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Roundup 10-4-2013

October 4, 2013

Transportation – What Should Be On That Confounded Bridge, Cont.

Next week there will be two public hearings regarding the future of the Howard Frankland Bridge.

Public hearings on a proposed replacement of the northbound Howard Frankland Bridge are slated for next week in St. Petersburg and Tampa.

The sessions are scheduled for Tuesday at the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, 3201 Scherer Drive, St. Petersburg, and Thursday at the Tampa Marriott Westshore, 1001 N. West Shore Blvd., Tampa.

On both nights, an open house begins at 5 p.m., with a formal presentations [sic] at 6 p.m.

Information from will be presented and public input will be accepted regarding the replacement, according to the Florida Department of Transportation.

Recent studies, documents and maps will be available for review, and FDOT representatives will be available prior to and following the formal portions.

What exactly will be discussed?

The four-lane span of northbound Interstate 275 actually runs east from Pinellas County to Hillsborough County. The bridge over Old Tampa Bay, which opened to traffic in 1959, is nearing the end of its serviceable life, and FDOT has determined it would be more efficient to replace it than maintain it.

Planners are studying three types of structures with expected completion between 2020 and 2025 and the costs depending on what kind of transit corridors might be included.

The price to replace just four lanes of roadway will be about $367 million, FDOT said. That does not include relieving the traffic bottleneck at the Tampa International Airport/Memorial Highway interchange.

If the project adds two express lanes in each direction to accommodate bus rapid transit and cars paying tolls to avoid the free, congested lanes, the cost would increase by $339 million to $706 million.

And if the new bridge were built to accommodate a transit exclusive guideway — a corridor for either light rail or bus — the cost would increase by $989 million to $1.36 billion. That price would include additional work in both Hillsborough and Pinellas to accommodate an enhanced transit system and link with new transit terminals.

A separate Regional Transit Corridor Evaluation is under way to evaluate premium transit alternatives.

Clearly, we should build a bridge that can serve for the foreseeable future, including transit exclusive areas. (See Transportation – What Should Be On That Confounded Bridge?) There is on catch.

State and federal money would be used for the new span if the bridge is replaced with one the same as today’s, but if other features are incorporated, FDOT could ask local entities to come to the table, District 7 spokeswoman Kris Carson said over the summer.

Apparently, if we want transit, FDOT does not really want to help, though the state was happy to toss hundreds of millions of dollars to help with SunRail in Orlando in addition to all the road construction. (Where is our legislative delegation?)

Regardless, you can find the FDOT information here.   The website is kind of dense and oddly laid out, but we did notice this odd entry in the transit goals which makes us wonder:

Objectives:

    Create linkage to allow direct (non-transfer) transit movements from St. Petersburg/Clearwater area (proposed Gateway station) to and through Tampa’s Central Business District (proposed Westshore station) and vice versa

So FDOT wants the transfer center in Westshore, but is that the Central Business District?  Sure, it is a major business district but it is not the “Central Business District.” If the goal was to get to the Central Business District, the Westshore station will not do it.  (We are curious who decided to designate Westshore the CBD.)

In any event, FDOT needs to hear from you. Either head to the meetings or can send comments here. Our recommendation is to build the full transit ready bridge now.

Transportation – Gandy, Just Sitting

Last week we wrote about what may be renewed support for the Gandy Connector, though we figured it still would go nowhere.  This week that was confirmed.

“It seems to me that the best thing to do right now is nothing,” said Tampa City Councilman Harry Cohen, who represents South Tampa.

At Tuesday’s meeting, committee members stressed they only were seeking an update on the matter.

Cohen said there is no funding or plan to move forward with the connector. The committee just wanted to study whether the idea should remain on the MPO’s “wishful thinking,” long-term priority list, he said.

“It’s going to be a long time before there’s any money for this discussion,” Cohen said, adding that he doesn’t want people to worry about the issue right now.

That’s right.  Let’s do nothing because there is no money, even though it will be a toll road that will have money to repay the cost of building it, not to mention the fact that if it is never planned it can never be funded.  Anyway,

County Commissioner Sandy Murman said no matter what the organization decides to do with the connector plan in the future, the board needs to work closely with nearby residents and business owners to develop a plan which satisfies all parties involved.

