Enterprise Zone (a redevelopment area, which is different from the County’s proposed economic development areas) that may tell us how much trust should be put in the County.

A proposal to stretch a redevelopment area around the University of South Florida all the way down to southern Hillsborough County is creating friction on the county commission.

A proposed amendment to the boundaries of the University Area Enterprise Zone would extend its borders to include Palm River and Gibsonton, according to county commissioners who have seen the maps. The enterprise zone now encompasses 3.1 square miles bordered by Fowler and Bearss avenues, Interstate 275 and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard. Up to three noncontiguous areas can be added to an existing enterprise zone as long the total area isn’t more than 20 square miles.

The state government designates enterprise zones based on the median family income in an area. The zones are intended create jobs in blighted, economically disadvantaged areas. The University Area Enterprise Zone was created in February 2003.

So, these redevelopment enterprise zones are to promote redevelopment and are determined by average income.  Makes sense.

“Those dollars haven’t changed in years at the state level,” Crist said. He compared enlarging the boundaries to take in south county to “dropping a drop of chlorine in a 60,000 gallon pool.”

Right, expanding the zone would dilute the money and how is South County part of the USF zone?

Setting that aside, what do the advocates of expanding the zone say?

Murman, who favors the new borders, said she explored the possibility of creating a new enterprise zone in Gibsonton and Ruskin, but the median family income there wasn’t low enough.

“I think we need to be very careful of concentrating all our resources in one area,” Murman said. “I think it’s important to look at the big picture, the whole county, and make sure all impoverished areas have the opportunity to have development and services.” 

In other words, the South County does not qualify for the money because it has too much money.  This being the same South County that s alternatively called “booming” or “impoverished” depending on who wants money. (See  Amazon – Incentives and Hype Machine) So why would this Commissioner want to stick the South County in the zone and deny money to the USF area?

Crist blamed the proposed boundary changes on unnamed single-member district commissioners who want resources from the University Area Enterprise Zone to benefit their constituents. The commissioners who represent Palm River and south county are Les Miller and Sandy Murman.

Pretty much.  (Of course, the Commissioner complaining has USF near his district [District 2], but the USF area qualifies and needs the money.) That is how much the County Commissioners really want to improve the economy and redevelop needy areas in the County – just enough to suck money out of the program meant to do it and send it to their districts.  If this is what we get regarding redevelopment of clearly needy areas under clearly defined programs, what is going to happen when the County Commission is free to do whatever they want?

Let’s just say that these kind of shenanigans do not engender trust in the County Commission’s decision making process or its ability to actually solve problems.

Downtown – We Don’t Need Permission for Anything 

This week, the Pierhouse complex in the Channel district opened.

The 356 apartments of Pierhouse, at 120 S Meridian Ave., are spread out over a quartet of four-story mid-rises, which connect via landscaped courtyards. Renters have leased more than a third of the apartments, including their one-bedroom Aruba units with 9-foot ceilings, which cost about $1,420 a month. At 1,500 square foot, their eight largest top-floor units, called the Trinidad, rent for about $2,500 a month.

Though advertised for its “industrial flair,” the porcelain-white walls and rustic-wood designs hew closer to South Florida than skid row. There is a Zen garden, a massage parlor and free weekly fitness boot camps and vinyasa flow yoga.

And it is all good that the project has those things, but what it does not have is an urban design, street interaction, proper density for the area or even hiding the parking garages, one of which faces Meridian. (In contrast, the two 20+ story buildings planned for near by do have most, if not all, of those things.) And the project is more Kendall than Brickell, but so be it.  The buildings are there.

It also appears that the developer is scoping other locations.  Hopefully, they will use their extensive experience in building fine urban buildings elsewhere (see here) on their next project. (They really are a good developer, which makes one wonder about why Pierhouse is so out of character.)

But, as usual, what really caught our attention was a hype filled quote:

“There’s a sense of hope. There’s a sense of optimism. There, most importantly, is a sense of destiny about what this city is going to be,” said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. “We’re not asking anyone’s permission anymore. We’re moving ahead full throttle. We do not have any brakes on this car.”

(What is with the runaway motorized vehicle comments and the Channel District?) We understand the optimism part. There is progress in many areas. And if the Mayor had stopped there, it all would have been fine.

But, no – he just had to keep going. And what he says raises a question: just who exactly was the Mayor asking for permission?  Does he need permission to change the Code or propose a real transportation plan?  It would be nice if the Mayor would tell us from whom he has been taking orders.

The fact is that Pierhouse could have been much nicer.  Hopefully, it is the last suburban-ish project downtown.  And hopefully the Mayor gets the City’s brakes fixed before someone gets hurt.

Economic Development – Biotech

There was an interesting article in the Times about the push for biotech.

Bullish life science industry leaders anticipate Florida and Tampa Bay will see more recruitments like powerhouse Bristol-Myers Squibb.

