Economic Development – Some Good, But Not As Good As You Think
This week, there was some positive news on the economy.
Based on Monday’s report, Tampa Bay has a gross metro product, or economic output, totalling $125.5 billion this year making it the 22nd most productive metro in the country. Compared to countries, the size of Tampa Bay’s economy would fall between Hungary and Bangladesh.
First off, growth is good. Faster growth is better. There is no doubt. On the other hand, the Tampa Bay area is the 18th largest metro area in the US and the report puts us at 24th in terms of gross metropolitan product (GMP), not 22nd. (See page 10 here) So, who are the six smaller areas that are ahead of us? Denver, Portland (OR), St. Louis, Pittsburgh and two relatively unique situations in Baltimore (federal govt spending) and San Jose (CA). (And note that Pittsburgh has fewer people than the Tampa Bay area, so if we were performing well, it should not be ahead of us anyway.)
It is also good that we are growing faster than other parts of Florida, but the article from the Times touches on a caveat:
In some ways, Tampa Bay is playing catch-up. After the Great Recession ended in 2009, Tampa Bay was slow to bounce back. In fact, the bay area’s economic recovery was among the weakest in the country in 2010 and 2011, according to the Brookings Institution.
Since then it has been another story. Tampa Bay is now the biggest job generator among Florida metros, adding nearly 42,000 jobs between September 2012 and last September, the most recent figures available.
It is good to generate jobs – of course, there is the question on the type of jobs. It is also important to note that growth, while good, is not a very good measure of our economy as it compares to other areas because growth is relative (a smaller economy might have faster growth than a larger economy even if the actual dollar increase is less). A better measure of how we compare is per capita GMP. Luckily, we can calculate that from the report’s GMP numbers and Census Bureau’s annual population estimates, the last being for July 2012. (We use the Wikipedia page for population info because they actually do a ranking, but we spot checked it with the census numbers.) While taking GMP estimates for 2013 and using population estimates for 2012 is not optimal, it gives a pretty good picture. Instead of doing every metro area, we picked some of the usual suspects in the rankings with populations close to ours (both larger and smaller), as well as Florida and southern cities, listed here in order of highest per capita GMP to lowest (* for metro areas with a smaller population than ours).
San Diego 57474.4662
Little Rock* 48908.5452
Jackson (MS)* 45769.7642
Columbia (SC)* 45365.0549
Tampa Bay 44145.4048
From per capita GMP, which shows the value of economic productivity per person, it is clear that we are way behind, even in Florida. (In terms of raw numbers statewide, we do a little better: the Tampa Bay area has 14.7% of the state population (2012 estimates) but 15.4 % of the gross state product. see report page 36 here)
In sum, we are growing, which is good. Certainly we are not at the low point of the economic cycle. The problem is that we are chronic underperformers, as seen in both the smaller areas with larger economies and in per capita GMP. This is mostly because of the structure of our economy and the focus on sprawling real estate, call centers, and tourism. Until we change that, we may grow, but we will not be anywhere near where we should be. We likely will be playing catch up for a while.
Economic Development – Good News
This week, there were more business announcements:
We know the job numbers are not huge and it is unclear what they (at least Covidien) are going to be making and what the salaries will be, but, in addition to being biomed, we like the manufacturing aspect. One area we really could use a boost in is manufacturing.
Jackson House – On the Edge
Over the last few months there has been talk about honoring African-American history (see Bro Bowl and Perry Harvey Park). The City has tried to portray itself as the vanguard of honoring said history, but then there is the case of Jackson House, the last actual building from the time when Central Avenue was a hub of the African-American community. Jackson House is in disrepair, there is no doubt. Recently, there have been private moves to try to fix (or at least stabilize) the building. As recently as three weeks ago the Mayor said this:
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.”
How long is “not forever?”
Robinson, 65, said issues that include his health and his family’s wishes factored into the decision. Adding urgency was a letter last week in which City Attorney Julia Mandell said the house is in “seriously unstable condition.”
Apparently, a few weeks. We know the building needs major repairs. That is not the question. The question is what has the City done (and not just this administration) and what is it doing? For a city that claims to care about its history, there has been a strange inaction regarding Jackson House. It is not as though the issues with Jackson House were unknown. (Here is a 2008 article that says there is no structural damage but signs of decay. Too bad no one did anything.)
On Thursday, news came out that preservationists are still trying:
The supporters of Tampa’s historic Jackson Rooming House, located at 851 Zack St., appealed to Tampa City Council this morning for a 60-day extension of a potential demolition order to allow time for a non-profit group to buy and stabilize the dilapidated structure.
“A number of people have contacted me who are willing to step up and stabilize it,” Linda Saul-Sena, a former city councilwoman, said. “We’re putting a deal together with people that want to save this piece of Tampa history.”