“If we truly wanted something to work,” she said, “we have to engage them completely.”

Sure, everyone should be considered.  However, what about the people now who are not happy with what they have to deal with on Gandy?  Who is taking what they think into consideration?  Why are they ignored?

Transportation – Meanwhile in the Rest of Florida the Train is Leaving the Station

Meanwhile in the rest of Florida, intercity rail is moving forward:

People who now drive from Central to South Florida could within two years hop on a train for a three-hour trip instead, thanks to deals being reached this week.

* * *

Owned by Florida East Coast Industries of Coral Gables, All Aboard Florida is planning depots at Orlando International Airport, West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami. The trains would run on a 230-mile route.

* * *

Construction could start next year on the privately financed, $1.5 billion project because the agreements provide a place for the train at OIA, as well as right of way along the BeachLine Expressway for tracks to the airport.

A sister company of All Aboard Florida, Florida East Coast Railway, already owns about 200 miles of track from Miami to Cocoa.

And in the Tampa Bay area, someone is finally a discussing this issue.

But recently, Tampa Bay area business and elected officials report hearing some disconcerting buzz .

While plans for the new Miami-Orlando trains are on target to begin service in late 2015, local officials worry a second phase of the project could bypass Tampa for an Orlando-Jacksonville route.

If All Aboard Florida ultimately reaches Tampa, it would strengthen Interstate 4 corridor ties, but a competitive factor is involved as well. The new passenger railroad is providing a boost to Orlando International Airport, which will become the state’s first airport with a train station and a direct rail connection, in an agreement signed Wednesday.

The concern over falling behind with All Aboard Florida has created a sense of urgency among local invitees to a regional transportation summit scheduled Thursday in Tampa.

It is about time, though we have no idea why people waited until there was discussion of Jacksonville.  And, as far as the article goes, it is only one County Commissioner who has shown any concern.

“I’ve heard about Jacksonville from many different sources, one of the latest during talks at a (local) transportation subcommittee meeting,” said Sharpe, a former U.S. Navy intelligence officer.

“I was on a call last week where it was becoming clear we would not be next for All Aboard Florida …if only through the grapevine.”

Sharpe said Florida East Coast Industries, which created All Aboard Florida, has not told him anything regarding its plans beyond Miami and Orlando and expects it won’t until it’s ready to make a decision.

Good for him for at least bringing it up. (Where are the other Commissioners and the Mayor of Tampa?).  Of course, there is another problem.

U.S. Rep. John Mica said Thursday Tampa could have the upper hand in an extension of All Aboard Florida — if the area overcomes longstanding shortfalls in transit service.

“The first thing is to assist the private sector in making certain the Orlando-Miami train is a success,” said Mica, the influential Republican from Winter Park who’s held leadership roles with Congressional transportation committees and through the years has encouraged Tampa Bay to adopt progressive transportation plans.

“I think Tampa has a leg up given ridership serving Orlando will be off the charts. If I were an investor, I would definitely look to connecting with Tampa,” he said. “But that will depend on Tampa’s ability to get its act together. You can’t just dump passengers in downtown Tampa.”

Exactly.  Just like success can feed success, failure can feed failure.  Hillsborough County’s abject failure to properly build transportation infrastructure just feeds more failure.  It better get on the ball and develop a proper infrastructure – for real, not just talk – or, as we keep saying and the Congressman confirms, it risks being left further behind.

Economic Development – Too Much of Incubating?

There was an interesting article in the Times this week about local business incubators. Incubators are all the rage, but the article asked an interesting question: are there too many?

“Every city council member in every town wants an incubator now that startups like Facebook glamorized entrepreneurship,” says Tonya Elmore, who heads the Tampa Bay Innovation Center in Largo. The incubator veteran is a major player behind recent plans to establish new incubators in both downtown Tampa and St. Petersburg, and in Clearwater.

At least nine incubators — places where entrepreneurs can go to find free or affordable workspace, startup expertise, peer support and sometimes even funding — now populate the greater Tampa Bay market.

