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Roundup 10-18-2013

October 18, 2013

Amazon – Time to Hunker Down

As we noted last week, Amazon has decided to build a warehouse/distribution center in Ruskin, which is cool.  Normally, we wouldn’t note it again, but then we saw must be the most hype-tastic comment extolling the virtues (we think) of the Amazon deal:

“This is bigger than landing the Super Bowl, a National Convention or the Olympics,” said Commissioner Sandy Murman, who represents Ruskin. “It’s a mega-storm of growth that’s hitting our county with feeder bands that will create economic growth all over this area.”

Coming after the runaway lawn-mower and brakeless car of Channelside, it really makes one wonder what is going through the heads of local elected leaders when they comment on economic developments.  Setting aside that it simply is not true that a warehouse in Ruskin is going to cause a tropical downpours of money in Tarpon Springs, how exactly was it determined that a “mega-storm” and “feeder bands” were really good illustrations of economic impact in Florida?

The comment was so odd that even the Times had to take note in an editorial that also acknowledged a point we have been making for some time – that the Amazon deal involves a warehouse, not high tech, knowledge based industries:

County commissioners were more overheated than usual in making the announcement, with one hailing the news as a “mega-storm” whose impact was bigger than landing the Olympics. Jobs with decent benefits are welcome, especially in a slow-growing area of the county. The size of the permanent workforce for the Amazon operation should create a churn of dollars to mom-and-pops and chain stores alike across south county. Florida’s strong consumer market and the availability of cheap land could also induce the Internet retailer and other businesses to expand their presence in the region.

But at its heart, the operation is a warehouse. . .

* * *

Ultimately, Amazon decided on Hillsborough because that’s what works for the company. The county did not use its economic development money to diversify the jobs base, to go after agreed-upon targeted industries in life and marine sciences, security or high-tech manufacturing or look to attract new businesses to the already established urban core. Those are the building blocks of economic growth the county is confusing with Amazon. And until commissioners realize the difference, this community will continue to rely on hourly wages that only fuel the same old cycle.

Exactly, and we are happy that this reality is finally being acknowledged.  The first step to achieving a goal (like attracting knowledge based, high paying jobs) is understanding what the end game really is and not settling for less.

The reality is that the Amazon warehouse will provide jobs (though mostly low paying).  It will bring some knock-on impact (hopefully, the port will truly benefit), and we are surely not against it (even if there is a high price – though not much higher than the Estuary/Bass Pro Shops deal), but it is not a “home run” nor should it be the goal of economic development.

The biggest problem is that this torrent of comments reveals the diminished expectations of the elected leaders and economic development officials of this area, which seeps into just about everything done here.  That is the real reason we fall behind.

Transportation – We Were Already Straggling a Decade Ago.

Last week we also discussed transportation, including the transportation summit where politicians from Orlando explained to our local elected leaders just how far behind we are and how to fix it – be regional in planning.  There is really no reason to get into too much detail about that again.  One thing we will note was a column in the Times about the summit and our backward ways, because, while it makes some good points, it is not completely accurate:

Take care, Tampa Bay. This region may soon be branded a straggler, the place that arrived at the station too late to catch the mass transit movement.

Actually, we are already a straggler, as will be clear a little later.  We understand the urge to create unity by cushioning the reality, but the fact is we are way behind. Period.  Without acknowledging that fact, we will continue to fall behind and miss opportunities.

A recent meeting of Tampa Bay business and political leaders at a “regional transportation summit” featured 15 speakers, all with well-intended updates of metrowide transportation projects across the state.

But two concerns emerged from Thursday’s event. First, many area transportation projects were still presented piecemeal, lacking a recipe or chef to pull them all together into one viable mass transit system.

Second, most of the big mass transit strides pitched at the summit are happening elsewhere in Florida. 

In other words, this area is screwing around while others areas are actually building. To be more specific, Hillsborough County and HART are screwing around by fighting regional transportation planning and development.  (Pinellas is trying to move forward.  Even Pasco was waiting on Hillsborough.)  How are we not already stragglers?

