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Roundup 9-27-2013

September 27, 2013

Built Environment – Another Survey for the County Can Ignore

The Hillsborough County Planning Commission is conducting an online survey to see what residents would like Hillsborough County to look like. Called Imagine 2040, the survey asks people to rank transportation options, how neighborhoods should be designed, general planning ideas, and more. It can be found here.

We have no problem with this kind of survey and think everyone should fill it out.  It does not take long.  You can do it online or

Residents are invited to offer the MPO feedback in an online survey being conducted through Oct. 20 at Imagine2040.org and at countywide kiosk locations.

Though kiosk locations are oddly focused on the south county, the east county, and some of the City of Tampa and pretty much ignore the northwest.

The real problem with the survey is that history shows that no matter what people say, the County will just go back to their sprawl-centric plans because that is what the Commissioners (at least the majority of them) want. (Even if many people in the County, like Lithia, are getting sick of it.) Sure, the County may package their policies as economic development or modern transportation or updating infrastructure, but the results are always the same – car-centric sprawl. And those results would especially bad if projections of population growth prove true:

It’s well known that by 2015, Florida could surpass New York as the nation’s third most populous state. What’s drawn less attention is that much of Florida’s population growth through 2060 is expected to take place within two broad corridors: the Tampa Bay area through Orlando to the Atlantic coast and the Tampa Bay area to Jacksonville.

Hillsborough County alone could gain 600,000 people to reach a population of about 1.8 million — and add 400,000 jobs to reach 1 million by 2040, mid-level projections in a University of Florida study indicate.

That sure is some growth for a County that can’t even properly handle transportation for the people it now has. As the Times noted this week when reporting about the Hillsborough County budget:

A major deficit remains for building new roads and adding lanes and fixing recurring flood problems. Commissioners are talking to the county’s three city mayors about ideas to address transportation in particular.

And we know HART is not properly funded. But note: “Your pocketbook: For the 21st consecutive year, commissioners lowered the property tax rate, albeit by a tiny margin.”  No one wants to pay taxes but you are not going to make up a deficit by continually cutting taxes. Maybe, as a first step, the Commission might want to consider not just giving money to developers while they are saying things like this:

“The population growth figures are stunning,” said Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman, who serves on the MPO board. “I for one am paying attention. For transportation to be efficient, it needs to be near densities of population.”

Right, and the best things for making transportation efficient are urban design and rail served by bus circulators, which HART and the County Commission seem not to understand.

Fill out the survey and call the County’s bluff.

Perry Harvey Park, Bro Bowl, and Beyond

Last week we wrote a piece about Perry Harvey Park and the Bro Bowl.   This week there was an interesting report from WTSP regarding the interests of some of the parties involved in the debate and that the get paid some by the City.   We are just going to provide the link to the report and are not going to add anything one way or the other.  It is up to you watch it and to decide what you think about the report.

Of course, at the same time so many were developing plans to honor history at Perry Harvey Park, very little was done to preserve an actual historic building – Jackson House – until now, hopefully.

First, where is Jackson House?  Here. If you zoom out you can see that it is oddly isolated in the “government district” parking lots but not too far from Encore and Perry Harvey Park. And why is it important?

The 112-year-old house, at 851 Zack St., is the last relic of a city street and a community that once bustled with commerce and life. During segregation, it was one of a few establishments where black visitors to Tampa could find lodging.

Entertainers such as Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway and James Brown are among people who stayed there when they performed at venues on Central Avenue.

The house sits today isolated and surrounded by county parking lots. Highway widening projects in the 1970s destroyed much of the Central Avenue district of black-owned businesses, restaurants and night clubs.

In other words, Jackson House is an actual building that is significant to African-American history in Tampa.  It is the last real building from the era to which Perry Harvey Park and Encore are supposed to be paying tribute.

So, what is the problem?

City code enforcement inspectors say the house, a remnant of segregation-era Tampa, is in such disrepair that it might collapse. Last month, city officials gave Robinson 30 days to shore up the structure or face daily fines.

* * *

Robinson said he doesn’t fault the city, which “has been working with me very well.”

Complete repairs to the Jackson House have ranged from just less than $1 million to $1.5 million, based on estimates from Bracken Engineering Inc.

We do not fault the City for pointing out problems with the building – it looks pretty shabby.  On the other hand, how many years have there been problems and what has the City done to remedy them or buy and preserve Jackson House?

At last, someone is trying to do something:

A coalition of civic activists led by Tax Collector Doug Belden and businessman Marvin Knight hopes to restore the historic Jackson House.

* * *

Belden and Knight expect to meet soon with Mayor Bob Buckhorn, code enforcement officials, Robinson and others to explain their intentions and get a campaign rolling to save the Jackson House.

Great. We are happy someone is doing something (And it is amazing how fast people are jumping on the bandwagon; at least that will help get something done.)  We understand that there may not be a fancy ribbon cutting ceremony, but actually preserving Jackson House would be an achievement and a great way to honor African-American history in Tampa.