(Nothing says respect for history like snarky comments about efforts to preserve it.)
If African-American history is so important, why not give the effort a little more time? Why not say they get 60-days but no more? Why the rush to tear the building down?
Hillsborough County – Shenanigans?
We have previously written about the proposed big box development in Bloomingdale. (See Real Priorities and Built Environment – The Sprawl Strikes Back) You may remember that the residents opposed the development, but:
Well, as shown in an article about a lawsuit filed by residents, that may not have exactly been the case:
Previous owners won county permission in 2003 to rezone the property to a relatively new land-use category, one that called for a “traditional neighborhood design.” The goal of the designation was to create a commercial and residential hub similar in appearance to the Winthrop Town Centre a few miles to the west on Bloomingdale with its distinctive architectural styles and local roads and sidewalks linked to nearby homes.
The company floated a new plan a year later, this time as a change to broader growth rules in the county known as the land-development code. But the change applied to this 43-acre parcel alone, not any other property in the county. It changed the way roads and buildings on the property could be configured.
It was not considered a rezoning by the county. If it had been, that would have required the county to place signs about the proposed changes near the property and notify nearby residents and neighborhood groups. As it was, few people showed up to the hearings that followed.
In other words, if this report is accurate, it is not the 2003 rezoning that is the issue. It is that the County Commission essentially did a back door rezoning in 2011 and now is claims it can do nothing. We don’t know if it is illegal, but it is questionable.
This whole controversy, not to mention all the pronouncements by the County that strips stores are economic development, makes you wonder if and when the County designates economic development zones, will it be a process for the common good or just a select few interests.
Downtown – The Growing Land Collection
This week there was news that the owner of the Lightning is collecting more empty lots in downtown Tampa.
Partnerships tied to the Tampa Bay Lightning owner recently paid $10 million to buy 3 acres of empty downtown real estate across the street from the Tampa Bay Times Forum, the home of Vinik’s hockey team.
Last year, Vinik tried to add to his holdings by purchasing the lease to the Channelside Bay Plaza retail center — but backed off due to legal complications. That left his plans for the rest of his Channel District land holdings in doubt.
That is an interesting development. What did the Mayor have to say?
Well, that is not in doubt since the Lightning owner is on track to own a huge chunk of downtown and whatever he does or does not do will be very important.
Frankly, we are not sure what else the Mayor could say. (Though, however unlikely, he could say nothing.) The reality is that the Lightning owner’s compiling of a property portfolio could be a great thing if he builds quality projects on the land. On the other hand, even though from all public information the Lightning owner appears quite financial secure, there is always a risk with so much land subject to the financial health or plans of one group. (It would not be first time big plans for developer or land owner came to little or nothing or were inordinately delayed. Hopefully, that will not be the case.) Or they could just have bad plans. Frankly, no one (at least no one in the public) really knows, and that is a concern.
Well, here is a review of LA Live by an architecture critic which can be summarized thus:
For cities, the benefit of a gargantuan new development is not only the boost it gives to the tax base but also, in urban terms, its spillover effect — energy and people flowing into the surrounding area. The entirety of the AEG development downtown — Staples plus L.A. Live — is designed like an airtight cruise ship, turning not a welcoming face but the architectural equivalent of a massive hull to the neighbors. Its spillover effect may be measured not in gallons but in drops.
Not exactly what we need (or the Mayor claims he wants). And here, maybe more importantly, Yelp. (Only 3 out of 5 stars.)
Of course, nothing says the Tampa plans have to replicate the mistakes of the LA Live plan. We certainly have nothing against Lightning owner or what he has done for the Lightning and the Forum. Hopefully, he will apply lessons learned from LA Live and improve on the concept in his project, whatever it is. That would be great.
Whatever gets built could be great or it could be a mess (or somewhere in between or little to nothing gets built.). Only time will tell. Hopefully, it will all work out (and, hopefully, the Lightning owner will apply lessons from LA Live and other places like Boston to truly enhance downtown.)
Downtown/Channel District – The Port Plans
In a related development, the Port is going to master plan its property in the Channel District.
So what is the idea?
The port’s master plan also will have to blend with the still-private plans of Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, who since 2011 has been acquiring acreage on the west side of Channelside Drive near the downtown hockey arena.
Well, at least the company has some experience. (see here) On the other hand, the Port has a poor track record in the Channel District (see Channelside fiasco and the horribly designed garage and its horrible addition). The real concern is that we get a canned plan presented as a fait accompli with much fanfare and hype and only cursory public input.
