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Roundup 10-31-2013

October 31, 2013

Due to unforeseen circumstances, this week Tampasphere is posted a day early.

Bro Bowl – It Is Historic, Too

This week the Bro Bowl was designated as historic.

To the delight of skateboarders trying to save it, and the chagrin of city officials planning to honor black history there instead, Tampa’s Bro Bowl is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

The designation from the National Park Service comes amid debate over the future of Perry Harvey Sr. Park — home to the iconic skateboard bowl, but also part of the city’s vision for redeveloping the Central Avenue area and honoring its rich history.

So what does that mean?

Because federal money will help pay for the park’s redevelopment, officials are required to devise a plan to avoid, minimize or mitigate the impact on the bowl. That could range from putting a plaque on the site to documenting its significance to incorporating pieces of the bowl in the new skate park.

Our guess is that the City will go with the plaque (though that does not really honor the Bro Bowl), but maybe it will actually work a compromise (you can see our suggestion here) which is the obvious route.  On the other hand, we doubt the obvious and relatively easy route will be chosen given this:

“It’s not historical, and it’s marginally significant,” Buckhorn said Tuesday of the 35-year-old graffiti-splotched concrete bowl.

* * *

“I want to get bulldozers out there and I want to get this park built,” Buckhorn said. The Bro Bowl “may be significant to a very minute percentage of the population,” but alongside “the history of the African-American community in Tampa and Central Avenue, it absolutely pales in comparison.”

* * *

The new Perry Harvey Park will have statues, a history walk and displays on different aspects of life on Central Avenue. And the skate bowl, now at the center of the park and thus in the way of the memorials, will be moved to the northern end of the park.

“A win-win for everybody,” Buckhorn said. “I just don’t understand how you can look at those two historical perspectives and somehow come to the conclusion that they are comparable or equal or deserving of the same level of attention.”

Skateboarders had pushed for the designation in hopes of saving the bowl. Still, at this point, Buckhorn said, the federal decision to put it on the National Register of Historic Places “seems to be more of a meaningless designation.”

First, moving the skate park is apparently not a “win” for the people who want to save the Bro Bowl. It would be one thing if the City had to choose between the histories, but, as we have explained previously, it doesn’t.  It is not clear why the City won’t slightly alter the plans for the park to preserve and honor all the history rather than divisively picking one history over the other.  The reality is that this does not have to be a controversy at all; the City is making it one.

We agree with this from one of the Perry Harvey renovation advocates who admits he does not like the historic designation of the Bro Bowl:

“This thing has dragged on now for four months,” he said. “It’s time to put it to bed and move forward, and build something everybody can be proud of here in Tampa.”

There is an easy compromise that honors every interest ready to be done.  Just do it.

Transportation – Pinellas

The Times conducted a poll that found that there is support for the Pinellas transportation referendum.

By a clear majority, likely voters who participated in a new poll sponsored by the Tampa Bay Times, Bay News 9 and WUSF Public Media said that they would support a 1-cent sales tax increase to build a light rail system and expand bus service across Pinellas County. Of the 809 people surveyed, 56 percent said they favored the proposal, 36 percent were opposed and another 8 percent declined to answer or were unsure. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

It is way too early to put much faith into such polls (if we can put any faith in such polls after the Hillsborough referendum).  The report also talks about the language the Pinellas County Commission is considering for the referendum.  It will be interesting to watch developments.

Transportation – The PTC

Our position on the Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission is well-known.  Well, step one:

State Rep. Jamie Grant of Tampa and Sen. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, both Republicans, said in a news release today that the agency is a barrier to competition and innovation in public transportation.

“The Public Transportation Commission has evolved from an agency designed to preserve public safety into an agency that is preventing competition in the market and restricting consumer choice,” Grant said.

If the Legislature passes the bill and the governor signs it, Hillsborough voters will get the final say on the agency’s future in a referendum.

Step two is pass the law, then we can deal with step three.  We are happy they introduced the bill though we are unclear why there is not just a bill to abolish the PTC outright.

Built Environment – Westshore, With Walls

There was an article in the Tribune this week about a deal to redevelop the Without Walls Church land in Westshore falling apart.   We are not concerned with the specifics of the deal.  (If you want to learn about it, you can read the article.)  The more interesting part was one thing at the end of the article where it discusses Westshore’s success.  The Director for the Westshore Alliance comments on the Without Walls property:

“In the scheme of things for the district of West Shore, it’s not a major issue” if this sale doesn’t go through, Rotella said. “If it becomes available, clear of litigation, it will be developed by someone.”

