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Roundup 11-15-2013

November 15, 2013

Bro Bowl – You’ll Get What the City Gives You and Like It

There was more news about the Bro Bowl this week, as a Times columnist told us this:

While groups on opposite sides talk options — like incorporating pieces of the old Bowl into its new incarnation, or not moving it at all — Mayor Bob Buckhorn said there may be a way to literally move the bowl as a whole.

“Physically digging it up and moving it is probably accomplishable,” he told me this week. “We’ve got our engineering folks looking into it.”

The Bro-To-Go is an intriguing option for both sides to mull — if, and this is a big if, it’s doable.

Well, at least that is a little bit of compromise (though it is far from intriuing).  But, of course, any discussion comes with this caveat:

But on one point, the mayor sounds immovable: “It can’t stay where it is.”

Why? Apparently, because the Mayor said so.  Instead of explaining that conditions have changed (like actually acknowledging that the skateboarder community exists and the Historical Designation of the Bro Bowl) since the plan for Perry Harvey Park was created (which apparently predates the Mayor’s administration ) and, consequently the plan should change to deal with the new reality, there is an odd stubbornness.

Simply put, it is odd to contemplate moving the Bro Bowl for a number of reasons, among them 1) it hurts the historical nature of the location and, 2) even more importantly in many ways, it is probably quite expensive.  Once again, we are not sure about this, but it seems logical that it is more expensive to move the Bro Bowl than to alter the as yet unbuilt plans for the park in the way we have discussed previously or some similar way.

And just so everyone understands how the City’s plans so far have honored the vitality of the Central Avenue area, we present you with a picture of Encore’s treatment of Central Avenue taken from across the park.

Central Avenue and Encore

Nothing says vital street life like a blank, 15 foot (or so) high wall. (Frankly, the picture does not do the wall justice.  You really have to go look, and remember, this whole debate is about honoring the heart of a community and a street filled with vitality.)

All this raises the question of why is the Mayor so insistent about moving/demolishing the Bro Bowl?  What is so important about the exact plan for the park as it exists now?  Why not make the easy compromise to a problematic plan that is not yours? Because, this is Tampa, and the DNA is not changed.

Transportation – Thank You, Sir, Can We Have Another

First off, we have to say that we are happy that people are finally discussing Tampa’s failure to be connected to the developing statewide, intercity rail system, All Aboard Florida (AAF).  It took an inordinate amount of time, but at least there is not silence.

This week, the Chairman-designate of the Tampa Bay Partnership spoke:

Commuter rail won’t come to Tampa Bay if Tampa Bay can’t develop better transit connections between Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

“If we cannot do that, why would somebody be interested in hooking us to the rest of the state if we cannot hook up to each other,” said Barry Alpert, who becomes chairman of the Tampa Bay Partnership on Nov. 22.

* * *

“We will do these things, gradually,” Alpert said. “I commit to you it will happen. Maybe not 2014, maybe 2016. We will become the attractive bride for a suitor to connect us to the rest of the state.”

He insisted that the political and economic climate is different today than in 2010, when the Hillsborough transit referendum was defeated in an election that included the national uprising of the anti-tax tea party and local confusion about the county proposal and a federally-funded bullet train between Orlando and Tampa.

First, the confusion in types of rail obviously remains since the article referred to AAF as commuter rail when it is intercity rail.

Setting that aside, the Chairman-designate makes a salient point – there is no reason for AAF to connect to Tampa because the Tampa Bay area has manifestly failed to create a modern infrastructure, which, as the article points out, is a failure of economic development as well as transportation planning:

Tampa Bay isn’t included in All Aboard Florida’s initial segment. That means the region also will miss the expected bump of economy-boosting development near the train stations, including West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale.

* * *

The Partnership also supports development of an intermodal transit center in the Westshore business district, including connectivity with Tampa International Airport. Alpert, Raymond James’ senior vice president of investments and a Tampa Bay businessman for four decades, said he has seen how the region’s lack of transportation options has hampered growth and economic development. “It has been a significant barrier,” he said.

Of course, the economic ramifications of the Tampa Bay area’s failure show the flaw of fixing the problem gradually. To be honest, we have been doing it so gradually that nothing has gotten done.  There is no time to waste – how many opportunities have we missed?  How much lower is our gross metro product?  How much less attractive are we for the high tech business and knowledge based entrepreneurs we now covet?  How many people have already left the area over the past few decades and taken their money and talent with them?  How long are you willing to lose out?