And Perry Harvey Park should still be fixed up, and the Bro Bowl saved.  We just think it makes more sense to preserve the actual building than just put pictures of it in a museum display. (Or make a picture of a demolished building the County logo.)  That is why if the City really cares about African-American history it will be proactive in helping at Jackson House.

Economic Development – So Who Gets the Cars?

A while back, the Port of Tampa was touted an agreement with a car importation company as part of its growth strategy. There is nothing wrong with that.  This week, the Port was again touting that deal:

The Tampa Port Authority issued a press release Friday touting how one of its officials is speaking at next week’s Automotive Logistics Global Conference in Detroit.

And that is fine, too.  But the timing was a bit odd:

It came a day after a top port executive declined to comment about Port Manatee signing a deal for an auto processing facility.

Yup. Port Manatee is also moving to handle cars.

Port Manatee officials on Thursday will sign a memorandum of understanding with Pasha Automotive Services to explore opening a vehicle processing terminal.

And, really, there is nothing wrong with that, except:

Both ports want to tap Mexico’s fast-growing manufacturing areas served by the port of Veracruz and Altamira.

We are not experts on shipping cars, but the question seems to us to be whether there is enough work for both these facilities to be viable and whether they will hurt each other by competing for the same work.  We do not really care if both ports handle cars.  Frankly, we do not care if one port corners the market as long as it thrives and brings business to the Tampa Bay area, as Port Manatee’s director said:

“The key is to keep this business in Tampa Bay,” Buqueras said. “There is more than enough business for both ports.”

There is one more factor though – why should different parts of the Tampa Bay area keep competing internally (see Clearwater aquarium plans) rather than working together to compete with other areas?  We understand that each port board has a different constituency, but that is part of the problem.  If New York and New Jersey can share a port authority (which includes more than just the port) , it would seem that Hillsborough and Manatee Counties should be able to at least cooperate and coordinate for everyone’s benefit.

One day this area will learn to act like an area.

Abolish the PTC – Cont.

Here we go again.  This week it was a court providing another example of why the PTC should be abolished.

Circuit Judge Steven Scott Stephens found that a private agreement between TransCare Medical Transportation Service and another ambulance company in 1996 to limit TransCare’s business to psychiatric patients did not prevent it from seeking to expand into other areas.

For years, the two other major companies that provide ambulance service in Hillsborough County have used that agreement to block TransCare’s expansion. And as recently as this summer, the Public Transportation Commission, which regulates for-hire vehicles in Hillsborough, has accepted the argument in denying TransCare’s expansion ambitions.

“That would be a tortured and unreasonable construction of the agreement’s language,” said Stephens, who ruled the PTC is not bound by a third-party private contract anyway. The PTC is supposed to simply weigh whether a new provider would promote a “public convenience and necessity.”

But we all know the PTC is not just weighing public convenience and necessity, it is distorting the market and protecting certain constituents.  While we would not be surprised if the ruling were appealed,

The ruling is sure to provide ammunition for detractors of the PTC, which also regulates cabs, limos and tow trucks. Those detractors, including some state legislators looking into whether to modify or disband the agency, say it works to preserve monopolies and thwart free-market competition and entrepreneurship.

Actually, almost everything involving the PTC supports the argument for abolishing it because the PTC serves no useful purpose. Enough already.

Transportation – Gandy, Slowly Moving

This week there was an article in the Tribune of the oft cancelled Gandy Connector, a much needed road that just somehow can never get built because of local (very local) opposition.

After years of contentious debate, forums and petitions, Hillsborough County transportation officials are hearing some positive feedback on the Gandy connector plan.

In a recent survey about the proposal, 54 percent of people responding said they liked the idea of the elevated toll road.

The 1.6-mile roadway would connect the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway to the Gandy Bridge.

Since it first was suggested in the 1990s, the proposed 30-foot-high roadway has been opposed by residents and business owners in the area. The county Metropolitan Planning Organization has shelved the plan more than once because of those objections.

* * *

Most of those responding to the survey indicated they thought the raised roadway looked like a good idea. Forty-six percent of the people indicated it did not.

Most of the people surveyed also said traffic is a problem along Gandy Boulevard and an elevated toll road — rather than widening Gandy or adding a parallel bypass road — is the best way to reduce traffic. Most of the people who voted against the connector said they don’t want any change to Gandy Boulevard.

So maybe some attitudes have changed, but there is a problem:

Only about 10 percent of the people who received the survey responded to its five questions, but Alden said the 888 responses provided more feedback than the MPO would have received at another public forum on the matter.

So the survey can be attacked for not being comprehensive. (Though we are not sure how you make people answer.  If they abstain, they abstain. So be it.) And the people who have spent years making sure that our transportation system is illogical (regardless of the fact that the Gandy connector will likely not mess up their neighborhoods but will provide a needed connection and alleviate traffic on Gandy) are not going to stop.

Al Steenson, president of the Gandy/Sun Bay South Civic Association, said he was disappointed with the survey’s results. He sent emails to other neighborhood associations and printed the survey information to distribute in local businesses, urging people to respond to it.