Nancy Bryan, chief executive officer of BioFlorida — the state’s biotech and life science trade association — even conjured a future headline from the podium aimed at transforming Florida’s old-school image:

“Life science takes over tourism in jobs and revenues in state.”

Skeptics may roll their eyes at such ambition given Gov. Rick Scott’s tourism obsession. But there was clearly a sense in Monday’s room full of Ph.D. scientists and medical doctors that Florida is on track — though perhaps a long one — to become a player worthy of notice in the competitive life sciences.

According to Bryan, the state’s biotech sector grew 60 percent in the past five years while the number of biotech companies has increased 13.5 percent since early 2012.

We don’t roll our eyes.  In fact, we would like the biotech sector to thrive; we just are not sold on the hype surrounding it.  We think realistic assessments are more useful. (And we are really dubious it will pass tourism any time soon.)

And another thing: this week there was announcement that a company involved in health insurance would add 1000 jobs in Tampa.  That is great.  The more jobs the better, especially for better paying jobs.  However, what it is not is this:

“This expansion sends a clear message that we are a premier destination for business, and a growing leader in the health and life sciences sector, with government partners that strongly support the creation of new, high-wage jobs in our target industries,” said David Pizzo, Tampa/Hillsborough EDC chairman. He’s also the regional market president for Florida Blue, Florida’s Blue Cross and Blue Shield company.

The reported business expansion is in the health insurance sales sector, not life sciences. And just so, through the hype, you can understand where we stand as a biotech hub, we are not on the major life sciences cluster lists that we found (see here, here, and here)  That does not mean we can’t get there, but we are not there and that needs to be acknowledged. (Just for an idea of how hard it could be, this is a list of biotech incubators.

Of course, the article was accompanied by more odd comments:

Ever-present economic cheerleader and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn urged attendees to create quality jobs and prove wrong those intent on “dumbing down their state.”

We are not sure who the Mayor thinks is “dumbing down their state.”  As far as we can tell, the only people dumbing down the state are those who talk down to the citizens of the state by overhyping and misrepresenting progress, by settling for half measures and acting like they are real solutions, and by failing to present the reality of what it takes to compete in the modern, global economy.  In other words, those that do not treat the citizens of this state and area like adults.  But, then, what do we know?

Rays – The Truth Shows Up

For all the talk about the Rays owing St. Pete and the negotiations by the Mayor of St. Pete the bottom line can be shown by the Rays/Rangers game on Monday.  It was a game between the front runners of AL Wild Card race.  In other words, it was a big game.

The announced crowd was just 10,724. The Rays entered with the major’s lowest home attendance average of 18,747.

Major league soccer attendance can be found here. (The team with the 11th best attendance out of a field of 21 averages 18,000 +)  Last year the Lightning, not having a great year, averaged 19,056 in an arena that can’t hold very many more people.  That’s all you need to know.

Can we deal with reality now?

Transportation – A Little More Insight on Variable Rate Toll Lanes

We have been discussing Variable Rate Toll Lanes – Lexus Lanes – for a while.  This week we learned something new, and, in the interest of full disclosure, we provide the information here.

The state doesn’t publicize it, but it feels your pain. So it wipes out your toll if an accident forces the lanes to close.

* * *

But you still pay if you are merely forced to go slower because of congestion.

In fiscal 2012, the lanes were closed an average of 67 times per month southbound and 74 per month northbound. Closures lasted 13 to 14 minutes.

Unless the lane is fully closed, it is just not their fault and you still pay.

List of the Week

Our list this week is a bit unusual.  The Bureau of Economic Analysis has a website where you can calculate all sorts of charts, including looking at per capita GDP (it appears that the numbers are for 2012, so they may have changed a bit) for metropolitan areas.   Because we so often talk about economic development, we thought it would be interesting to compare our area to some others.  Here is the list we generated rearranged into descending order with the per capita GDP for the area (and just for fun we put an asterisk next to all areas that have rail transit/commuter rail):

San Jose* (90,528)

San Francisco-Oakland* (69,542)

Trenton, NJ* (65,631)

Seattle* (64,188)

Portland, OR* (62,028)

New Orleans* (56,119)

Denver* (55,921)

Dallas-Fort Worth* (55,612)

Minneapolis-St. Paul* (55,514)

Charlotte* (51,756)

Indianapolis (50,981)

Austin* (49,518)

San Diego* (48,750)

Nashville* (48,114)

Raleigh (44,892)

Pittsburgh* (44,440)

Memphis (42,725)

Detroit (42,655)

St. Louis* (41,670)

Orlando (41,666)

Little Rock (41,414)

Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach* (41,271)

Phoenix* (40,725)

Jacksonville (38,839)

Tampa-St. PetersburgClearwater (36,648)

Winston-Salem (35,730)

Gainesville (33,023)

Tallahassee (30,204)

The shocker for us is New Orleans (where does all that money go?), but so be it.  Now look at the usual suspects of metro areas with which we are trying to compete.  You can see where we are.

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