And, how exactly does an intercity train coming from Orlando connect to an intermodal center in Westshore? Sure, it can run down the median of the rebuilt I-275, but then there is no room there for transit, so where would the transit go?  It is all well and good to talk generally about these things, but it is time for detail.

But we digress.

“I think our time has come,” Alpert said, echoing a line from Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. “The time is ripe now. People get it.”

With all due respect, “people” have gotten it for 30 years.  It is the elected and economic development leaders that failed to come up with real plans, real explanations, proper land use and zoning, and real development, as well as the political will, that have inhibited the development of real transportation systems. (If Orlando and most of the big cities of Texas, Arizona, and Utah could do it, why couldn’t we?) Yes, the voters rejected the 2010 proposal, but it was fatally flawed and poorly sold. (And anyone who studied how these things have gone in other areas would know that the first referendum often fails and so such a failure is no reason to dally afterwards.)  It is unclear why there is faith that voters will support rail when there is no plan or even proposal to discuss.  Once again, it is time to get to details.

Then there is this:

Tampa Bay has 20 percent of the state’s population and over 2 million jobs. Economics will drive the decision, Alpert said.And if All Aboard Florida doesn’t connect to Tampa, he insisted that somebody else will.

Maybe or maybe not, but do you really want to gamble on it? (And who is that someone else?)  People 30 years ago said real transit was inevitable and, since then, a generation has come and gone with nothing done.  Think of all the opportunities missed. Once again, we are happy that people are talking about AAF and transit and that Pinellas is doing something, but Hillsborough is just a talking shop.  Where is the plan?

— Aside

There was also this in the article:

He downplayed notions of Tampa Bay being envious of Orlando and Miami.

“We want what we deserve, but we have to deserve it, and we are growing into deserving it,” he said.

We think he was trying to say that we do not have the infrastructure to support intercity rail, so we should not expect to get it – which makes a certain amount of sense.  (Though we are not sure about not “deserving” it.)

Yet, we think the idea of envy deserves some discussion.  If by envy he means a bitter jealousy towards Miami and Orlando, there should not be envy.  On the other hand, if by envy, he means the idea that we should be able to do what Orlando and Miami have done in terms of transportation, maybe there should be envy. (And given all the comments by the Mayor of Tampa and others about people noticing that there is another city in Florida other than Miami and Orlando, and the stated desire to the THE gateway to Latin America, there is clearly some envy of Orlando and Miami, and, in many ways there should be.)  Those areas have gotten their act together in ways our leadership has not even come close to approaching.  We are ok with that kind of envy if it motivates people in the Tampa Bay area to do what they should be doing and stops them making excuses for doing little or nothing or overly celebrating incremental steps while Orlando and Miami push forward at a much faster rate.

Meanwhile In the Rest of Florida

And just so we know what we are talking about when the Mayor tells us all about gateways to the Americas and there is talk of becoming a tech hub while exuberantly celebrating Bass Pro Shops and Amazon warehouses:

Florida Atlantic University, Fort Lauderdale-based software maker Citrix Systems Inc. and tech giant Microsoft Corp., which has its Latin American headquarters in Fort Lauderdale, are among Broward and Palm Beach county groups helping organize the first eMerge Americas conference set for May 4-6 next year.

More than 5,000 people from dozens of nations are expected at the inaugural conference, spearheaded by the Miami-based nonprofit Technology Foundation of the Americas led by entrepreneur Manny Medina, who sold his Miami-based tech company Terremark to Verizon for $1.4 billion two years ago.

“This really is a tri-county effort. Miami is just a brand,” Medina said at a breakfast in Coral Gables for more than 50 young tech leaders. “It’s no different than San Francisco for that entire area or Boston. Whether you are in Palm Beach Gardens, Sunrise or Miami, it’s all the same thing.”

South Florida is poised to become a tech hub of the Americas now, partly because of surging interest by U.S. and European companies to buy tech ventures in fast-developing Latin America, as the tech industry shifts focus from hardware to software, said Medina. South Florida is the logical hub for that activity because of its concentration of Latin American corporate headquarters, he said.

And then there is the Latin American bankers’ conference.  (As for the Tampa Bay area this is something, not much but something; of course, it is in St. Pete not Tampa – not an issue for us but we are not politicians.)