* * *

Five more are proposed, with a majority likely to open within the next year. Three others that once operated — or at least tried to open their doors here — are gone.

This year’s burst of incubators and related startup services known as accelerators raised enough concerns to spur a series of regional meetings. These so-called “Tampa Bay entrepreneurship community powwows” draw incubator leaders together to share agendas and ideas, avoid duplication of effort and inefficiencies, and also monitor quality control.

The powwows also touch on a more sensitive topic: Would Tampa Bay benefit from more coordination among or even a formal network of incubators? The third powwow will be held Nov. 8.

That is a very good question.  In an area that seems to compete with itself more than it competes with other areas, is the whole incubator process being weakened by balkanization?  We tend to think it is.  For instance, a recent article in the Miami Herald on Miami’s incubators and growing its tech industry made their efforts seem much more focused.  (If you notice, in Miami there is an overarching foundation helping to drive the process.)

Of course, it is not necessarily the actual number of projects that can be the issue.  If the programs are coordinated, specialized, and work together, they can be productive.

Wendy Plant heads the biotech-focused Tampa Bay Technology Incubator on the Tampa campus of the University of South Florida. She points to the Orlando area, where nearly a dozen incubators fall under an umbrella network managed by the University of Central Florida. It is an example of a more centralized strategy for encouraging regional business startups.  

On the other hand, if it is every city, county, and institution for itself, there is a major risk of spreading resources, ideas, guidance, too thin and missing opportunities for crosspollination. (And because many of these programs get local government funding, that is a very major risk.) For instance,

Many area incubators boast specific missions.

For example, both the planned incubators for downtown St. Petersburg and Tampa will focus on innovative health care startups while working closely with each city’s cluster of hospitals and nearby University of South Florida campuses. 

It is not entirely clear from the article, but it sure sounds like the two programs are completely separate. While we understand that it may be convenient to have programs in both cities, it also makes sense for the programs to be at least coordinated, if not just two parts of the same program, to share ideas, information, coordination, and efficiency.  It will only help budding companies to have doors opened in both cities. (The only people who do not benefit are politicians who only care about their jurisdictions.)

In the end, it is hard to fully answer the question of whether there are too many incubators.  However, like we said, the whole area, including the businesses themselves, would be far better served by having the programs coordinated, if not merged, giving more access, cooperation, and communication across the bay.  In this case, as in so many others, regional is better.  The last things our budding entrepreneurs should be taught is to emulate the local, fractured political culture.

Built Environment – At Least Someone Is Thinking About It

We have written over and over about the failure of Hillsborough County, and even Tampa, do work to create a more attractive built environment which will attract young professionals and knowledge based industries as well as help with transportation issues – in other words, the failure to properly plan for the future and help set us up to compete with other areas that are far ahead of us.  Sure, some people speak generally and a few baby steps are sometimes taken, especially in Tampa, but the effort is slow and uneven at best. (Change the code, anyone?)  Well, this week, the Times had an article that shows that some people are thinking about it, unfortunately, they are not in Hillsborough County.

Why do developers keep building the same big-box stores with huge parking lots in Pasco while putting up nicer ones in other communities?

Because they can, county planners say.

“There are two answers we hear over and over again,” senior planner Richard Dutter said. “One, (Pasco officials) ‘do not expect it’ and two, ‘they do not require it.’ This has been going on for 30 years, and I think it’s time we change.”

Pretty much – if the government does not care, why should the developers?  (And even worse, in Hillsborough County, the County government subsidies those developments.)

County staff took a first step toward that change at a workshop Tuesday. Under the watchful eye of land-use attorneys, they presented a plan to county commissioners that showed how to make the most of the county’s most densely populated areas, the State Road 54/56 and U.S. 19 corridors.

Both are the county’s top areas for urban development and mass transit. Planning and Development director Richard Gehring recommends concentrating development in those areas to prevent sprawl.

The populations in those areas are expected to soar over the next several decades. With that comes the need to maximize space for businesses, decrease dependency on auto travel and create walkable areas for people to live, work, shop and play.

