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Roundup 12-20-2013

December 20, 2013

Copa – Welcome to Tampa

From airportsinternational.com – click on picture for article

This week, the flights between Tampa and Panama City, Panama, on Copa began.  The contract only runs a year, so it needs rapid and sustained success.  Nevertheless, it is worthy of celebrating the flight but properly.

It is, Buckhorn said Monday, “a game-changer.”

Not yet, but, depending on how the service goes, it might prove to have been. (If everything we are told is a game changer actually were, we would rivaling New York and San Francisco by now.) As with most things, you do not know if it changed the game until later.

“This really is, literally and figuratively, the avenue to opening up a gateway to the Americas,” said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who took the flight as part of a business delegation.

Well, it is a figurative avenue, but it is not literally an avenue unless Copa is using the Lotus from The Spy Who Loved Me.  (If they are, we hope the Mayor took some video of that.)  The Tribune got it right in an editorial on the flight:

That changes tonight, thanks in large part to TIA CEO Joe Lopano’s focus on building international travel, and to a collaboration that crossed Tampa Bay, a water body far more vast than its physical dimensions. The airport, the visitor bureaus in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, chambers of commerce and economic development agencies provided cash and in-kind marketing to Copa totaling about $1.2 million. That gives the airline a head start on building a steady passenger base. Tampa has lost international flights to Germany, Costa Rico and Mexico.

Also deserving credit for the airport’s growing international profile are the late TIA Board Member Steve Burton and other local critics who pressed a skeptical former TIA Executive Director Lou Miller to recruit foreign flights. Miller was a superb administrator and we trusted his judgment, but when he resigned and Lopano came aboard it became clear the critics were correct that TIA, with work, could win more international business.

The reality is that the recent successes at the airport were pushed by the community, business and otherwise, who spent years trying to get changes while the most elected leaders did almost nothing or even resisted change.  Now almost everyone is on the bandwagon, which is fine, but remember to give credit where credit is due.

Other than that, we are not going to say that much about it.  We are happy.  It is good.  We want more.

The Port – A Question

In all the coverage about the Copa flight starting, we noticed this little nugget:

“South and Central America are our natural trading partners,” Buckhorn said. “We are the closest port to the Panama Canal. We just had to make our case to Copa and back it up with hard data. We had to prove flights here wouldn’t negatively impact Orlando and Miami. Once we did that, it came together for us.”

Ok, we’ll go with that. (Setting aside that your “natural trading partners” are the ones who sell stuff you want and buy stuff you sell whether they are near or far.) If we (we being the ports on Tampa Bay) are the closest port to the Panama Canal, how does the port’s strategy of just being a transshipment spoke where very large ships that come through the Canal and go to hubs in the Caribbean while we are just served by smaller ships?  Doesn’t that eliminate any advantage of being closest to the Canal?  If Miami is farther from the Canal and farther from major markets other than its own, why is all the money to develop the container business really going there with nary a complaint from this area?

Yes, we get the bridge and the channel needs dredging, but we are talking the strategy for the foreseeable future – a generation at least.  Miami got a channel dredged and a tunnel, etc.  How is our strategy taking advantage of our location?  Are the Port and its Board “thinking big?”

The Ports, The Politicians, The Region

Last week, we discussed a little controversy between the Port in Tampa and Port Manatee regarding cooperation, consolidation or something else. (No one is sure what?)  We noted that Port Manatee was acting a lot like the HART Board.  This week, a Port Board member, who is also a County Commissioner and, coincidentally, a member of the HART Board, told us the following:

Sandra Murman was unequivocal during Tuesday’s Tampa Port Authority board meeting: The Port of Tampa has no interest in merging, consolidating with or trying to take over Port Manatee.

“We are not interested in consolidation,” said Murman, a Hillsborough County commissioner who sits on the board. “Nor was there any plan for it at any time into the future that I can see.”

The two ports are neighbors, just 31 miles apart, and both are trying to become auto import/export hubs. The state also wants to see better cooperation between its ports. But the concept, continually floated in local media reports, has been adamantly opposed by Manatee County officials.

Said Port of Tampa chief executive officer Paul Anderson: “I stand by Commissioner Murman’s statements.”

That’s fine, as far as it goes.

