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Roundup 11-8-2013

November 8, 2013

Bro Bowl Controversy – Enter the Columnists

Now that the City has created a divisive issue regarding the Bro Bowl and Perry Harvey Park, a few local columnists have had their say.  First, a Times columnist:

But the city’s biggest booster, Mayor Bob Buckhorn, is not high-fiving [about the Bro Bowl being getting a historic designation]. He is not fist-bumping. He is instead saying things like “marginally significant” and “absurd.” There has been mention of bulldozers.

* * *

And a lot of people who want to see this park rise as planned will have to wait and see. Getting the Bro Bowl on the National Register is impressive, no doubt about it. Skateboard enthusiasts should consider that designation an accomplishment to honor its history.

Can they now move forward in the spirit of compromise — one that includes a new skate park that pays homage to the Bro Bowl? Can they consider all that happened in this place over decades and decades before the first drop of skate-able concrete was ever poured?

Interestingly, she glosses over the City’s failure to do anything for Jackson House or to rebuild Central Avenue so it can be a bustling street again and Encore’s shabby treatment of Central Avenue. (And if the linked image of Encore does not help, go down to Perry Harvey Park today, look across Central Avenue and behold the big cement wall in Encore honoring Central Avenue’s vitality.)  And, of course, the only compromise is by the Bro bowl supporters.

Then there is the Tribune:

Mayor Bob Buckhorn has a bigger vision in mind. He is pushing plans for a $6 million renovation of Perry Harvey Sr. Park that includes, controversially, replacing the current Bro Bowl with a larger one in another part of the park.

Opponents think so little of that, they managed to get the bowl placed on the National Register of Historic Places this week. They are likely to be disappointed, since Buckhorn usually gets what he wants.

He may often get what he wants (Tampa does have an imperial mayor system, after all), but, more importantly, is what he wants the right thing? (see “The Museum Across the Bay” below)

Then along came Mayor Build-It, supporting an ambitious plan to renovate the park with a tribute to other significant contributions to the neighborhood. That includes a history walk to celebrate the area’s important place in our community.

Visitors might learn that in 1935, Perry Harvey Sr. started the International Longshoremen’s Association Local 1402 in Tampa. That provided minorities of that era a rare chance at well-paying jobs. They might learn that he later became a statewide leader in the civil rights movement, or that his son, Perry Harvey Jr., became Tampa’s first black city council member.

Or, visitors could just enjoy the new, larger skateboard bowl.

* * *

The new park will be better. Bro Bowl II will serve more skateboarders. So we’re at the point where the city needs to tell those who object to the plans that their complaints have been noted, considered and rejected.

But the park can be better still if the City would just stop being divisive. (Amusingly, both columnists tell the pro Bro Bowl crowd what is good for them, completely ignoring their actual opinion.)

Unfortunately, both columnists miss the point and buy into the false dichotomy put forward by the City.  This is not a zero sum game where either African-American history is honored OR the Bro Bowl is saved.  We can have both – easily.  Visitors to the park can learn everything listed above and more about African-American history and the park can be rebuilt – and the Bro Bowl saved.   (And while they’re at it, the City could do something for Jackson House. Lamentably, it is probably too late to fix Encore’s poor treatment of Central Avenue.)  The entire Bro Bowl controversy has been created not by the skateboarders but by the City.  As we have already pointed out, the park has ample space for everything, and a real compromise is there for the taking.  Saying the skateboarders just have to accept the City’s plan and just be happy they got something is not compromise, but it is the normal way things go in Tampa.

It is time to show that all Mayor’s the talk of changing Tampa’s DNA was not just rhetoric by making the easy compromise that really honors all the history in the area.  Too bad the City and the columnists are just interested in business as usual.

Jackson House – Something is Better Than What the City is Doing

Speaking of African-American history, it seems that there is still a small hope that Jackson House, a historic African-American building that is still standing, might be saved.

Just a week after the last group’s effort imploded, a new lineup of historic preservationists met with local officials this week to explore options for saving the historic Jackson Rooming House.

As a result, a construction fence is expected to go up around the empty building in the next week or two, courtesy of Bracken Engineering, which already has donated three years to the effort.

Former Tampa City Council member Linda Saul-Sena and property owner Willie Robinson Jr. plan to talk with bankers about taking out a loan secured by the property to cover the estimated $50,000 it would take to shore up the building.

* *

The hope is that securing the property and stabilizing the two-story building will buy time for supporters to come up with a long-term plan to restore the Jackson House — once a way station for famous black musicians and civil rights leaders — and the money to pay for it.

Interesting.  Who is in on the effort?