Exactly, and the same could be said about most lots in the Westshore area.  The area is central to the Tampa Bay area and in great demand, which is why it is a mystery why the City does not get on the ball and set out requirements to make it more walkable, urban, and vibrant.  Even with such requirements, Westshore will get developed, just better than has been done in the past or the present (See southwest corner of Westshore and Boy Scout and the new buildings with blank walls and fake windows facing the street).

There is absolutely no need to settle.

Built Environment – The Clearwater Beach Example

The Times had an article detailing multiple plans for hotels on Clearwater Beach.

Years of stagnation on one of Florida’s best-known beaches is [sic] over. Clearwater Beach is leading Pinellas County’s beach hotel renaissance with some 2,000 rooms proposed, cheering tourism officials eager for more beds and city leaders hopeful for revenue.

Builders have lined up to pore over paperwork with city planners. At marathon City Council meetings, lawyers and architects have cooled their heels for hours until they could make their pitches.

Time will tell if it’s a speculative bubble or a real hotel boom, but some hotels are already starting construction.

We have no problem with that, assuming they are well designed and add to the vitality of the beach.  More interestingly, the article had this:

“I’m just concerned,” said St. Petersburg developer J. Michael Cheezem, who developed the ritzy Sandpearl resort and high-end Belle Harbor condominiums on the beach. “Maybe they’ve gone a little overboard.”

Cheezem protested when the City Council recently approved a 202-room hotel, “the Views” by Enchantment LLC that got 92 units from the reserve. Cheezem said it would crowd his 4-acre property next door, where he and international hotel developer Ocean Properties plan to build Marquesas, an eight- to 10-story hotel plus a condo tower.

He added that shoulder-to-shoulder hotel towers that eliminate views of the gulf and force pedestrians to wander a retail desert along S Gulfview Boulevard could be the beach’s future if the City Council doesn’t “put down some guidelines.”

* * *

Mayor George Cretekos worries about an overdeveloped beach beset by clogged traffic and irritable tourists.

“Even if we’ve got the best beach, even if we have the best sunset, if you can’t get there, you’re not going to be able to enjoy it,” he said.

Beach residents sing the same song.

“We want to enjoy the views and not have wall-to-wall projects. We already have traffic problems in peak season,” said Wendy Hutkin, president of the Clearwater Beach Association.

Right now, there is no consensus on the council about how to proceed. That has prompted many developers to rush their project proposals to the council before it decides to tweak Beach By Design.

That is true.  Walling off the beach and the views would be bad. On the other hand, without getting into all the details, Beach By Design has a multitude of various height limits. f (The highest we could find was 150 feet – about 15 floors for a hotel). The odd thing about height limits is they are generally counterproductive because they force developers to build squatter, wider buildings (and in terms of condos, more expensive) to get value out of their property.  In other words, height limits promote the very walling off of views about which people are worried.  Moreover, they cause units/buildings to be more expensive because they artificially limit supply.

In other words, the plan is the problem.  If you want to preserve views, you should allow taller, narrower buildings.

The same thing is true for downtown Tampa – scale is not all about height. (see apartment building next to the Straz)  If present residents want to preserve views, they should advocate taller, narrower neighbors, not building nothing, which is unlikely to become the City’s policy.  The City’s policy cannot be stagnation, but it should be good design.

That is rational planning that accommodates all interests.

Hillsborough County – Watching the Money

There was an article this week that really caught our attention in terms of the Hillsborough County government involving housing the homeless.

Hillsborough County has paid millions of dollars to house homeless people, including veterans, the mentally ill and families with small children, in filthy, crime-ridden slums across the city, a Tampa Bay Times investigation has found.

* * *

As part of a county program founded in 1989, officials have paid private landlords hundreds of thousands of dollars a year while taking virtually no steps to ensure the rooms provided were safe.

That the county was paying for dangerous housing first came to light last month, when the Times reported that William “Hoe” Brown, the politically connected former chairman of the Tampa Port Authority, had collected more than $600,000 to house the poor in squalid complexes, including an illegal, makeshift trailer park behind his Tampa office.

In response, county leaders fired Sam Walthour, the program’s top administrator and last week recommended shutting down Homeless Recovery and outsourcing its programs to local nonprofits.

The county also ordered an in-house audit of the program and sent code enforcement officers to inspect hundreds of buildings that house the homeless on the taxpayer dime.

