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Roundup 12-6-2013

December 6, 2013

Bro Bowl – The City is Willing to Do What It Wants

Last week, there was news that the City is willing to move the Bro Bowl, which we already knew.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn is still no fan of the Bro Bowl, but he has come to recognize that its spot on the National Register of Historic Places could delay a project that he and black community leaders care about a lot more.

To avoid that, the city asked an engineering firm whether it’s possible to move the skateboarding bowl out of the bigger project’s way. The answer is yes, with the move costing an estimated $115,000 to $125,000.

But now Buckhorn has another problem. Historic preservation officials in Tallahassee told the city that moving the Bro Bowl would be an “appropriate compromise,” Buckhorn said. They’ve also said it would trigger another review process — the third in a year.

That’s because federal regulations say that changing the boundary of a site on the National Register means that a new nomination must be made to keep it on the list. And the new review would take at least nine months.

That, city officials say, would further delay a $6 million project at Perry Harvey Sr. Park, where the Bro Bowl is located. City Hall has spent years planning to transform the drab 11-acre park into a memorial to the history of Central Avenue — once a vibrant black business and nightclub district.

“The overriding issue for me is to get the park done sooner rather than later,” Buckhorn said. “If moving the bowl to the north end of the park accommodates that, then I’m willing to do that.”

So just leave it where it is and slightly alter the park plan and get it done.  It is only the City’s lack of flexibility that is making this hard.

And then there was this:

Buckhorn said he has spoken to Fred Hearns, the leading advocate for the plan to honor the history of Central Avenue. It’s also the mayor’s understanding that state officials have reached out to skateboarders. Based on what he’s heard, both sides are okay with the plan.

First, the leading advocate for the plan is on the City payroll, which raises an interesting question about who is the real advocate of the plan.   Second, did the state officials talk to any of the people here? Who exactly were the skateboarders with whom they spoke?  Why is no one quoted or identified?

Once again, there has been no stated justification for stubbornly clutching to a plan that is not even the Mayor’s.  The easiest thing to do, probably the cheapest (we doubt tweaking the plan will cost over $100,000), is to just tweak the park plan, save the Bro Bowl, build all the items that honor African-American history and move on.  Though the Mayor keeps saying that is a problem, he has not explained why.  The only thing holding up this project is the City’s an unwillingness to do a real compromise.

Economic Development – Some Good, Some Questionable

This week, there was economic development news, some good and some bad  First, there was an announcement for Plant City:

A company that makes fiber cement siding and interior products has announced plans for adding 100 new jobs as part of a nearly $80 million expansion at its Plant City factory.

James Hardie will double its capacity to produce fiber cement sheets as part of the project, scheduled for completion in the first quarter of 2015.

* * *

James Hardie, headquartered in Ireland, opened its factory at 809 S. Woodrow Wilson St. in 1994. The company plans to convert a section of the 400,000-square foot factory that was used to make pipe into sheet production and add 100,000 square feet to the overall plant.

The company will add new machinery and equipment as part of the retrofit.

The factory will double its workforce from 100 to 200 employees when the expansion is complete. The company is doubling its production to meet increasing demands for its fiber cement products.

That is good news.  More manufacturing is nice.

Then there was this:

The Texas investment group building a $100 million-plus used-oil processing plant at the Port of Tampa that was envisioned as an economic development showcase for the region has suspended construction of the plant for 90 to 120 days, the group said in a release.

“The costs estimated for plant completion have increased more than 100 percent from the initial construction estimate,” the release dated Nov. 22 said.

“While NexLube believes the project continues to be viable, it needs time to evaluate its options due to the substantial increase in projected costs.”

That is too bad.  Hopefully, it will get worked out.  However, it goes to show that hype (like here  and here) does not necessarily mean success.

But no matter, we are getting a Top Golf, arguably helped along by taxpayer money to the Estuary/Bass Pro shops project.  (Top Golf uses computer chips in the golf balls so it must be one of the County’s high tech targeted industries.) And, as we were told when during the subsidy debate, that is real economic development.

Economic Development – Does Opportunity Knock?