Can anyone honestly say we are anywhere near that level?

Downtown Tampa – More Talk of Apartments

This week, talk emerged about a potential apartment tower on Harbour Island.

An unnamed apartment developer has a contract to purchase a small vacant lot just east of The Plaza condo, said Ryan Sampson, a broker-associate with Eshenbaugh Land Co. who’s handling the deal. He couldn’t reveal who the potential buyer is, but it’s an apartment developer with plans for a 22-story building with about 230 units. At that height, it would be a bit taller than the 20-story Plaza tower next door.

The deal hasn’t closed yet, Sampson said.

On the west side of The Plaza, a Boca Raton-based firm called Crocker Partners is marketing a little more than an acre as an apartment or condo site. The company put the property up for sale lately, and while it’s not under contract yet, Crocker Partners has fielded multiple offers, partner Angelo Bianco said.

It is notable that two condo buildings and/or a hotel were planned for these lots.  It is also notable that nothing has actually happened, and it might not:

Lately, residents of Harbour Island have been abuzz with gossip that two of the last chunks of undeveloped land on the island would make way for apartments or condos. Gail Bernucca, president of The Plaza’s condo association board, is a little worried about traffic one or two new apartment towers would bring.

“I would hope the city would consider that before deciding what to grant them,” she said.

As we said, there were supposed to be condo/hotel buildings on these lots (see here and here, so anyone who bought a condo in the Plaza had notice of potential traffic.  Moreover, it appears that Harbour Island only has about 1/4 the traffic planned for. (See here.) In other words, traffic is a non-issue.  Of course, that does not mean that the City will view it that way, though it should.

All this just reminds us that there are a number of proposals out there (some of which were supposed to have broken ground by now) and yet, very little is being built downtown.  Contrast that with just a small area of Miami, a small area of Toronto  or Austin. And, yes, we know about the shorter projects in Tampa and hotel renovations, but those other places have all of that and much more. (If you are really curious about real booms, while it is unlikely we will be like this in our lifetimes, if ever, here is run down on San Francisco.)

Sure, we think some of the proposals will get built (maybe most and maybe soon), but, as usual, despite talk of a boom, we are years behind other areas even in real estate because we did not use the past and the last crash to prepare for the improvement – like with a new code and transportation improvements.  Unfortunately, being late comers, just like the last crash, when the next crash comes we will lose an inordinate number of projects that have not managed to get out of the ground. (Interestingly, Miami overbuilt before the crash but caught up quickly because of the market’s allure. for example, see here.)  Same as it ever was.

And then there is this:

A recent study by Jones Lang LaSalle shows that because law firms are having difficulty finding large blocks of contiguous space downtown, they are migrating to the Westshore submarket. About 76 percent of Tampa law firms are in the central business district, but the JLL study found firms looking for more than 50,000 square feet are migrating to the Westshore area.

In one sense, it is good that there are not large blocks of contiguous space downtown, because it means that space is taken.  On the other hand, if major law firms leave downtown, there could be a number of large blocks of contiguous space soon.  Already, some large firms have moved to Westshore.  Now, it seems, more could follow. So who will downtown’s office customers be?

As we have long said, downtown is basically a large mixed use project.  There has been a good amount of focus on entertainment and housing, and that is fine.  However, it cannot be forgotten that office space is very important.  There has not been a new office building in downtown in quite a while because of the lack of demand.  The reasons for that really need to be addressed or downtown risks becoming a fancy bedroom community for Westshore, which is hardly an urban environment.

Ybor City – A Couple of Things

Ybor City has seen precious little development recently, leaving 7th Avenue (and maybe 8th) a bit isolated.  This week, the City revealed that it is going to issue RFP’s for a couple of lots.

City officials plan to put out a call in the coming weeks for proposals to build a hotel at the western entrance to Ybor City, Tampa’s economic development chief said Thursday.

The request for proposals would cover an L-shaped piece of city-owned land at Seventh Avenue and Nuccio Parkway. Developers could also purchase the former home of Volunteers of America, a nonprofit organization whose former headquarters lies on Eighth Avenue just north of the city property, Robert McDonaugh told Tampa City Council on Thursday.