You may remember:

That the county was paying for dangerous housing first came to light last month, when the Times reported that William “Hoe” Brown, the politically connected former chairman of the Tampa Port Authority, had collected more than $600,000 to house the poor in squalid complexes, including an illegal, makeshift trailer park behind his Tampa office.

The County’s failures in that case alone were “WTF” worthy. But now, it seems, there was oh so much more.

It is good that the County is now addressing this issue (It will be interesting to see how, exactly), but this has gone on for five years.  How did no one notice?  The answer from the article is this:

From the start, the county’s Homeless Recovery program had no policies requiring homes to meet standards.

As a result, the county never made a practice of reviewing police reports or health and safety records before cutting checks.

Huh? No oversight? And people did complain, but, apparently, just doing the right thing is not enough; you need the pressure of media scrutiny to get the County to act.

We have nothing against trying to find housing for the homeless and people in need (in fact, we favor it.).  We also understand that some of that housing may not be the nicest, but it should fit minimal requirements for housing, not this:

A quarter of the $4.3 million the county spent in the past five years has gone to landlords whose buildings are hotbeds of crime and drug use, or whose properties repeatedly failed basic health and safety inspections.

That is not fiscally (or morally/ethically) responsible.

(Strangely, the article did not have a hype-tastic quote from elected officials. In fact, it had no elected official quotes at all.)

Rays – Still Mysterious

We all know that the Mayor of St. Pete is very stubborn about the Rays.  What do the people of St. Pete think?

Among the 809 respondents, 48 percent were open to letting the Rays explore new stadium options all over the Tampa Bay area, with 39 percent opposed, while 13 percent were unsure or did not answer. The margin of error was 3.4 percent.

People did not see stadium negotiations as the city’s single most pressing issue. Building a new pier, public safety and Midtown redevelopment came first. But the poll does show that the electorate is keeping pace with city administrators as they evolve into a more nuanced position on the stadium.

* * *

In the poll, 38 percent of respondents would let the team look in Hillsborough — but only after the Rays and city negotiate some financial compensation. Ten percent of respondents would allow a Hillsborough search without preconditions.

Almost 4 in 10 said the Rays should stay at the Trop, period. African-American residents, in particular, felt this way, opposing any Tampa forays 52-35 percent.

So opinion is split (though the Mayor’s stubbornness was a distinctly minority opinion.  What he really thinks now is unknown.). But people want the Rays to give something in return for looking in Tampa.  So where does that stand?

But earlier this year, Foster quietly began negotiating a legal and financial framework that would allow the team to start looking across the bay. Those talks fell apart in September, with Foster saying that the Rays were offering no financial compensation for breaking their contract — “nothing but a thank-you note.”

The Rays have declined to comment, but Rick Kriseman, Foster’s opponent in Tuesday’s mayoral election, accused the mayor of not being candid.

“I have talked to (Rays president) Matt Silverman and I was told that the allegation is not true — that the Rays weren’t offering anything,” Kriseman said. “They expressed concerns about how forthright the mayor is being with them and the community on this issue.”

Foster reiterated his position Monday. “Everything I said was true,” he said, adding that he could not provide details without violating the confidentiality of the discussions.

In other words, we still do not know the truth.  Apparently, we will just have to wait until after the election.

Public Land – The Fairgrounds

There was news about the Florida State Fairgrounds this week.

The Florida State Fair Authority’s board is scheduled to vote Friday on whether to issue an “invitation to participate,” an open call for developers interested in building on part of the publicly owned property along Interstate 4 east of Tampa. The Fair Authority announced the vote in a press release Saturday afternoon.

The fair itself isn’t going anywhere, officials said Saturday. Any development would need to be “in keeping with the fairgrounds’ core mission,” said Fair Authority executive director Chuck Pesano.

* * *

The state fair is self-funded, and in need of money. The fair has struggled to turn a profit for years, and its facilities need infrastructure improvements.

* * *

“It will be competitive, transparent and fair,” Doyle Carlton III, chair of the Fair Authority board, said. “We want to hopefully be able to accomplish something that will bring in some revenue, but not anything that will compromise the core of the fair and its integrity.”

We have no problems with seeing what people propose.  On the other hand, none of the previous proposals has really kept with the mission of the fair.  The fair is a public trust and the grounds should not be given away for just anything, which may explain why developers have complained that the approval process takes too long.

“The board is interested to see what the ideas are,” he said.

So are we, but we are in no hurry to give away public land.

Meanwhile in the Rest of Florida I

There was an interesting article on the funding of channel dredging at Port Everglades.  We are not even going to get into the Panamax issue and the Port of Tampa’s container strategy because there was something more generally relevant.