The other thing is that we have no idea what the goal of the plan is. There is a pretty good argument for leaving it as part of the port rather than developing real estate. (There is also the question of the long term future of the cruise business at the port – a discussion that disappeared almost as fast as it appeared. see here and here)
In all honesty, we go back and forth about what should happen to this land. What has not been done is a full public discussion about the benefits and liabilities of real estate development versus maritime functions (which actually should have started long before anyone was hired to create a master plan), nor is it likely. It is not the Tampa DNA.
This week, we got another peek into the mind of a Hillsborough County Commissioner (at least one of them is willing to discuss issue publicly).
He sees that not especially connected area one day smoothly quilted together into the kind of place people would come for health care and a virtual array of services, connected and cohesive. He sees hospitals, but also entertainment, retail, food, hotels and yes, roller coasters.
There is nothing wrong with this idea. In fact, it is good, though there are a lot of hurdles – especially that the whole area in question is a planning mess, not to mention the surrounding area needs to be completely fixed up. Of course, that is not a reason to despair. It is a reason to get on with it and deal with the details. There was also this:
Do we want to be the innovators, he asks in that caffeinated Mark Sharpe way, or just support staff for the innovators? Why did Forbes list us rock bottom for commuting? How come we don’t make the top 20 as a place friendly for startups?
Actually, we do not think that the Commissioner is not saying that Tampa is a sleepy burg. (He’s actually not saying anything one way or the other.) We think he is saying that Tampa is not in the proper posture to take advantage of our assets and potential. We are not where we should be, are not adequately competitive, and are underperforming. If that is the reality, it is the reality. It really does not matter if some people think it is “putting Tampa down.”
Better to deal with reality than be Pollyannaish. (And the above discussed economic information makes the reality clear.) Why sugarcoat things? That is just a sign of insecurity and weakness, if not downright dishonesty – and it is not leadership. If we cannot discuss our deficiencies, we will never overcome them (which may be why we struggle to overcome so many of them). Speaking of deficiencies:
Yes, Sharpe is still a true transit believer in the name of bringing in people and jobs (and maybe even medical tourism), but in a different way than that failed rail push. You need plenty of private partners in the mix, he says now.
“It’s not going to be an old-school system where government walks in and basically pays for it through traditional tax,” he says, having experienced exactly how voters feel about that particular model.
This is where we have a big question. What does he mean by private partners in the mix? What local transit service in the US is based on private partners? What system expansions anywhere else in the US is private? Not that we are ideologically opposed to private partners – we aren’t. We just know of no examples. It seems an unlikely strategy.
That being said, Sunrail in Orlando, though publicly funded, is not funded by a simple sales tax. It is creatively funded. Whether public or private, there is nothing wrong with being creative, as long as it is reasonable and not an ideological statement that will just lead to more delays and deficiencies.
In sum, we are fine with this discussion. It is actually a good and healthy thing, even if some don’t like dealing with reality, warts and all. (It is hard to trust the judgment of someone who will not look at the full picture.) However, as with so many issues, the devil is in the details, and we don’t have any of those yet.
Transportation – Just Another Reason to Build the Gandy Connector
This week, the Tribune had an article about the development going on near south Westshore Blvd (meaning near Gandy).
That has changed, which is why Coley’s company, Shamrock Realty Advisors, is building an apartment complex in the area. Bermuda Bay apartments, near the railroad tracks at West Shore Boulevard and Prescott Street, will be the latest in a string of new developments in the once heavily industrialized area.
The change from heavy industry to mixed-use residential is a natural one, real estate experts and city officials say. And now that the economy is recovering, developers and property owners are poised to complete this metamorphosis of some of Tampa’s last waterfront property available for large-scale redevelopment.
Which is fine, if it is done right. But setting that aside, all those people are going to crowd onto Gandy (and use the businesses, unless they can’t get around on an overburdened Gandy Blvd.)
And an “apartment boom” is taking place all over Tampa, said city Councilman Harry Cohen, who represents South Tampa. The stretch along south West Shore Boulevard seems to be one of the most popular places to build.
The city has invested time and money in the Port Tampa neighborhood in recent years, Cohen said. Workers broke ground on a state-of-the-art fire station there this summer, and they recently completed a makeover of Picnic Island Park.
Yes, really hot, but not very well connected or planned. (Interestingly that is the same City Councilman who opposed doing anything about the Gandy Connector.)
Sadly, this is typical of the Tampa Bay area transportation planning. A need is identified, but there is no political will to fix it. In the meantime, the government entities push development. Eventually, the new users want the issue addressed and the whole cycle starts again. It happened in Brandon. It happened in New Tampa. It happens everywhere. When it happens to Gandy, we will all know why.
Transportation – A Failure of Planning and Imagination
This week, the Tribune had an article on widening Bruce B. Downs.