Fine.  It is not clear there is demand, but, if there is, why not?  It is near the streetcar and provides easy access to the heart of Ybor.  But there is this:

Developer Arnold Gitten with the Phoenix Group out of Broward County already has approached the city about purchasing the land, now used for parking. But because Ybor City is a community redevelopment area, the city is required to invite anyone interested to make an offer before it closes a deal.

So the RFP looks to be possibly just a formality, but at least the City is telling everyone ahead of time, unlike past RFPs.  Hopefully, quality counts in the proposals, and, if there is a lack of it in any of the proposals, there will be no deal.

The other site is this:

The city will also issue a separate call for proposal for a block-sized piece of city-owned land between Palm Avenue and Interstate 4 that could be developed with apartments, McDonaugh said.

The Ybor City Development Corp. has had inquiries from a Miami developer interested in putting apartments on the property. Because the land sits within the Ybor City Community Redevelopment Area, the land has to be put up for bid, McDonaugh said.

Once again, at least the City is being upfront that the RFP is quazi-wired (hey, at least they are giving people a few week’s notice this time), even if the RFPs are coming out only because they have to.

While there are always concerns when the City is getting rid of land and the exact lot in question is not identified (though from the description and a small map in the Times hard copy it appears to be the 1600 block of Palm next to OLPH, which is underutilized), whether it is good or bad really depends on what is proposed and where exactly it is. (Which the City is supposedly considering.) Time will tell.

Unfortunately, given past performance (and we mean decades, not just now), it is hard to have faith that the City will hold out for a proper project rather than just settle for whatever someone offers.

Rays – Something is Better Than Nothing

This week, the Times has an interesting article on conversations in St. Pete about what the outline of deal with the Rays to look in Hillsborough could look like and what would become of the Trop land.   It is long and basically rehashes old ideas, but is a good read.  We are not going to get into all that because it is still speculation.  We’ll just have to see what the new Mayor of St. Pete does (though he seems to understand the gravity of the issue) and, if he allows them to look in Hillsborough, witness the mad scramble among Hillsborough politicians to take credit for “saving” the Rays.

Clearwater Aquarium – Bait and Switch

When plans for the new Clearwater aquarium were announced we opposed them, not because the idea is bad in and of itself (though reliance on Winter is questionable) but because there already is an aquarium in the area and it does not help to compete rather than cooperate.  Regardless, the referendum on the aquarium passed.

At the time of the proposal and referendum, the proponents put forward a grand vision of a large, fancy aquarium.  Now, not so much.

Clearwater’s new planned aquarium, propelled by a tail-less dolphin, may shrink in size and cost less than half of the earlier $160.5 million estimate, aquarium officials said Tuesday.

Last week, Clearwater voters approved a referendum to allow Clearwater Marine Aquarium to build its new facility on land now occupied by City Hall. Discussions before the vote estimated the size at 200,000 square feet, though aquarium officials, at times, suggested that the size and cost might come down.

In interviews Tuesday with the Tampa Bay Times, officials gave a more precise picture. They are still hashing out details, but said the final product might cost as little as $60 million.

The size might drop to 150,000 square feet, with room to expand later, said chief operating officer Frank Dame. A preliminary projection of $800 a square foot might shrink to $400.

“We may have to cut back on some of the wow factors,” Dame said. “We can make it a very nice facility, but it is not going to be the Georgia Aquarium. Monterey Bay is not the Georgia Aquarium either, but it still attracts millions of visitors a year.”

Former Mayor Frank Hibbard, who will lead fundraising efforts for a 2017 opening, said aquarium officials will meet this week to consider possible savings — among them, building in stages to cover more construction costs through ongoing revenue rather than debt.

A dolphin tank, the two-story coral reef tank and living spaces for the otters and sea turtles is “non-negotiable,” Hibbard said.

First, we are all for saving money (maybe a reason to not build the aquarium in the first place).  On the other hand, if you are going to do it and make it successful, do it right.  Moreover, do not put out a fancy plan for the election then actually build it on the cheap after it is approved.  Do not intentionally make it second class and talk about how great it is.

In other words, don’t settle.  Do it right or don’t do it.  When will the Tampa Bay area learn?

Built Environment – Think Big, Act Small

This week, PNC bank opened a branch at Dale Mabry and Spruce.

PNC Bank opened its first “Green Branch” in Tampa on Dale Mabry and Spruce Street.

PNC offices with the “Green Branch” designation are designed to be environmentally friendly.