“In a number of areas, you still have a long way to go,” U.S. Rep. John Mica told the summit via video. A Republican from the Orlando area and veteran member of the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Mica reminded 200 attendees that Tampa Bay is a rare breed: one of the nation’s two (including Cincinnati) among the top 30 metro areas that still lacks a mass transit system that includes rail.

“The (2010) referendum was lost, but you have to dust yourselves off,” Mica scolded, and try it again.

And the Congressman (notably a Republican) is right on point, except this – Cincinnati is building a core rail system with plans to expand it (as opposed to Tampa’s tourist centric, detached streetcar.)    In other words, we are the last hold out (unless Pinellas passes its referendum; then Hillsborough is the last holdout.).  If that does not make us a straggler, what does?

That’s not all. All Aboard Florida also will connect to local mass transit systems, from Miami’s Metrorail and downtown Metromover, Broward County’s Tri-Rail System, and the soon-to-launch SunRail commuter line serving the Orlando area.

How does this all affect Tampa Bay?

If the next destination is Jacksonville, as some contend, Tampa Bay could be left behind. Tampa Bay business leaders and public officials, notably Hillsborough County Commissioner (and mass transit fan) Mark Sharpe, are in close touch with All Aboard Florida officials to see how Tampa Bay might fit in a statewide rail network.

It does not help that All Aboard Florida wants its network to connect to regional transportation systems — and Tampa Bay mass transit planning is in disarray.

We are thankful local elected officials have finally woken up to this possibility.  Too bad they are decades late in planning and construction of the underlying local transportation system.  While our elected leaders have put off hard decisions, others have not, and we have been left behind.  Once again, we are already stragglers.

Unfortunately, we still have leaders who would ask this:

One skeptic at Thursday’s summit asked, “Why should we pay now for something so far ahead?”

Really?  That was a real question? The simple answer is that you don’t just govern just for now, you govern for the future. (Or else why should we have a decent school system or build roads and highways that take a decade to finish?)  If in the past, elected leaders had governed more for the future, our area and economy would be much more vibrant that it is now, and we would not need a transportation summit – our leaders would be going to transportation summits in other cities.

If the quoted question is indicative of the quality of the leaders at our transportation summit, we can’t be too hopeful about the future.  Thankfully, that was not the only person there.  But the real question is, whether they say anything or not, do our elected leaders and their appointees (especially in Hillsborough) really think differently than that questioner?  Sadly, on the evidence, for many, they do.  (Maybe they will prove us wrong, but, so far, precious few have done so.)

TIA – More Cuba

This week, it was announced that TIA will get another airline flying to Cuba, maybe.

Tampa International Airport will gain a third service providing charter flights to Cuba by year’s end, the president of California-based Cuba Travel Services Inc. said Monday, likely enhancing competition on roundtrip air fares that currently average $400 between Tampa and Havana.

CTS flies between Miami and four airports in Cuba using American Airlines and Sun Country Airlines Boeing 737-800 jet aircraft.

CTS has received permission for the Tampa-Cuba flights from the Cuban government, but its filing with the U.S. Department of Transportation is being held back because of the U.S. government shutdown, CTS president Michael Zuccato said.

And then another

Miami-based Gulfstream Air Charters will use aircraft provided by Lakeland-based SkyKing to fly between Tampa International Airport and Santa Clara, Cuba, Tampa airport spokeswoman Janet Zink said Tuesday. SkyKing flies Boeing 737s.

A Gulfstream official confirmed the service, which will begin Nov. 10.

Gulfstream’s entry into the Tampa-Cuba market, in particular on flights serving Santa Clara, a city in central Cuba with a population of more than 225,000, appears to create intense competition on the route.

Miami-based ABC Charters, one of two charter services operating flights between Tampa and Cuba, plans to launch a weekly Tampa-Santa Clara flight on Dec. 4.

Tampa-based Island Travel & Tours, which flies between Tampa and Havana, has U.S. and Cuban government permission to serve Santa Clara but has not released its plans for that route.