It’s a future that also includes higher-rise buildings.

But that comes later, Gehring said. The key now is getting the framework in place so that areas can evolve, “so you don’t have to rip the whole thing out and start over.”

Exactly, change the code, stop settling, and the proper development will come. Of course, old interests do not just go away.

A few land-use attorneys expressed concern about rules applying to current projects or those soon to be in the works.

“We’re worried this might cause a chilling effect on development we all so want in the urban service areas,” attorney Clarke Hobby said. “We don’t want to kill the goose that lays the golden egg.”

If by “golden egg” he means profits for a select group of land use attorneys, developers, and land owners, then maybe some people will have to adjust, though having good planning very likely will bring more development and value, not less. On the other hand if by “golden egg” he means the low wage jobs, poor transportation infrastructure that the government cannot afford, lower property values, pollution, destruction of the natural environment and agriculture, etc., that unfettered sprawl saddles this area with, maybe we need a better egg, especially when the taxpayers are hit with the cost of fixing what the government messed up and from which the developers profited. That is the cost of the sprawl-based economic model. In any event,

Gehring reassured everyone that stakeholders would be included in drawing up the rules.

“We want a lot of players at many different levels and want them to get together and succeed,” he said. “We see this as a big cookie jar with lots of cookies and a big opening.”

Right.  This is all in public.  The question is whether Pasco County politicians have the fortitude to move into the future or, whether, like their counterparts in Hillsborough, they are wedded to a flawed model from the past. (And, of course, why is Hillsborough so far behind?)

Downtown Tampa – Ready for Primetime?

This week, the Tribune reported that there may be new life for the Kress Block from an unexpected source.

By this time next year, much of the treasured-yet-empty Kress department store building downtown Tampa may be transformed into a multimillion-dollar television studio and headquarters for the operations of CNN Latino across the eastern United States.

Engineers are working on design plans for the space that will be designated for high-end TV studios and administration, and the owners of the CNN Latino affiliate station here in Tampa say they have a big advantage: Their partners already own it.

A cooperative project with CNN, the CNN Latino station has a news and information focus, but also is looking to develop hundreds of hours of original programming, said Sari Famiglietti, the marketing director and oftentimes chief negotiator for CNN Latino in talks with pay TV providers such as Verizon and Bright House Networks.

* * *

Though often confused, CNN Latino is not “CNN Espanol”; the two have different charters. CNN Espanol is the CNN-produced international news channel that has a global focus and is distributed to cities around the world. CNN Latino has an American focus and targets Spanish-speaking communities in the United States with residents who may have come from countries such as Cuba, Mexico and South America.

Ok, that was completely unexpected.  We have no idea how far along the concept is or whether it will succeed.  On the other hand, this is exactly the kind of thing that would really alter the landscape in downtown Tampa, and the area generally.  It would also be a real step toward moving Tampa more squarely in the Latino/Latin American conversation. And it would be nice to bring life to the Kress block again with something other than bank or law firms, as nice as those are.  So who is behind this idea?

The project comes by way of a unique partnership. On one side is the U.S.-based Isaias family originally from Ecuador, a major player in investments, banking and broadcasting. The family — who relocated to Florida amid questions about their finance and tax payments — recently acquired the rights to the CNN Latino brand in the eastern United States.

On the other side is Tampa-based Marlen Abrahantes, who has long been involved in Spanish-language television. The two groups formed TMA-TIG, which already has established some operations in Tampa, Orlando and Miami, and employs about 25 people in Tampa.

Well, those questions are a bit of an issue, but given that we do not know all the details of the questions or the project we are happy to just be happy the idea if floating around for now.  Time will tell.

TIA – More Cuba

There was news this week that there will be another Cuban destination served from Tampa.

ABC Charters is adding Santa Clara, Cuba, as a destination for its flights from Tampa International Airport.

The nonstop service begins on Dec. 4.

The new service makes TIA the only U.S. airport besides Miami to have a direct link to three Cuban cities, according to a written statement.

ABC already provides service to Holguin and Havana. The Miami-based charter service also plans to add another weekly flight to Havana, starting on Nov. 5.