Last week the Times ran a column on economic opportunity that echoed a key issue we have noted (we quote extensively):

Much to the delight of the elected in Tallahassee, the state’s unemployment rate continues to drop. That’s thanks to more jobs, but also a worrisome trend of more people dropping out of the workforce.

Within Florida, Tampa Bay ranks high among the top metro areas for creating new jobs.

That’s great, as far as it goes.

A huge gulf exists between creating jobs and creating opportunity. And while Florida currently excels at one, it badly trails at the other.

It’s a lesson politicians in this state, obsessed with the simplistic jobless rate as a barometer of the health of our economy, still struggle to learn. Young people in Florida may stay for a job but find it hard to build their American Dream here. Many more sense better opportunity elsewhere and will leave for a career.

We need to fix that. We can’t become a leader as the nation’s third-largest state (as we will become shortly) built on a flimsy foundation of abundant but often mediocre work, weak high school graduation rates, and high crime and poverty.

Exactly.  More jobs are good, but to truly have economic development, we need good, high paying jobs.

The state lands at an unimpressive No. 40 in the country, just below Kentucky and above Tennessee, according to a recent annual ranking by the bipartisan group Opportunity Nation. The group’s leadership council includes such diverse names as former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Harvard Business School professor Dr. Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Ford Foundation president Luis Ubiñas and Bain Capital managing director Joshua Bekenstein.

The index compiles more than a dozen factors from jobs and economy to education, community health and civic life. Each state and almost every county then gets a letter grade from “A” to “F” on its economic mobility — the opportunity for people to get ahead via hard work, perseverance, education and the belief in a brighter future.

* * *

The weak findings locally reflect why the state ranking is so poor.

In Tampa Bay, the two dominant counties, Hillsborough and Pinellas, received a “C.” Hillsborough’s measurements closely tracked the state’s, though the county suffered a higher rate of violent crime. In Pinellas, high school on-time graduation rates (65.2 percent) lagged behind the state’s numbers. And Pinellas, too, lost marks for a higher-than-average rate of violent crime.

To the north, Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties all received grades of “C-.” The three counties suffered with more than 19 percent of their youth, ages 16 to 24, as disconnected — neither working nor in school. And all three counties had a relative scarcity of health care providers.

Most Florida counties received similar or even lower grades. The highest grade was a “B-,” and only a few counties received even that.

The opportunity index even contrasts two kids — “Jane” born in Hillsborough with a “C” opportunity grade and “John” born in Michigan’s Oakland County with a “B” grade — and maps the likelihood of their success in life as they contend with different qualities of education, community safety, affordable housing and household incomes.

John has a distinct advantage in getting ahead over Jane, the index suggests.

In other words, according to the report, a kid from suburban Detroit has an opportunity advantage over a kid from Tampa.  This echoes an item from our last Roundup which indicated we are behind Pittsburgh in gross economic performance (not to mention per capita.  And just to be clear, we are not the ones comparing the Tampa Bay area unfavorably to the Rust Belt.)

The column closed by making this succinct point:

So let’s give a conditional cheer for every drop in Florida’s unemployment rate. But let’s be clear: All the low-paying, dead-end jobs in the world will not transform Florida into a land of opportunity.

Exactly. And let’s be clear – local economic development and elected officials need act according to this reality, including in their public statements and actions about economic development policy.  They also need to understand that the status quo in economic development and all related areas, such as transportation, are not acceptable.  And they should not talk down to the voters by misrepresenting the situation. There is a lot of talk about successes, but most of those still involve an inordinate number of low paying jobs.  Very few successes are the listed target industries or other knowledge-based, high wage industries.  Moreover, we need a truly regional approach, as indicated by a major local business leader in a recent interview:

His biggest fear: “That we do not get enough immigration of business into the area because we lack the cooperative effort to get it done.”

And, as if provided just to emphasize the reality created by this situation, there was this in a Tribune article about housing and the boom in investors buying up houses and renting them out:

Zaragoza and Black are part of the single-family home rental boom that has swept through the area the past two years. With thousands of rentals hitting the market, one might assume rates would fall and vacancies would rise because of the new supply.