We are all for getting more flights, but we do worry about over-saturating the market.  On the other hand, if that happens there will be some cutbacks in service, which is life.  Whatever the case, we are happy that Tampa is becoming established as a gateway to Cuba.  It is nothing like Miami, but you have to start somewhere, which is more than the last Airport Director or the elected officials who supported him so strongly ever did.

The Port – Things That Makes Us Go “Hmmmm”

This week the Governor proposed giving money to ports, including the Port of Tampa.

Port Canaveral, Port Everglades and the Port of Tampa are in line to receive $35 million next year to expand their facilities through a state program for strategic port investments.

As part of an effort to position the state’s 15 seaports as a single global shipping hub, Gov. Rick Scott announced Wednesday he will recommend that the Legislature allocate the money to the projects. The announcement came during an appearance at the American Association of Port Authorities convention in Orlando.

A little more than $10 million will be used to improve the container yard at the Port of Tampa, which has been trying for years to increase its share of the lucrative shipping container business. The Tampa port moved just 40,000 containers in 2011, compared with Miami’s 900,000 the same year.

Well, that is something, and we all know the Port of Tampa needs to increase its container business, so we are for it.  Let’s review: what is the Port’s strategy?

In 2011 the Port of Tampa handled just 40,000 TEUs — or 20-foot equivalent unit, a common (but inexact) reference for a 20-foot container box. But Miami handled more than 900,000 TEUs that year. Tampa is missing out on the 500,000 containers that move through Central Florida annually, according to Wade Elliott, the Tampa Port Authority’s senior director of marketing.

“We’re hungry to expand and develop our container business,” Elliott said. “We know there’s a sizable business in our own back yard that we could be handling, and MSC can help us serve that.”

The Port Director put it more succinctly:

Anderson said he is talking with Port Manatee about jointly marketing the Tampa Bay region.

“We need to be Orlando’s port and Port Manatee can be part of that,” he said

Ok, Tampa wants to serve as Central Florida’s port, which makes a certain amount of sense as part of strategy.  We can go with that, but maybe we should not put too much faith in that strategy. We ran across another article about the money the Governor is proposing to spend on ports.

Under the governor’s recommendation, Port Canaveral would get $9.7 million toward the second phase of its cargo-terminal development. The project’s goal is to get companies to use the Brevard County port to deliver goods to Central Florida, rather than out-of-state ports farther up the eastern seaboard, said John Walsh, Port Canaveral’s chief executive officer.

So Port Canaveral’s plan is also to be the port for Central Florida, and the Governor wants to give it money, too.  Maybe it is just us, but it sounds like the state is basically funding competition rather than cooperation and coordination between its ports.

Yea, we know ships come from different directions which may favor different ports, but there are already a number of pretty major ports on the east costs of Florida that could handle that trade.  The real question is whether the state’s plan is undermining the goal of Tampa Bay ports becoming Orlando’s port and, if so, what do we do about it – and whether the legislative delegation will take note.

And in the interest of full disclosure, the Times had an article about how the Panama Canal expansion may not big such a big deal for Florida because of geography and shipping costs from the West Coast to the center of the country. To be honest, the discussion in the article sounds reasonable, but we do not know if it is accurate.  What we do know is that, based on how the Port of Tampa is positioned and its business model, it won’t make much difference anyway.

Transportation – Streetcar Money

This week there was a report about the potential to actually raise money by selling ads on the streetcar.

Tampa Historic Streetcar Inc. should focus on expanding advertising revenue and hire an executive director to oversee operations, according to recommendations in a report that three area professionals submitted for certification in a University of South Florida business program.

The revenue-plagued streetcar system could generate as much as $1.4 million in advertising revenue annually, but so far this year has only taken in about $34,000, said Laura Wood Garcia national sales manager for the Tampa Convention Center who worked on the report with Carissa Giblin of Mosaic Co. and Kristin Sites of Catalina Marketing Corp.

We are not going to get into the executive director thing (it is not timely).  As for ads, that is a big difference, but we thought the streetcar already sold ads.

The streetcar sells advertising at its stations and on wraps of the streetcars.