* * *

Island Travel & Tours, the only other Cuba charter service at TIA, plans to add another weekly flight to Havana on Nov. 1. The company currently offers a flight to Havana on Wednesday and two on Sunday.

Great.  And we appreciate the ubiquitous web ads for the Copa flight.  We look forward to hearing about more international flights.

Downtown – Skypoint v the Straz Tower

In one of the sillier events this week, a resident of Skypoint has sued the City for approving the apartment project next to the Straz.

The owner of a 15th-floor Skypoint condominium is suing the city of Tampa to try to block a high-rise apartment tower planned near the Riverwalk.

John P. Baker contends that the 36-story Residences at the Riverwalk would block the “sweeping views of the Hillsborough River” from a condo he paid $255,000 for last year.

Baker’s condominium is within 600 feet of the site of the new 400-foot-tall tower, according to his lawsuit, filed this month in Hillsborough Circuit Court.

So he bought a condo downtown, and his view might not be permanent.  That hardly seems a basis for a lawsuit; it sounds more like life in an urban environment (not to mention that there is buffer of the park and museums to leave much of his view in tact).  Is there anything more reasonable in the suit?

The suit also contends that the new tower is inconsistent with Tampa’s comprehensive plan. Among other things, the suit said a residential project is incompatible with the rest of the city’s arts and cultural district, the high-rise will tower over surrounding buildings, the project will be built on open space near the river that the plan says should be saved, and the development will disrupt the downtown street grid.

No, not really.

Tampa Bay History Museum – The Good and the Bad

The Tampa Bay History Museum has a new map exhibit that is excellent:

So we look with wonder at the intrepid men (because they were all men) who, centuries ago, sallied forth across an immense ocean, unsure of what awaited them or when they would find out. And we can look with wonder at their ambitions, successes and follies, because they were charted by cartographers who mapped what the explorers reported they were seeing.

* * *

This [is] such an intelligent and interesting show. You can spend hours, as I did, eyeing the details, reading the wall text and making comparisons. Or be less intense, just enjoying the aesthetic variety of them. There are also rare objects, such as globes and a copper engraved plat with the resultant map, which have amazing histories. Curator Rodney Kite-Powell said he and others had been thinking about this exhibition since the center opened in 2009 but had been actively working on it for two years. It shows.

Like we said, it is a great exhibit.  There is just one problem: there is no catalog/book of the exhibit, something that almost every serious exhibit in a museum has. (Why?  Apparently, it took too much work.) This is the kind of exhibit that would have been a great opportunity to team up with USF and produce an excellent catalog that would become a main historical resource and a great source of promotion for the museum and the area. We loved the exhibit, but it is a shame that the job was not finished.  It is hard to believe that a major museum in another major metro would fail to provide a catalog.  Just another opportunity missed for the institution and the area.  While the exhibit is great, we can do even better.

Transportation – A Conservative View

Because the Tea Party hates rail – and most other transit, it is commonly thought that such opposition is THE conservative position.  However, that is not true – it is the Tea Party position.  Like most issues, there are a number of positions.  We found a website from The American Conservative devoted to Conservative arguments for transit.  You can find it here.

There are numerous articles and reports, such as The Small-Minded Anti-Streetcar Conspiracy.  In any event, we are not going to go through the entire website here.  It is worth looking at to see how “conservative” anti-transit activist are not necessarily conservative at all.

One group that definitely should look at it is the County Commissioners who are so scared of making the argument for transit.

List of the Week I

Our first list of the week is Forbes’ list of the Best States for Business.

Coming in first is Virginia, followed by North Dakota, Utah, North Carolina, Colorado, Nebraska, Texas, Minnesota, Washington, and Georgia.  (Interestingly, while most of the states are generally thought of as conservative, all but two have invested in rail transit in major metropolitan areas.) Somehow Florida did not make it.

List of the Week II

Our second list of the week is the Most Popular NFL Jerseys at the annual NFL game in London

First is the Patriots, followed by the Packers, Giants, Dolphins, Redskins, Bears, Cowboys, 49ers, Colts, and Bucs.

Interesting.  As is this.

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