However, two data sources, a local property management firm called Home Encounter, and a national rental research firm called Rent Range, suggest rents are staying robust in the $1,000-to-$1,500-a-month range, although not rising.

That’s welcome news for investors buying houses, but bad news for people such as Zaragoza and Black looking to rent them. Using Census Bureau data, the Tribune reported in April that the Bay area ranks sixth in the nation in percentage of financially burdened renters because of its relatively low-wage jobs and high rent costs.

While it is all good for out of state investors, unaffordable housing is not a recipe for success for the Tampa Bay area.

Finally, we understand that part of the job for economic development officials and even elected leaders is to do so cheerleading to sell an area.  However, governing is not about cheerleading, it is about dealing with reality, and the reality is that, even with some growth (even better growth than the rest of Florida), we are not where we should be.  No amount of cheerleading will hide that.  As we said a few weeks ago – if you do not acknowledge deficiencies, you will not deal with them. (And, in this area, often when deficiencies are identified, like with transportation, they still are not deal with.)

PTC – A Whole Lot of Nothing

This week it was announced that efforts to abolish the Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission in the legislature will go nowhere.

A local bill aimed at abolishing Hillsborough County’s controversial Public Transportation Commission died Monday at a meeting of the county’s legislative delegation.

Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, and Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, filed the bill to allow Hillsborough voters to hold a referendum on the fate of the PTC, an agency that regulates taxicabs, limousines, basic life-support ambulances and tow trucks.

* * *

“The biggest frustration today was that the narrative was framed that public safety and a competitive market can’t coexist in Hillsborough County,” Grant said.

But questions about safety — such as who would do background checks to keep sex offenders out of the driver’s seat — played a key role in Monday’s discussion.

If the local bill had passed and voters had decided to kill the PTC, legislators expected that some parts of its job would go to county government. But the lack of a plan for that transition troubled even legislators who voted to let the local bill go forward.

Failure to delineate what will come next is a reasonable concern, but it is not clear why the next step after dissolving the PTC wasn’t worked out and the bill moved forward.  In any event, so what now?

Grant and Brandes said they now plan to pursue a statewide law. It would not seek to eliminate the PTC, but rather would ban what they see as transportation regulations that are anticompetitive and anticonsumer. Their bill was inspired, in part, by a PTC rule that kept the Uber smartphone ride service out of Tampa during the Republican National Convention last year.

That is something.  What is the PTC reaction?

But County Commissioner and PTC Chairman Victor Crist said the agency provides critically important consumer protection. Yes, he said, the agency has had problems, but said it is tightening its policies, improving its operations and putting new, more professional management in place.

Once the PTC puts its house in order, Crist said, it can look at regulatory policies like the one that outraged fans of Uber.

“Abolishing the PTC and the important safety safeguards it upholds is reckless and needlessly puts consumers at risk,” Crist said. “I urge you to allow the ongoing reforms to continue and vote ‘no’ on this well-meaning, but reckless bill.”

We do not buy the idea that the PTC provides necessary safeguards, particularly since no other county in the state has such a commission.  Clearly, the commission’s work can be done without it.

But, for the sake of argument, we’ll go with the reform idea.  What reform?  How about putting the regulations on the website? How about looking at the anti-competitive rules right away instead of creating more delay and hoping the issue goes away, which is the standard MO for Hillsborough County?  How about listing the reforms clearly?  How about adding non-industry, outside members to the board or some other action to limit the influence of political donations?

At this point, asking us to just have faith is asking a lot.  We need something concrete.

Transportation – Pasco Road Movement

This week, the Pasco County government sort of said they were still interested in an elevated toll road.

Pasco commissioners on Tuesday gave their blessing to a feasibility study linked to a proposed toll road on State Roads 54 and 56 in south Pasco County, but they couldn’t agree on whether to back the project without more information and public input.

The approval, at the request of state transportation officials, came a week before developers are due to submit proposals to build and operate a privately run toll road along the highways.

* * *

But before moving forward, transportation officials wanted to clarify whether the county backed the project, or at least the next logical step: a feasibility study.

Commissioners said they backed the study, voting 5-0 in support, but on the larger question of whether to wholeheartedly embrace the project, they were divided.