But the real point is this: just like the HART/PSTA kerfuffle, the only people these territorial arguments matter to are the politicians and a few people in administration who could lose their jobs.  For most of the region, what really matters is that we get the most out of our investment for the least cost and the biggest return in economic activity and jobs.  It does not matter if it is Port Tampa or Port Manatee that receives a container, as long as it comes into Tampa Bay. The more containers, the more work.

Just like we would not have the Copa flight if Pinellas officials did not help a Hillsborough facility, we will not have the port business we could/should if we do not behave regionally in the ports.  We do not know whether the ports would function better through cooperation or consolidation. (We take no specific position at this point.) What we do know is that politicians and some other board members have a vested interest in maintaining separation to consolidate their political and power base and that the citizens at large derive no benefit from arguments.  If the boards do not look to maximize efficiency, they are not doing their jobs.

Once again, we do not support any specific plan of consolidation or merger, but they should be examined and, at the very least, there should be very strong cooperation. It makes no sense for the Tampa Bay area to compete against itself – like in roll on/roll off auto shipping.  We have enough competition from other areas that are ahead of us.

Port/Channelside – The Never Ending Story Goes On

This week, there was a new lawsuit in the Channelside complex saga.

Liberty Channelside LLC, which tried to buy Channelside Bay Plaza over the summer, has filed suit in federal court alleging that the Tampa Port Authority sabotaged and then scuttled the Liberty deal so that the port could strike its own deal for the waterfront complex.

* * *

Liberty investors Santosh Govindaraju and Punit Shah sued both the Tampa Port Authority and the Irish Bank Resolution Corp. in U.S. bankruptcy court in Delaware. That court is also handling the IBRC’s bankruptcy case involving its American assets, which includes Channelside.

So what evil has befallen them?

Liberty alleged that port officials encouraged Liberty to attempt to purchase Channelside, set up unreasonable barriers to the sale, killed the deal, then used Liberty’s hard work to set up the Tampa Port Authority’s own purchase agreement.

According to the Liberty suit “after driving off Liberty and any other potential buyer … the Port Authority began negotiating its own purchase” of Channelside.

The Liberty lawsuit said the group negotiated the Irish bank down from the $27 million loan on the original mortgage to a sale price of $5.5 million. The Tampa Port Authority then turned around and used Liberty’s negotiations, to set the port’s own price of $5.75 million, the suit said.

Liberty had struck a deal with the bank over the summer to buy Channelside, but the port’s ownership of the land gave it veto power over any bank deal. Liberty’s negotiations with the port, however, were stuck on millions in escrow that the port demanded in advance to guarantee improvements to Channelside. The talks also grew testy between the two sides.

In other words, they did some work but did not get the deal.

What a mess.  Our initial impression is that there is little to this, though something may emerge.  We really don’t want to waste time with a lawsuit rather than get that property useful again.  Of course, the entire suit may just be a nuisance suit to get some money out of the Port.  On the other hand, if the suit goes forward, at least we will find out what really happened regarding the threats of alleged physical harm during the negotiations.  Nothing like a little drama.

The NCAA Seems To Like Us

This week, we also learned that the 2017 College Football Championship will be played at Raymond James Stadium.  Once again, we are pleased.  There is no reason we should not host such events routinely – which is slowly becoming the case.  We are kind of curious about this comment:

College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock said choosing the sites was not an easy decision and called it “a very competitive process.” Hancock said “we could have gone anywhere” but ultimately Tampa’s facilities, community leadership and the proposals submitted were significantly better than the others.

We suspect there were some revenue issues in those proposals, but so be it, for now.  And, in this case, we are not going to get into the hyperbolic statements.  Most of them came from the people is the sports promotion community who deserve to get to be hyperbolic on occasion.   Too often they do the work and the politicians try to take credit.

Downtown Policy – A Little Perspective

One thing that we can learn from all these events is that the area needs to invest in its infrastructure and facilities.  For instance, if the Community Investment Tax had never been passed, the stadium would not be there and nor would the game or Super Bowls, etc.  Likewise, if the Forum had not been built, all the events there would never happen.

We are lucky those facilities got built.  The same is true for the progress the overall downtown area, where the Mayor is focusing almost all of his energy.  It is not anywhere near where it should be, but investment has helped make it better, which leads us to something we ran across from 2002 while researching the Community Investment Tax:

“I intend to be the neighborhood mayor,” he said.