On Wednesday, a new group met at the Tampa office of U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa. Hosted by Chloe Coney, a longtime redevelopment activist who is Castor’s district director, the meeting included Robinson, Saul-Sena, plus representatives of Bracken Engineering, the city, the Tampa Housing Authority, the NAACP and state Rep. Betty Reed, D-Tampa.

In a statement Thursday, Castor’s office said the Jackson House “has significant historical importance for our entire community.”

“It is the only remaining structure from the era when the nearby Central Avenue thrived as Tampa’s black business district,” it said. “We are helping to get the group in position to obtain the resources to save this important structure.”

So what is the City’s position?

After three years of talk and no progress, Mayor Bob Buckhorn said Thursday the city is open to working with Robinson and his supporters, but it won’t wait forever. Buckhorn’s immediate concern: The building is unsafe and “on the verge of collapse.”

“A firetrap,” the mayor said. “I’ve got an obligation to protect the public.”

Before anything else, Buckhorn said, the property must be made secure. And for any work to take place, someone has to buy insurance that covers the city against any claims. Because the city has declared the building unsafe, it needs that protection before it can let any repairs proceed.

“I can’t be responsible for anybody getting in that building and getting hurt,” Buckhorn said.

If the City is so concerned about African-American history, how come there has been nothing done for Jackson House for three years and why has nothing been figured out yet? Like the old saying goes: the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Transportation – Howard Frankland

FDOT this week confirmed that the new Howard Frankland will be built so that it can accommodate rail.

Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad said the state is committed to building an estimated $25 million substructure to accommodate light rail on the replacement span of the Howard Frankland bridge.

The cost would be added to the $390 million price tag of the three-mile span, which state officials expect to complete between the two existing bridges by 2025. The existing northern span would eventually be demolished.

Good for FDOT.  Now if only Hillsborough County and Tampa could actually stop just talking about transportation and actually do some planning, maybe we could get somewhere.

Transportation – HART/PSTA

This week, the Tribune ran an interesting article that was essentially a discussion of why the Tea Party does not want HART and PSTA to discuss merging.

However, Pinellas and Hillsborough tea party members, who helped defeat the 2010 Hillsborough transit initiative, believe a merged transit system could attract federal grants for light-rail, which they oppose.

“HART Board members are rejecting a strong-arm attempt by Sen. Jack Latvala and Brad Miller, (director) of PSTA, to a takeover of the Hillsborough bus system to accomplish Pinellas County goals of building light rail,” a post on the Tampa Tea Party’s website said.

“… This merger would be the Progressive’s logical step to consolidating into a regional Tampa Bay Regional Transportation Authority taxing authority. Regional taxing authorities enable special interests, remove local control and result in higher costs (from being) an arm’s distance from local taxpayers.”

* * *

“Making us regional, it really just takes government further away from us,” said Barb Haselden, an organizer with the South Pinellas 9.12 Patriots movement, who also is spearheading the Pinellas County No Tax for Tracks effort to defeat the sales tax increase.

What can you say about those comments?  There is no discussion of what is more efficient or more effective nor is there an attempt to look at what provides better service for lower cost.  It is a purely ideological statement.  (Their position is reminiscent the Anti-Federalists opposed to the Constitution. See here  and here.  Also note that the Constitution was created because the Article of Confederation and its overly local focus did not work, at least in the minds of the majority of the Founding Fathers, who the Tea Party supposedly reveres.)  You can’t really argue with ideologues, but you also do not have to do what they say.  Unfortunately, the Hillsborough County Commission and the Governor put just such Tea Party members on the HART board.

At the end of the article was a somewhat fascinating, if totally ambiguous, item.

But that’s not the most strident of merger opposition that’s taken shape in the past two years.

Behind the scenes, the prospect for what some call a “nuclear option,” the city of Tampa’s possible withdrawal from supporting HART, has been circulated among elected officials.

But no one has publicly discussed that possibility.

Let’s try to figure this out.  The City is considering leaving HART.  Is that because the City wants a regional agency or because the City wants to run its own agency? Is the Mayor a Tea Party sympathizer? And how is leaving the most stubbornly anti-regional agency around, HART, avoiding a merger?  And why is the City opposed to a merger in the first place?  (It would have been helpful if the reporter had actually explained anything.)

In any event, more regionalism in transportation only serves the interests of Tampa, which is the biggest city in the area and, conveniently, also sits at the center of the region.  How cutting itself off is good for Tampa is not clear at all.  It is all part of the double secret transportation planning in Hillsborough County.