That is reasonable enough.  But we still feel obligated to address this:

After a group of planning experts from the Urban Land Institute cautioned the county against building an elevated highway, some commissioners began to rethink their support for the project. Chairman Charles Long said major cities across the United States were in the process of removing elevated highways.

We invite you to go to Pasco County and drive (even better, walk) SR54 or SR56, which are both six or eight lanes, depending on where you are.  If anyone thinks that ULI’s proposal of a walkable, tree-lined boulevard on SR54 is 1) going to solve the traffic issues in this area or 2) even be feasible is deluding themselves. (See here) Everything built on the roads would have to be demolished and rebuilt for a boulevard to make any sense. (Frankly, the ULI’s discussion of building boulevards rather than a highway in this area makes us wonder more about the ULI than the highway idea.)

We have no problem with public hearings and a deliberative process.  We do have a problem with this area’s overreliance on ULI to tell us what to do.

Built Environment – How Not To Build

This week, the Tampa Bay Business Journal reported:

Brian Ray of Ray Design Development has proposed developing a tree-dotted, half-acre lot bound by East Laurel and North Jefferson streets and North Orange Avenue. He owns a small part of the lot and says the other properties are under contract to close early next year.

* * *

His proposal calls for a triangular-shaped building to accommodate up to a 10-story hotel with 114 rooms; a four-story apartment with 27 units; or a four-story office with 35,760 square feet of space, including a street-level cafe. All the configurations would include first-floor parking and additional parking on an adjoining lot.

Ray said he is looking for a developer or equity partner for the project. The land and preliminary design are being marketed for $1.25 million.

The first point is that nothing is really planned right now.  However, we think this proposal is still worth discussion because the proposer, an architect, has a website for it that has some renderings, which are worthy of a look.  The biggest building is the hotel.  However, for our purposes, it is easier to look at the office building:

From Triadtampa.com – click on picture for website

As noted in the quotation above and clearly indicated on the (very preliminary) rendering, all the buildings would have first floor parking.  In fact, all the renderings indicate that basically the only thing on the first floor is parking and that there is a completely dead streetscape.

Once again, we realize that the concept is in early stages.  We also understand the renderings are preliminary.  However, the last thing downtown Tampa needs is more dead streetscapes.  This is the time to intervene.  In fact, this is the time to just say that a dead streetscape is unacceptable in any project in downtown (and really anywhere else).  It would be nice to have more built in downtown, but it should be good and the City should insist on it.  There should be no more settling.

Meanwhile in the Rest of Florida

While Tampa is busy being THE gateway to Latin America and hoping someday to get intercity rail and real transit (about which the Mayor and County Commission are still strangely silent), Miami is just being Miami. In addition to Brickell City Centre and its proposed 80 story mixed use building and high end shopping and Miami World Center (see here and here), now the developer of the 4-story, suburban-ish Pierhouse in the Channel District (See the Mayor’s comments about Pierhouse and being our “destiny” here), the Related Group, has proposed a massive development in Miami:

The mega-project, dubbed One Brickell, will include three buildings rising 80 stories, 70 stories, and 55 stories, and will encompass more than four-million square feet, including two-million sellable square feet, according to Related.

The Miami-based developer said it expects to close Dec. 9 on the four-acre site, located where Brickell Avenue meets the Miami River. It includes the Rivergate Plaza building, which is home to The Capital Grille, and the parking lot behind it.

Plans call for more than 1,200 residential units, a 200-plus room five-star hotel with meeting and convention space, 200,000 square feet of office space and street level retail, Related said.

And, in addition to plans to develop main train stations in West Palm Beach and Ft. Lauderdale, AAF is planning a major development around its train station in Miami:

The new Special Area Plan, which AAF is calling the Downtown Intermodal District, gives some details of the station complex, without revealing any actual designs by architecture firm Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill. Station platforms will be above grade, elevated above cross streets and thereby minimally interrupting existing cross traffic, with towers above that. There will also be some development below grade, and under city streets. The station and its towers will have about 1.5 million square feet of office space, almost a million square feet/785 units of residential, 495,000 square feet/820 hotel rooms, 450,000 square feet of retail, and a 63,000 square foot intercity passenger rail station and concourse. It will have (only) 3,730 parking spaces, a significant reduction from what is required under the zoning code. But hey, the zoning code requires too much parking, especially for a city-within-a-train-station-within-a-city, anyways.