He called the overall results “very suspect,” and said the rendering of the roadway in the survey was unrealistic. In past surveys, he said, neighbors and business owners consistently have been about 75 percent against the idea.

“We don’t need that thing,” he said.

We are not sure who he means by “we,” but the area definitely needs it.  It makes no sense (and never has) that the Selmon stops at Gandy and Dale Mabry instead of connecting to the bridge (just like it makes no sense that there is not a limited access road with frontage roads on the Pinellas side to I-275). What about all the people who drive on Gandy but do not live within a short distance of the road?  Why don’t they count?

But, never fear, just like connecting the Veterans to I-275 in north Tampa, we are pretty sure the Gandy Connector idea will get killed again and the large number of people who are stuck in traffic on Gandy who do not come from the neighborhood can enjoy their down time looking at all that great streetscaping.

The Heights – Still Moving Forward

The Times had an article on the Heights project in Tampa.  It mostly rehashes information that has been provided before.  A few nuggets of interest (you can read the article here )

The Tampa City Council’s first public hearing on the project is scheduled for 6 p.m. Oct. 24. If it’s approved, the developers plan to kick off the project later this year with the restoration of the historic trolley barn, the cavernous red-brick warehouse with “Tampa Armature Works” painted across its top.

* * *

Plans call for development to take place in three, two-year phases, the first targeted to be finished by the end of 2015, the last by the end of 2019.

We are all for the ideas we read about in the articles on the Heights and think it is an important project.  On the other hand, it would be nice to have more detail about the plans and some renderings. Hopefully, we will get those before the hearing, and they will be more urban that the buildings just to the south which kind of cut off the Heights property from the old North Franklin/Palm area that is just waiting to be redeveloped.

And then there is this:

Just south of the Water Works Building, the city has begun restoring Ulele Spring — Tampa’s original source of drinking water — in Water Works Park, and there’s a lot more work on the way.

The City Council is expected to consider a $6.5 million contract with Biltmore Construction next week to redevelop the park. The spring’s water currently is piped to the river, but the restoration will create a basin that allows water to pool on its way to the river.

The 5-acre park also will get new lights, decorative fences, pavilions with public rest rooms, play areas, public boat slips and a stage for events and performances. As part of the project, the Riverwalk will be extended north to Seventh Avenue and south to Doyle Carlton Drive.

So there is movement, which is good.  We hope the reality finally matches the hype. (Though given the level of hype in the Tampa Bay area, we are not sure if that is possible.). Time will tell.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

The Mayor of Tampa has said essentially that we are not playing second fiddle to Miami anymore regarding Latin America, which is a fine sentiment, if completely inaccurate.  This week, there was an article about the condo boom in Miami. (yes, there is another condo/building boom in Miami.) The Tampa Bay Area is having/will soon have a building boomlet and it is mostly apartments, but Miami is going crazy again.  Interestingly,

Most condominium projects in the works in South Florida are using the Latin American model of taking larger deposits from unit buyers, typically upwards of 50 percent of the purchase price before closing. That has proved to be an attractive low-cost source of funding for condo developers, who are attracting cash-rich foreigners looking to invest in Miami real estate.

Now, do not get us wrong, we would love to have an urban building boom in the Tampa Bay Area, but compared to other metros, despite some progress, we are still behind.  And given the evidence from Miami, it would seem that we are still playing second fiddle.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the MLB

On the other hand, it could be worse.  Despite all the woes with the Rays attendance (which is unlikely to change as long as they play in the Trop), they get decent TV ratings.

The Rays ranked sixth in viewership in a recent survey by Sports Business Daily, Bay News 9 said.

Then again, we could have the Houston Astros.

On Saturday Sept. 14, with a loss against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the Astros set an all-time low for viewership in the Houston area with an average of 915 households.

Just to put that into comparison, according to the Nielsen ratings posted by The Houston Chronicle, the WNBA game on NBA-TV between the Chicago Sky and Minnesota Lynx drew an average of about 1,500 households in the Houston area.

Or how about this:

This past Sunday according to Nielson ratings, the Astros and Indians game drew a rating of 0.0 in the greater Houston area.

ZERO-POINT-ZERO

The Houston Chronicle explains that it doesn’t necessarily mean that there wasn’t one person who tuned in, it just means that not a single, solitary Nielsen household tuned in to watch the Astros.

Yikes.

List of the Week

Our list this week is the Export Nation 2013 (a joint project of the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program and JPMorgan Chase) list of largest exporting metro areas.

First place is Los Angeles, followed by New York, Houston, Chicago, Dallas, Seattle, San Francisco, Detroit, Boston, and San Jose.

The Tampa Bay area is 36th, which is an improvement from last year. On the other hand, the Tampa Bay Area is a top 20 metro area in terms of population and has a major port, so there is work to be done.

Just by way of comparison, here are some other metro areas and their rankings: Miami is 19th and, for metros smaller than us, Charlotte is 28th; Denver is 29th; Austin is 34th; Nashville is 37th; Orlando is 43rd; Jacksonville is 67th

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