We have no problem with being environmentally friendly.  In fact, we think it is good.

What is not so good is that this particular branch, as well as the Chase branch across Spruce and a number of other buildings in Tampa, does not face the main street it is on, in this case Dale Mabry. (Or like the HomeBanc near Wawa on Dale Mabry)  Even worse, they basically turn their back on the major road by having side doors, utilities and/or blank walls on the main street, and the back of the building clearly visible from the main street. (Unfortunately, we don’t have a picture, but we are sure you drive by it all the time.)  We understand that many will say that no one walks on Dale Mabry, but with buildings arranged this way, no one ever will – and it is not just Dale Mabry.  Even the Trader Joes on Swann does not even seem to have windows facing Swann planned. There are buildings all over town like this – including on Westshore.  And it is not that these companies don’t know how to do it right – see the Chase branch on Swann at Howard – they just have no need to do it right – even though it wouldn’t cost any more to do so.

The point is that the City seems completely unconcerned about what is built in Tampa as long as something is built and the neighbors stay quiet.  And, as made clear from all the buildings around town over time, it is nothing new or unique to this administration.  But remember this:

“We don’t have to settle anymore,” Buckhorn said. “We don’t have to aspire to second best. …Tampa, it’s time to dream big. It’s time to think big.”

Fine aspirations, but if the City can’t even do small right, how is it going to do big? If even the City has no pride in itself and no desire to be attractive and even potentially walkable, why would developers?  As goes Dale Mabry, so goes the rest of Tampa.  Change the code.

List of the Week

This week’s list the AARP’s list of 10 Great Cities for Older Singles from its Best Place to Retire.   This list is not exactly a ranking but on the list are San Francisco, Boston, Baltimore, Minneapolis-St. Paul, St. Louis, NYC, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Milwaukee.

Ok, so it is kind of an odd list, but there it is. As a bonus, here is AARP’s 10 Great Sunny Places to Retire: Asheville, N.C.; Grand Junction, Colo.; Sarasota, Fla.; San Diego;  Las Cruces, N.M.; San Luis Obispo, Calif.; St. George, Utah; Santa Fe, N.M.; Bend, Ore.; and Fort Worth, Texas

We don’t even make the retiree list (assuming Sarasota is not the immediate Tampa Bay area).

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 18, 2013 1:14 PM

    In regards to HSR (rail) and Ybor City development, I would like to add that the very last, true residential segment of ‘Historic York’ is still being affected by the previous excitement over the HSR (rail). FDOT continues to remove homes along 12th Ave, through the use of eminent domain practices and bidding. Even now as it was determined 3 years ago, there are no plans, for years ahead to expand I4, including a possibility of HSR. While such homes were ‘saved’ by mitigation (a similar process suggested by Bob with the Bro Bowl) this devastates the fabric of a neighborhood, furthering it along disintegration; increasing empty lots, decrease homeownership and historic identity and encouragement of illegal activities in affected lots (from home mitigations). And still, some of these moved homes are underfunded! In a way, this post suggests we are not really moving forward, in fact, failing behind other similar cities. I can relate, I see this everywhere throughout the city. Even more troubling is hardly any preservation officers seemed to care about what is still occurring at this part of Historic Ybor, a modern echo of the 40 plus year old urban renewal that once occurred throughout Ybor and Central Avenue. But alarming, if true, is I can’t help feeling that some of the backers of the Bro Bowl were also the ones that put Ybor at risk for unwarranted mitigation practices.

    I overheard the success work of Tampa partnerships with FDOT for saving historic homes during a recent Bro Bowl meeting. It was identified that these individuals who are behind saving the Bro Bowl are partly responsible for spearheading the FDOT mitigation process. While I do salute good intentions and now, progress for the Bro Bowl to remain (at place and intact) I can’t help feeling that there is double standard occurring when comparitive discussions of technical or historical points in regards to local development are presented. I am glad such statements were presented (they needed to be said) BUT I wonder, how some people can preach against mitigation, realize what is occurring in Ybor…especially with no roadwork occurring? Though a structure is not crumbling, a neighborhood vanishing, again, for no reason. What gives? Same difference?

    Again, I really enjoyed this post, these perspectives are inspiring. Technically speaking, when it comes to preservation and mitigation practices, I think we need learn some lessons and follow up one what is in place…because its greatly affecting a heritage now.

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