We don’t know if all this will get built (probably not), but even one of these projects would dominate downtown Tampa.

And you can read about Art Miami here. And here is a Financial Times article about (sort of) the new Perez Art Museum in Miami (coincidentally named after the CEO of the Related Group.)  And about their high level tech conference here.

Well, at least Related is considering building other projects in Tampa .  Hopefully, the new projects will be more like most other Related projects, which are generally of very high quality, than Pierhouse (which looks to be one of the worst projects they have done, especially in a downtown area. See Related’s main website here and Florida specific website here).

In other news, the forgotten airport in Florida, Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood Intl, is getting flights to Oslo, Stockholm, and Copenhagen, to add to its other international flights.

Destiny, indeed.

Coming Out Watch

This week’s coming out watch features the lead article in the United States section of this week’s Economist magazine, which has a worldwide readership.  First, the byline is “Atlanta and Tampa” with no sign of “Fla.”  What’s more, it says that Miami and Tampa are “joint capitals.”  Of course, the article is about ID Theft.  At least the Mayor got a cameo:

So many people stopped by Tampa police in 2011 were found to have lists of stolen IDs on them that the city’s exasperated mayor, Bob Buckhorn, declared the IRS “missing in action”.

The article does present local law enforcement in a good light, so that is something.

List of the Week I

Our first list this week is the Milken Institute’s List of Best Performing Cities 2013.   Interestingly,

Unlike other “best places” lists, Milken’s report is not a quality of life survey. It does not focus on weather, number of golf courses or healthcare facilities, but rather on job and wage growth and the propensity for technological innovation.

They breakdown the list by city (really MSA) size.  Since the Tampa Bay area is 18th largest metro area in the US, we will focus on the Large City list.

Here is the top 30. Coming in first is  Austin, followed by Provo, San Francisco, San Jose, Salt Lake City, Seattle, Dallas, Houston, Boulder (CO), Greeley (CO), Charleston (SC), San Antonio, Raleigh, Nashville, Denver, Ft. Worth, Corpus Christi, Trenton, Bakersfield, Ft. Collins (CO), Portland (OR), Laredo, Cambridge (MA), Lafayette (LA), San Luis Obispo, Ogden (UT), Charlotte, OKC, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Des Moines.

Clearly, some of these “cities” are really part of larger metros, like areas around the San Francisco Bay Area/Silicon Valley and Denver.  Cambridge is part of Boston as well as home to Harvard and MIT, and Trenton has Princeton.  Some others areas are in an oil boom.  Nevertheless, it is many of the usual suspects.

So, you ask, where are the Florida cities? Of the big ones, the Tampa Bay area is 93rd, Orlando is 98th, Ft. Lauderdale is 129th, Jacksonville is 133rd, and Miami is 144th.

While Tampa Bay is up from 113th last year and the best big metro in Florida, 93rd is pretty weak. Moreover, if you look at city to city comparisons available on the website, the margins (between Florida cities at least) in most categories are pretty slim, and it is the 1 year job growth that really is what helps us.  Also, growth in our very low wages puffs some of the growth numbers used in this study.

What also cannot be concealed is that the usual suspects are way ahead of us again.  Even if we are moving forward, they are very far out in front and moving forward as well. (Take whatever heart from the horrible rankings of Florida cities that you like.)

List of the Week II

Our second list this week is actually a link to Travel & Leisure‘s America’s Favorite Cities 2013 survey.  To find the rankings for each city, just click on it.  Of course, Travel & Leisure does not acknowledge the existence of the Tampa Bay area, so we can’t have a low rank in anything.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. B. Wills permalink
    December 6, 2013 11:52 AM

    Having frequently used cabs in Pinellas, Orange, Miami-Dade, and Broward counties, I can say that their taxi service is superior to Hillsborough, where long waits, no-shows, and address mix-ups are common. Hmm..what is different about Hillsborough that might cause this to be the case?

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