Economic Development – The Good

First up, there has been some good economic development news recently.  There was Bristol-Myers Squibb and a number of financial back-office operations.  If you are most of the County Commission, there is the Estuary/Bass Pro Shop development and hand out.  Amazon is fine.  In other words, there is some good news, though nothing economically transformative, though Bristol-Myers Squibb is at least a targeted industry.

This week, USAA announced a local expansion, as well.

In the latest signal of regional economic momentum, financial services giant USAA said Tuesday it will add up to 1,215 jobs by 2019 and build a 420,000-square-foot facility in Brandon by 2015 to accommodate its expansion.

USAA, which serves military families, is investing $164.3 million in the facility, which will become the largest build-to-suit office project in Hillsborough County since 2001.

* * *

The project was made possible through incentives and partnerships between state and local organizations including Enterprise Florida, the Tampa Hillsborough EDC, Hillsborough County, Workforce Florida Inc. and the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

* * *

In April, Hillsborough County Commissioners approved a local incentive package of $729,000, supporting a commitment of $2.9 million from the state through its “Qualified Target Industry” or QTI program.

According to the state, that total QTI allocation of $3.65 million will provide USAA with $3,000 per job for each of the newly created, high-wage positions. The incentives will be distributed over a period of nine years, the state said, and are performance-based. That means the funds are only paid after the jobs are created at the wages promised. Those jobs will include various positions across all USAA lines of business, including insurance and banking services.

That’s good.  We have no objection (though it would be nice if we could attract major corporations without giving them money, but that is probably a ways off).  Even with recent job loss announcements, there is a net gain.  One thing it would be nice to know if the new building was going to be a sprawling mess, like other buildings in Brandon, or whether it will be a nicer building.  It would also be good to know if, as it appears on its face, these jobs are more back-office/call center jobs or jobs that will diversify our economy. (Decide for yourself from this: “The company is already posting area jobs online at, seeking to fill a broad array of insurance and banking positions, including customer contact representatives.”)

People should be happy there are more jobs, though we are still waiting for transformational developments that will change our economy (though maybe Bristol-Myers Squibb might be a start).  And we wonder whether it will just be another sprawling, low complex or something nice.  Nevertheless, well done. (And at least there were no reported hype-tastic comments, though see below.)

Economic Development – Le Comté? C’est l’Est.

This week, we also learned that Hillsborough County still is completely focused on the east County.

Hillsborough County wants to label Brandon as a key economic development area and is considering creating a tax-increment finance district to help drive growth, Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill told the Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday.

“Brandon has the advantage of a relatively mature business environment, so the greater Brandon area will be one of what we call the economic development spaces that we will be focusing on,” Merrill said, speaking at a chamber luncheon. “What that means is, and there will be a few of them identified around the county, we will then be focusing our economic development resources, both people and money, in those areas to leverage an already existing base that’s working.”

The county hopes to focus on areas it identifies as hotbeds for business innovation and capitalize on the fact that the area is recovering from the recession. This means transportation solutions and redevelopment money, Merrill said. It also means creating tax-increment finance districts for the first time within the county.

If Brandon is already working, why change anything?  Just let it be (and stop subsidizing it). So what is the purpose of a tax-increment finance district?

Tax-increment areas, already in place in Tampa and Temple Terrace, capture incremental growth from the tax base and redirect it back into that specific area for redevelopment.

* * *

Typically, these districts arise after elected officials identify a specific geographic area as blighted or in need of special attention. The retained tax revenue can then act as a tool to address the blight and, hopefully, make it a more inviting place to live or work.

* * *

It’s not a new tax, Merrill said. Instead, it’s taking an existing tax and redirecting it to benefit the area from which it was generated.  

In other words, TIFs take tax money away from the County as a whole, punishing other areas by lowering general revenue.  This makes sense for areas that need redevelopment. However, it does not make sense for areas that seem not to need any help (and Brandon just got the USAA project with other subsidies, not to mention the County payment for Estuary/Bass Pro Shops). So is Brandon working already, as the County administrator says, or not?  Apparently, it does not matter.

But Murman said the commissioners view these districts as a powerful financing tool. The commissioners are eager to foster growth, and these districts could be one mechanism for encouraging development.

“We’re not looking at just blighted areas,” Murman said. “We’re looking at areas that could help shape our county into just a really fantastic area with just huge corporate growth.”

Thus, the answer is “who knows?”  But what is known is this:

Earlier this spring, Hillsborough commissioners voted unanimously to consider creating the so-called tax-increment finance districts in three areas: near the University of South Florida, near the Florida State Fairgrounds and in the neighborhoods of Progress Village, Clair-Mel and Palm River along Causeway Boulevard.