The wraps, however, require expensive handling to apply and remove. Garcia said the group sold one streetcar advertising wrap contract to a client for $3,600 in their pilot project to explore advertising revenue that generated $600 to the streetcar system after expenses were deducted.

Garcia said she sold $19,500 in advertising in a four-hour session by making seven calls, gaining business from two of them.

Huh?  And by “huh” we mean both that the sentence is not particularly clear and that the article seems to say that selling ads for the streetcar is not that hard, especially given how little money they raise from advertising and the chronic financing issues for the streetcar.

In 2012, streetcar operating expenses outpaced revenue by 3 percent, which triggered a service reduction that resulted in a ridership decline.

So what did the Streetcar Board have to say?

Garcia provided the report to the streetcar board Wednesday, which accepted the findings but had no immediate response beyond stating as it has previously it has no money for a director.

May we suggest that the Board examine the report carefully and quickly and get on the ball?  If they can raise significantly more money through ads, do it.

It is just too bad that the streetcar is not part of a comprehensive, real, transportation system.  Maybe someday it will be.

Economic Development – Samba Time

It seems that a trade mission to Brazil is on tap.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn will lead a trade mission to Brazil next week in hopes of bringing business to local companies from the Soutn [sic] American country.

The 47-person delegation includes representatives from a number of local businesses, including fertilizer giant Mosaic Inc. and Omni Controls Inc., which distributes measuring devices.

The trade mission leaves for Sao Paulo on Sunday and returns Oct. 25. It will build on a decade-long relationship between Florida and Brazil that is rooted in tourism, said Rick Homans, president of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp.

Nothing wrong with that, assuming that the trade mission deals with more industries than tourism, which it seems to do. (Nothing wrong with tourism either, but we should be looking for more.)

Buckhorn has spoken repeatedly about his desire to build Tampa’s links to Latin America based largely on its Spanish and Cuban roots.

“We speak a common language,” he said Tuesday.

We are just going to assume that he was speaking about Latin America generally and is aware that they speak Portuguese in Brazil.

Generally, we have no problem with trade missions as long as they are targeted and meaningful.  It would be nice if some Pinellas companies with Brazil links (like this) also went along (there is no indication if they are going or not.) We are pretty sure the Brazilians do not distinguish between Hillsborough and Pinellas and, in terms of economic development (and transportation), neither should we.

Ashley Drive – What Exactly Happened?

We were downtown this week and noticed that the city had gone ahead with making changes to Ashley that involve putting parking spaces on the east side.  When the plan was originally announced, we thought it was ok (not great, but ok), because of this:

Buckhorn said the city will add parking spaces by squeezing the existing lanes, not removing lanes.

Maybe we were naïve (or just reading the English) but that sounded like there would still be three northbound lanes after the changes we made.  Now there are two.  Funny how that works.

East Tampa – a New Park

This week the City announced that there will be a new park in east Tampa.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn unveiled plans today to create a new city park around an East Tampa retention pond.

* * *

A new drainage plan for North 30th Street will send storm runoff into the basin now. On Wednesday, ducks, moor hens and egrets waded among the cattails filling the pond.

This week, city officials will hire a contractor to begin work on an asphalt path and landscaping around the pond.

The $500,000 project should take about six months, Buckhorn said.

From the limited information and the photo in the article, we believe the area is here. This is a good use for the land.  If you are going to have a retention pond (and a big one at that), you may as well make it nice and provide some amenities.  One thing we do wish, looking at the map, is that there was a more complete sidewalk system in the area to get people to the park.  In any event, good idea.

Rays – Same Old

Unfortunately, the Rays season has finished, though at least they made it to the playoffs.  One thing they did manage to do is have the worst attendance in the Major League Baseball again.

The Rays’ average turnout this season, 18,646 fans per night, probably will strengthen their argument that life at Tropicana Field is unsustainable and that they should be allowed to look around the region for a new ballpark. For now, no one expects any movement on the issue until St. Petersburg elects its next mayor on Nov. 5.

By way of comparison, the Lightning averaged 19,055 in 2012-13 and started this year averaging 18,151 (though we admit it is a small sample of games).    But, of course, nothing is happening regarding the stadium.