Once known as “the road to nowhere,” Bruce B. Downs, which extends from Fowler Avenue in Tampa to State Road 54 in Wesley Chapel, has become one of the area’s busiest roads. County statistics show 60,000 vehicles travel Bruce B. Downs through New Tampa daily.
So what do the residents need?
Huh? The residents need an eight lane road where they can bike on the shoulder? Good luck with that. And there is to be future transit – fine. So how are people supposed to cross eight lanes of frustrated traffic from any transit stop? That sounds safe. And once they cross the street, where are they to go? (Where exactly can you walk here. Frankly, you can’t bike too many places either.)
Sadly, New Tampa was a chance to build an area from scratch and learn the lessons of the sprawly past. However, what was built was even more poorly planned, with only one main road and more sprawled than ever. It is not that there are no nice neighborhoods in New Tampa – there are. The problem is that the overall planning is a mess. It is even less transit ready than most of the rest of Hillsborough County and what happens when the eight lane Bruce B. Downs gets jammed? What is the plan for that?
Transportation – Meanwhile In the Rest of Florida
A few weeks ago, FDOT announced that, when it replaced the Howard Frankland bridge, it would spend an extra $25 million or so to make it capable of handling rail, for a total of $415 million. This week the Governor announced plans for Miami:
Gov. Rick Scott announced Tuesday the early stages of an agreement with the city of Miami in which the state will put up $600 million to reconstruct the Interstate 395 overpass and bridge that connects the mainland to Watson Island and Miami Beach.
Speaking briefly at a Coalition of Miami-Dade Chambers function at PortMiami, the governor said construction could begin by 2018, but didn’t go into details on the project, referring to it only as a “signature bridge.”
Scott said the Florida Department of Transportation will seek funding to build the bridge from the Legislature, and listed a group of South Florida state lawmakers who support the initiative, including Sen. René García and Reps. Eddy Gonzalez and Manny Diaz.
The new agreement calls for the state to increase spending on the bridge from $550 million to $600 million. It also calls for a five-member advisory panel to study plans on how the bridge should be built, and ultimately give a recommendation. FDOT District Secretary Gus Pego and Miami Assistant City Manager Alice Bravo would sit on the panel and choose the three other members.
Sarnoff, whose district includes the bridge, said the goal of the lawsuit was to get FDOT away from building a segmented bridge and build a new one that is tall enough so that walking under it isn’t such a dark, dank experience.
Rebuilding the bridge that juts out from the mainland between the old Miami Herald building and the new museums being erected at Bicentennial Park has been a sensitive issue for city leaders for well over a decade. Urban planners say the low-hanging noisy structure that now straddles Biscayne Boulevard inhibits, and even scares, pedestrians from walking from the performing arts center to AmericanAirlines Arena and the new restaurants and condos that line the boulevard. It’s even more important to renovate the highway, they say, now that the museums are being built.
(Apparently this is what $50 million or so will get you these days. )
Setting aside that the Howard Frankland is the transportation spine of the entire Tampa Bay area and the Miami bridge is just one of many and that the proposed extra money is for ornamentation not functionality, why is the bridge so expensive and why do we struggle to get money for our projects? It sure would be nice if we got that extra $200 million (to match the $600 million) to put ornamentation on our bridge, or maybe toward a transit system (in addition to the normal state matching funds.)
Maybe the local legislative delegation should get together and do something about it.
List of the Week I
Our first list of the week is Yahoo!’s list of cities adding the most high paying jobs.
Before we get into the list, we note they say the following, which we said during the Estuary/Bass Pro Shops debate:
This concept of high-wage and low-wage job growth going hand-in-hand might sound strange, but it’s been well-documented by regional economists. Jobs created in high-wage, export-oriented industries do more than increase the number of well-paid workers in those industries; they also lead to job openings in lower-paying service industries in their city or region — which means more jobs for the baristas, cashiers, and retail clerks who make up a large portion of any local economy.
Sure, it is obvious, but sometimes the obvious needs to be repeated.
The list is as follows: First place goes to Washington, DC; followed by Seattle; Boston; Baltimore; Kansas City; San Jose; Hartford; Louisville; Denver; and San Francisco. So, some of the usual suspects plus Louisville, Kansas City, and Hartford. Still no Tampa.
List of the Week II
Our second list of the week is FlightNetwork’s Top 14 (ed. 14?) Winter Destinations for Canadians.
Coming in first is Ft. Lauderdale, followed by Las Vegas, Orlando, LA, Phoenix, Tampa (we think they mean the Tampa Bay area), San Francisco, Miami, Ft. Myers, London, Riviera Maya, Paris, NYC, Puerta Vallarta & Riviera Nayarit.