The listed areas make a good amount of sense for TIFs.  They are economically disadvantaged.  Of course, they are also generally in the east County, which, it seems for the County government, is all the County.

We have no problem with TIFs for redevelopment areas, but if the County is going to exclude money from the general fund, why not set up a TIF in the northwest/near Westshore which is already working, too? Why should it have to share more than the rest of the County?  How about Plant City?  Why should it share more, too?  Brandon does not need a TIF, it needs good planning. Sadly, this plan just seems another attempt by the County government to find out how to subsidize developers in the east County and ignore the rest.

Insecurity Watch – Welcome to Swagger City

This week, there was a prep rally of sorts for economic development officials in Hillsborough County. If reports are to be believed, it was quite an odd scene:

So, the meeting/pep rally was not as much about recounting the group’s successes as it was about announcing its intentions. Newly seated Chairman Allan Brinkman, president and CEO of SunTrust Tampa Bay, rode into the arena on the Zamboni to Jay Z’s “Swagga Like Us.”

Brinkman spoke about the swagger you find in successful business climates like Texas and how Tampa needs to have that level of pride in our business community.


Those accomplishments and a new sense of confidence were celebrated Monday evening in the Tampa Bay Times Forum at the annual meeting of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. The public-private group’s task is two-fold — at least: To push for better jobs for Hillsborough County, Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City; and to better unite the Tampa Bay area into one competitive voice for the long run.

“Today, the energy in our community is tangible. We’re thinking bigger, reaching higher and achieving more than ever before,” Tampa Hillsborough EDC chief executive Rick Homans states in his organization’s just released annual report. “Some call it confidence. Some call it swagger. But we just call it like we see it. And what we see now is just the beginning.”

We are all for having a sense of confidence.  If you do not believe in your product, you will not close many sales.  We don’t really have a problem with getting excited either.  But there is a line between confidence and being so silly you are not taken seriously.

So, let’s look at this swagger thing.  “Swagger” has become a fashionable term in some circles, spawning “swagga” and “swag.” Now “swagger” seems to be bleeding into the general culture including business and motivational speaking.  What exactly does it mean?  The urban dictionary gives “swagga” definitions that one would consider for “swagger.”   It defines “swag” with definitions  which are off color and potentially offensive enough that we are not going to quote any of them.

But let us go back to “swagger.”  Merriam-Webster defines it as such:

to conduct oneself in an arrogant or superciliously pompous manner; especially :  to walk with an air of overbearing self-confidence

(A good example of swagger would be the Mayor of Toronto, which is undergoing quite a boom, whose excuse for smoking crack was that he was hammered.  What could be more swagger-ful than a Mayor smoking crack while trashed, yet having an economic boom?)

On the other hand, “confidence” is defined like this:

a :  a feeling or consciousness of one’s powers or of reliance on one’s circumstances <had perfect confidence in her ability to succeed> <met the risk with brash confidence>

b :  faith or belief that one will act in a right, proper, or effective way <have confidence in a leader> 

In other words, “swagger” and “confidence” are not the same thing.  Confidence is belief you can get the job done – and belief in what you are selling.   Swagger is arrogance.  In reality, swagger is often a misplaced confidence or a cover for insecurity.  It is an affectation.  And swagger is usually off-putting.   Confidence is has substance; swagger is puffery. (Houston and Dallas do not have swagger, they have confidence and we doubt their elected officials think a Bass Pro Shop is “economic development at its best.”  )

Our point is that confidence in the economic development mission is fine, necessary even.  It instills confidence in others and helps move things along.  Confidence is quietly understood and effective.  Moreover, real success instills confidence in you and those with whom you speak because they know that you can get it done without you telling them. Swagger is hype without substance.

For illustrative purposes:

“When they talk about great American cities, they will talk about Tampa,” Buckhorn said.

(Setting aside will set aside who “they” are.) Telling yourself that for three decades while people still do not do it is swagger. (See this article from January 1986.)   Methodically doing all the things you need to do so that those people actually say it on their own without prompting is confidence. (And, as much as we like getting the new jobs, great cities do not have to subsidize back office operations to get them to relocate.)

We’ll just assume the economic development officials were just having fun and really meant “confidence,” but, unfortunately, we cannot really be sure.

The Museum Across the Bay

This week, we learned that the arts and crafts museum initially proposed for Curtis Hixon Park is now going to be built in St. Pete.

From the Times – click on picture for article

Against the backdrop of craftsman homes in the historic neighborhoods of Kenwood, Roser Park and the Old Northeast, an enthusiast of the arts and crafts movement has chosen St. Petersburg to build a museum to house his $60 million collection from the period.