This week’s breakthrough on Port Everglades long-awaited dredging project began with a novel idea from the seaport’s director during a meeting on Capitol Hill.

Recognizing that Congress can take years to approve big ports projects, Steve Cernak suggested that local groups pre-fund design and engineering studies to speed up things up — and then get Congress to sign off on construction and reimburse those studies later.

When the chair of the House transport panel showed interest, a broad coalition came together to push Cernak’s idea. Florida lawmakers in Congress, local officials and business leaders — Democrats and Republicans — worked together to convince the chair to include that measure in a House bill that passed Wednesday

Now, for the first time in nearly two decades, there appears to be a clear pathway to deepen Port Everglades so it can host the mega-ships that soon will transit an expanded Panama Canal.

Once the chief of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approves the dredging project — likely next year — then Broward County can pay $4 million for design and engineering studies, which could take two years to complete. By then, Congress could approve the dredging and with it the reimbursement.

There are two points here.  First, there is the need for coordination and support from our Congressional delegation and the rest of Florida, something at which we are not very good.

Second, and in many ways more importantly, there is the need for forward planning and a proper strategy.  We cannot sit around and wait to plan.  We have to determine what we need and plan for it, simultaneously seeking money – especially in transportation.  If we wait for money to be available, others areas which already have plans will jump to the head of the line and take it. (Frankly, the fact that the Riverwalk was planned and partially done, then got Federal money to finish, is clearly illustrative of this idea.)  Pinellas seems to have learned this.  Hillsborough, with a few exceptions, not so much.

Meanwhile In the Rest of Florida II

For all those who do not understand the idea of brain drain and the need to retain talent and culture, there was an article in the Miami Herald about an influential art gallery moving from St. Pete to Miami.  The reality of our circumstance is encapsulated in a comment quoted from the Times:

In a review of Solomon’s final show in St. Petersburg, Tampa Bay Times art critic Lennie Bennett wrote that she’ll “miss Mindy Solomon and the vitality of her vision. I’m proud of her, too. She’s one of ours, going for the big time.”

What can you say when the Times art critic lays out so plainly the perception of Miami versus the Tampa Bay area?  You can’t build your bona fides in culture (or anything else) if you lose the key players.

Meanwhile in the Rest of Florida III

And for all those looking to make biotech the heart of the economy in the Tampa Bay area, there was this:

The Florida Blue Innovation Center will break ground next year and open in 2015, leaders announced during Lake Nona’s Second Annual Impact Forum underway this week at the Medical City complex in southeast Orlando.

The center will be a launch pad for new business ideas and high-paying jobs, said Thad Seymour, president of the Lake Nona Institute, a nonprofit organization that works to create sustainable communities.

Florida Blue will be the Innovation Center’s anchor tenant with its Collaborative Imagination Center, said Pat Geraghty, chairman and CEO of Florida Blue. He made the announcement at the forum, which drew health-care leaders and academics from across the country.

* * *

Other Innovation Center tenants will include a partnership between the University of Central Florida and University of Florida to turn 15,000 square feet into a “life sciences incubator,” Seymour said.

It is not that this could not happen here, but this is real clustering of an industry in one specific area with major corporate support.  It is interesting that Florida Blue chose to do this in Orlando.  Was the Tampa Bay area even in the running for the collaboration?  And then there is this:

“We want to be the next Silicon Valley of health care,” Main said, adding that his firm would not get involved in such a project without being confident the Tampa market is big enough and has all the right stuff to make it happen.

It may prove a challenge of perception. So far, the phrase “Silicon Valley of health care” has been touted by Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Nashville, Indianapolis and even the United Kingdom.

Right, it is not that there is no competition. Wanting is not the same as getting.

(And then there is this about Orlando International Airport’s expansion plans.  We like their attitude and the fact that it is rationally stated.  We’ll see what happens.)

List of the Week

Our list this week is On Numbers Economic Index.  The article does not tell us how they arrived at the numbers, but here is the top 20.

Coming in first is Austin, followed by Dallas-Fort Worth; Provo, Utah; Houston; San Jose; Oklahoma City; Minneapolis-St. Paul; Honolulu; Ogden, Utah; Denver; Boston; Grand Rapids, Mich. (?); Salt Lake City; Nashville; Indianapolis; Des Moines, Iowa; San Francisco-Oakland; Pittsburgh; Tampa-St. Petersburg; and Baton Rouge, La.

Orlando was 27th. Jacksonville was 28th. Miami was 38th.

Well, that is something.


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