To fund his new programs, Buckhorn would reallocate millions from the Community Investment Tax now committed to projects in downtown, Ybor City and other areas. He did not list what projects would get hit.

Buckhorn’s pledge will help shape the mayor’s race between two different groups — one that wants more money for potholes and code enforcement, and another that favors projects in Ybor City and Channelside that boost Tampa’s economy and tourism base.

In other words, the Mayor back then was the non-boost the economy and tourism candidate.

Buckhorn said the city hasn’t spent enough money from the Community Investment Tax on neighborhoods. Voters passed the half-penny sales tax in 1996 to build a new football stadium for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when the NFL team threatened to leave town.

Last year, when the City Council voted to spend $39-million from the tax to build a new art museum and expand Lowry Park Zoo, Buckhorn was the only council member to vote no.

Mayor Dick Greco pushed for the new art museum and expanded zoo because he said it would boost Tampa’s image and attract families looking to live in a world-class city. Neighborhood groups said the vote showed the mayor cared more about big new buildings than the little things that make cities appealing places to live.

Buckhorn said Tuesday it is too late now to take back those funds. He told an audience of museum supporters last week that he would work to make the museum a success.

But Buckhorn wants to scale back other city programs to boost neighborhoods.

He hinted that spending in Ybor City might go down.

“I am more concerned about community programs than landscaping on Seventh Avenue,” he said, referring to the commercial center of Ybor City.

Now, we are not going to say that people cannot change their minds or have their views evolve.  Frankly, we wish more of this area’s elected leaders’ views evolved rather than clinging to discredited ideas they have advocated previously.

On the other hand, too often in this area revisionist history is allowed to slide without comment. Next time you are told that no one imagined how things could change 10 or 15 years ago, just remember who had the vision and who didn’t. Remember, those who forget history are destined to repeat it and all that.

Transportation – 22nd Street Shuffle

Last week, Hillsborough County took the wraps off of some improvements to 22nd Street.

North 22nd Street has come a long way since a hit-and-run driver struck and killed two siblings and injured two others as they crossed the road at night nine years ago.

Now the two-lane artery is a hub of activity lined with wide sidewalks, 4-foot-wide bicycle lanes, improved lighting, off-the-road transit bus bays and landscaped green spaces.

* * *

Now North 22nd Street is home to a community recreation center, health clinic, a junior achievement center, a senior retirement village and apartment complexes.

That is all good.  That area has really needed work for some time and could use much more.  We are definitely pleased that some money was put into making things better.  We are also glad that there have been statements about doing more for the area, including economic development.  However, what we do not get is this:

. . . The county contributed millions in Community Investment Tax dollars for wider lanes, new traffic humps, sidewalks and improved lighting.

Supporters hope the makeover will help trigger an economic boom to attract new businesses and high-tech companies paying high wages.

Miller acknowledged the accomplishments and encourage [sic] supporters to continue the fight for more public-private partnerships to make the University Area a premier gateway community.

Nothing says high tech, high paying jobs in a gateway like traffic humps.  You can see that from Google’s headquarters, though they are bumps not humps. And, of course, the Google speed bumps are in the parking lot, not on the public road.

We are all for investing in this area and working for redevelopment, but rhetoric and reality should match.  The reality is that 22nd Street is not going to be a gateway road (it is not laid out that way) or a tech hub, unless someone tears down University Square and builds a major tech facility.  That is ok – it is not the nature of that road. (See here)   Fletcher is the main road and connects the area to I-275, USF, and I-75. Fix and redevelop that.

USF – Heart Institute

Speaking of developing that, USF broke ground on a Heart Institute this week.  Once again, that is a good thing.  We are all for developing USF.  This is a rendering of the building:

From 83degreesmedia.com – click on picture for article

Not amazing, but definitely good enough.  What is even better, from the USF press release pictures , the best we can figure is that the building is replacing this.  That is great. While USF’s campus is big, the land is not unlimited and many of the older buildings are quite ugly and spread out.  We are happy that USF is working to make the campus denser and more campus-like.  That can only help make it more attractive for students and faculty/researchers alike.