Rudy Ciccarello plans to establish his Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement at 333 Third Ave. N, in the city’s downtown. The 90,000-square foot, four-story facility will include galleries, a cafe, restaurant, store and studios.

* * *

Ciccarello, 67, had once set his sights on Tampa, hoping to build a museum and upscale restaurant at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. He broke off negotiations about a year ago when he couldn’t get a five-year commitment of financial support from City Hall.

* * *

The new museum will be designed by Tampa architect Alberto Alfonso, who also designed the space for the Chihuly Collection in St. Petersburg. The site is being bought from Synovus Bank, which will be its neighbor. The museum’s architecture will not be reminiscent of the arts and crafts movement.

* * *

Construction costs will be “in excess of” $35 million, Ciccarello said, who added he is prepared to support the endeavor financially.

Interestingly, the St. Pete plan appears to involve a completely private endeavor while the Tampa plan was in Curtis Hixon Park (apparently the Mayor’s idea – part of his vision for parks which the columnists above would have us follow without question)   and required public money (about $5 million).  We opposed the Tampa plan due to cost and location, but would have been fine with having a privately financed museum on a private lot near Curtis Hixon Park. The question is why the deal for Tampa was so much worse than that for St. Pete.

Riverfront Park

This week, the City hired a designer for Riverfront Park.

Plans to reshape Riverfront Park will get a big push forward today if the City Council agrees to pay a consulting firm $708,400 to start the planning process for the project.

The cost of redeveloping the 23-acre park — officially named Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park in honor of a mayor from the 1960s — has been estimated at $10 million.

As proposed, the city would hire the Civitas landscape and urban design firm from Denver to lead the planning effort. Civitas specializes in urban park, urban waterfront and urban revitalization projects.

* * *

In its proposal to the city, Civitas said Riverfront has a “curious design,” with barriers to visibility and movement. The firm said the main thing the park needs is to “open vistas from place to place, activity to activity,” plus “multiple new destinations connected into a cohesive hole.”

That is all generally fine (except the “cohesive hole” part).  But there is this:

While many details of the park’s plan are open for discussion, Mayor Bob Buckhorn has been clear about a couple of things he wants to do.

* * *

Buckhorn also wants to get rid of the park’s large earthen mounds, grassy swales and humps, which he calls “alien space mounds.”

Being pithily dismissive is all well and good, but it does not really address the issue raised in the proposal (or the questions raised by the proposal for the crafts museum in Curtis Hixon Park). Sure, the mounds do inhibit some movement (though not much especially given the size of the park) , but the biggest mound provides far better vistas of downtown than anything on offer anywhere else near downtown (except for the trees which can be moved).

Looking at Downtown from the top of the big mound at Riverfront Park

Any new design, as stated in the proposal, should take that into account. There needs to be a major vertical element in the park, whether it is the mound, a reconstructed mound with a more organic appearance (our preference), or something else that maintains the vista.  The vertical element, and people’s opportunity to do more than move on a plane, is what makes the park different. That should not be forgotten in the rush to be cute.

List of the Week

This week we are going to do multiple lists regarding the best American cities from different perspectives.

First, Conde Nast‘s reader poll.  First place goes to Charleston, followed by Santa Fe, San Francisco, Honolulu, Chicago, Carmel (CA), New Orleans, NYC, Savannah, and Napa (CA).

Second, is best cities from Businessweek (though it may be from last year).   First place is San Francisco, followed by Seattle, Washington, Boston, Portland (OR), Denver, NYC, Austin, San Diego, St. Paul, Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, Nashville, New Orleans, Kansas City (MO), Atlanta, Madison (WI), Raleigh, Honolulu, and Columbus.

Finally, a list of US “World” Cities from Brookings: New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles are the U.S. leaders in global connectivity, San Francisco, Miami, Atlanta, and Washington (with honorable mention to Boston, Seattle, and Houston.)

One Comment leave one →
  1. Elizabeth Belcher permalink
    November 8, 2013 11:12 AM

    The city of Tampa is on the hook for water connections to the Bass Pro Shop fiasco. Are you aware that the Estuary(Bass Pro Shop) has set up a special taxing district? What that does is allows the retails stores to charge an additional percentage in sales as “taxes” to underwrite the area’s landscaping/lights, etc? Not only are the taxpayers on the hook for 6.25 million in a road to nowhere but now will pay extra for the”privilege” of shopping at Bass Pro. And, the advantage of a special taxing district? It allows the stores to have their customers underwrite their maintenance. this allows Bass Pro to receive additional non-taxable funds to underwrite their expenses before their income tax. And the county’s response? that is between the developer and their clients? Sound familiar? Big Box Bloomingdale?

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