Oh, Where, Oh, Where Has Our Infrastructure Gone?

There was an interesting article in the Orlando Sentinel about a meeting that will take place in Tampa next week.

Florida home builders are preparing to put together their wish list for the next legislative session, which begins in March.

Three issues that will likely be discussed at Florida Home Builders Association meetings in Tampa next week include: lowering workers’ compensation rates, reducing changes to building codes and reducing local government demands on developers.

* * *

As for code changes, the state regularly updates the Florida building code so that it reflects the International Building Code. Buck said many of updates don’t affect the building structure and only add time and expense to the construction process.

“Our guys are so tired of those changes that you could entertain leaving Florida building codes in place — don’t modify them to reflect the international code,” Buck said.

Another legislative proposal that comes up regularly is the amount of concessions local governments request from developers when considering their projects, Buck said. He cited examples such as additional monetary contributions or land.

The group’s overall priorities will be determined based on input from local builder associations.

It is not surprising that home builders want to build as many homes as they can for the least amount possible. That is their business.  However, the people who are left to live with the development and poor infrastructure might view things differently.  Unfortunately, in Hillsborough County Commission the policy has been mostly build now, talk about how great it is, and worry about infrastructure later, which has left the infrastructure woefully underfunded and overburdened.  Guess who gets to pay for that?

List of the Week I

Our first list this week is of the Top Public Universities, per US News and World Report.

The top public university is Cal-Berkeley, followed by UCLA, UVa, Michigan, North Carolina, William and Mary, Georgia Tech, Penn State, University of California – Davis, and University of California – San Diego.  The University of Florida is 14, Florida State is 40, USF is 94 (tied with UCF) and just behind Virginia Commonwealth and the University of Maine.  We do not think they listed Florida Polytechnic.

List of the Week II

Our second list this week is Livability.com’s most livable cities (and when they say cities they seem to really mean cities, not areas).   You can check the criteria on the list page; just click on a category.

Coming in at number one was Palo Alto, followed by Boulder, Berkeley (CA), Durham, Miami Beach, Rochester (MN), Salt Lake City, Eugene (OR), Reno, and Rockville (MD).  Tampa came in a surprising 19th.  St. Petersburg came in 59th.

Tampa beat St. Pete in a number of categories, but the big one is demographics, which really amounts to diversity. Other categories where Tampa did well were healthcare, amenities, and infrastructure, which is odd because in the interview of the Mayor of Tampa done by Livability.com and linked in the description of infrastructure criteria there is the clear indication that the infrastructure needs work and the city is too car-centric.   Maybe the score was aspirational.

And there is this regarding livability.  In the interview with the Mayor, he touted the program where information about local hotspots was collected using Foursquare:

From 30,000 feet, I was able to look at the heat maps and say ‘this is where people are congregating or this is where they’re tweeting from,’ and that gives me a better feel for where the demand might occur down the road. You look at development patterns – what would be an appropriate use in that vicinity? Is it commercial? Is it retail? Is it residential?

Those best and brightest, that “Creative Class” that cities are trying to attract, that for me is a good barometer of how hip your city is and where the cool places are and where those young people are migrating to.

For the sake of argument, we will accept that.  This hotspot map was included in the interview:

From Livability.com – click on picture for article

If you look at it, you will see that downtown and what appears to be Ybor are hotspots, but there is a hotspot in Westshore and an elongated hotspot running along Dale Mabry in South Tampa and resuming in Carrollwood.  If he is really looking at map, why is the City allowing such poorly designed projects all along Dale Mabry (other than the LA Fitness) and in Westshore (can anything new actually face the main street?) and doing nothing reduce car-centric planning and make those areas truly more livable?

In any event, it is nice to be relatively high on a list.  It will be an achievement when it stops being an outlier and becomes the norm.

One Comment leave one →
  1. October 18, 2013 10:34 AM

    With all the highway construction going on in Hillsborough County currently – the Veterans, 275 – why isn’t a bus express lane or some rail service being added?

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