Downtown Tampa – Perfect Time For An Intervention

A few weeks ago, we wrote about a proposal to build a hotel, office building, etc., near Encore in downtown Tampa.  We pointed out the poor interaction with the street in the conceptual drawings, and noted that the City should get the developer to do better.  This week we learned:

City rules allow a building up to 120 feet tall on the site, Ray said, though another big factor is parking. Depending on what’s built, Ray thinks he can get 27 to 34 spaces on the site and is talking to the city and the Florida Department of Transportation about using neighboring properties for additional parking.

What better time to get the point across.  Of course, whether the City will do it is an open question.  Only time will tell.

There was also this:

Over the next couple of years, as Encore is built out, becomes fully leased and gains a stable base of residents, McDonaugh would expect prospects to improve for the kind of private development a growing neighborhood needs: a grocery store, a drug store, a convenience store, a bank branch or a dry cleaner.

A good thing, he said, is the quality of construction going into Encore’s buildings and infrastructure. When finished, the 28-acre Encore is expected to include 794 mixed-income apartments, 300 condominiums or other privately owned units sold at market rates, 268,000 square feet of commercial development, a museum and school. The value of the new construction could approach $425 million.

And all those things would be nice to have around the Encore project.  On the other hand, if they are typical suburban buildings, the quality of the Encore construction (other than the very poor way it addresses Central Avenue) would be completely wasted.  All that is on the City.  We’ll see if they take up the challenge, or settle some more and show the City’s DNA has not changed at all.

TIA – Consolidated Rental Car Project

We have previously noted that Tampa International awarded contracts to build the consolidated rental car facility.  We ran across a video of the proposal here.  (It is also on the TIA website.)

It is not bad, though we have a few comments (would you expect anything less?). First, what is with the 747 on the overpass?  Think big – go A380.  Second, wow, that is a massive sea of parking garages and lots. Finally, can we retire the “It’s a New Day In Tampa Bay” theme?  It’s been done – an often without leading to success. See here, here, here, here.  Next thing you know, they be using “the hit show.”

Seriously, we like the video.

Meanwhile In the Rest of Florida

We also hear a lot in the County about how it wants to create employment and activity centers as part of economic development, but then it just allows more sprawl (and subsidizes it).  This week, the Miami Herald reported about a proposal to build a downtown Doral. (Project website here)

In the western outskirts of Miami-Dade County, a sophisticated new urban center is taking shape, complete with several luxury condominium towers, townhouses, apartments, office buildings, shops, restaurants, a charter school, a park with a public art pavilion and a government center.

Downtown Doral, a 120-acre mixed-use development by Codina Partners, aims to transform the industrial, workday world of Doral into a real hometown.

The goal, said Codina Partners Executive Chairman Armando Codina, is to create a “live, work, learn and play” community, where families can enjoy the fruits of urban life — while spending less for housing than they would in other such enclaves of Miami-Dade. 

From the Miami Herald – click on picture for article

It is not perfect, but it is way better conceptually than anything considered in/by the County.

We understand the Doral proposal is just a proposal (nothing says it will be built out) and some of the market dynamics are different in Dade County than Hillsborough County. Of course, a large part of that difference in dynamics is how the different governments see what should be built and how then plan – Hillsborough does not even entertain the idea of doing such things rather than just subsidizing sprawl.  And Hillsborough can’t even get a little town center in Brandon going (unless it is the mall and the surrounding sprawl).  Hillsborough County could definitely learn from other areas.

A Public Service – Local Political Contributions Lists

In the spirit of the giving season, we thought we would provide the reader with a useful tool to see just who is supporting their local politicians. So here is the link to the Supervisor of Elections page to search who is giving political contributions to local candidates.  If you know where to look, it is easy to find, but it does not just readily pop-up on a Google search.  Just pop in some names and see what you get.

List of the Week I

Our first list of the week is CNN Money’s Best Places to Retire 2013.  The intro is thus:

Love the culture and excitement of urban life, but loathe the congestion and cost? One of these ‘second cities’ could be your first-choice retirement spot.

It is not clear that the ten cities are ranked in any order, so we will just list them: Raleigh, Pittsburgh, Lexington (KY), St. Petersburg, Boise, Ft. Lauderdale, Salt Lake City, Colorado Springs, Spokane, and Norfolk.

List of the Week II

Our second list of the week is carinsurancecomparison.com’s Worst Drivers By State.

The worst state was Louisiana, followed by South Carolina, Mississippi, Texas, Alabama, Florida, a tie between Missouri and North Carolina, Montana, and North Dakota.

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