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Roundup 1-17-2014

January 17, 2014

Jackson House – the City Marks MLK Day (a Little Early)

We have written quite a bit about the Bro Bowl and how the City is determined to remove/move it because it says it wants to redo Perry Harvey Park to honor African-American history, even though removing/moving the Bro Bowl is not necessary to accomplishing that goal.  We have also noted that the City has done nothing to save the nearby Jackson House, which is the last building actually from the era when Central Avenue was the heart of the African-American community that the City reportedly wants to honor in the park.  Regardless of the City’s inaction on Jackson House, the Mayor has maintained that the City would work with people trying to save Jackson House with such quotes as:

“She needs to show us the money,” the mayor said. “If I were to see credible evidence that they have real resources — not just happy talk — we’d be willing to work with them.”

Last week, we wrote about an actual plan with actual money to buy and restore Jackson House.  The purchase was supposed to close this past Monday, but it didn’t.

Radio shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge Clem said Thursday he has dropped plans to buy and renovate the historic Jackson Rooming House because of obstacles put in the way by Tampa City Hall.

Clem said he had raised the money from three investors to pay $100,000 for the vacant but storied home on Zack Street. But a closing scheduled for Monday was cancelled after the city made “outrageous demands I can’t meet,” including engaging a contractor by Feb. 2, doing some repairs by early April and paying $8,000 in accrued code enforcement fines.

So let’s review:

The city had set a deadline of Nov. 30 for owner Willie Robinson Jr. to fence the house, secure insurance, come up with a stabilization plan suitable for permitting and agree to hold the city harmless if someone got hurt on the property. After Robinson said he couldn’t do that, Clem said his foundation would buy the building. He said he had commitments from laborers and construction professionals to volunteer their time, and he believed that the estimated repair cost of $1.5 million was highly inflated.

In December, the city said it would look at issuing an order to repair, not demolish, as long as efforts to save the house were making progress.

“They seem to be moving in a positive direction, and we’ve said from day one we’re willing to work with folks if they’re legitimate and if they have the resources to get it accomplished,” Buckhorn told the Tampa Bay Times last month. “We’ve given extensions — multiple extensions — and we will continue to as long as people are moving in the right direction. We’re not going to prolong this forever. It’s ultimately going to get down to money, and whether they have the resources to do what they say they would like to do. They either will get the money, or not.”

In early December, with Clem’s foundation negotiating a contract to purchase the house and a detailed stabilization plan submitted to City Hall, City Attorney Julia Mandell told Robinson’s attorney that work provided for in the stabilization plan must be properly permitted and completed within 60 days of the order to repair.

More recently, the city proposed issuing an amended order to repair that would have required Clem’s organization to stabilize the structure and make sufficient repairs to the roof to prevent further deterioration by July 1. City officials say that’s six more months for the work than they have provided in the past. Specifically, the order to repair would have required Clem to:

• Engage a general contractor by Feb. 3.

• Secure permits for stabilization and roof repair by March 3. That work would have to be 25 percent complete by April 7, 50 percent complete by May 5 and 75 percent complete by June 2.

Failure to meet any of the milestones on time could have led to an order to demolish and, depending on the condition of the structure, an expedited demolition, according to the draft of the amended order to repair.

Clem and his attorney, Jeffrey Drew Butt of Tampa, said his charitable foundation needed at least six months to stabilize the building and at least two years to bring the structure into compliance with city codes.

So, after pledging to work with those who have money, the City imposed unrealistic requirements and timelines on them AT THE CLOSING that threatened the deal.  How is that working with them?  As for the “six months more” the City provided, if it wanted to save the building is could have done more. What did the Mayor say?

City spokeswoman Ali Glisson said Buckhorn had no plans to comment on Clem’s remarks.

“The mayor has better things to do than get involved in a publicity” stunt, she said. 

Apparently the Mayor has better things to do than save Jackson House, too.  It sure does not sound like the Mayor was working in good faith to save the building.

The reality is that the City could work with those willing to restore Jackson House.  If they need extra time, the City could give it to them; according to the City, they already gave them some time, so why not some more?  The City controls the requirements and timeframe for the building to be brought into compliance.  The City controls whether the building demolished.  All those requirements come from the City.

The fact is that this is a simple narrative – the Mayor said that if someone had money, the City would work with them. Someone with money came forward, and the City did not work with them.  That leads to the conclusion that the City administration has no interest in saving Jackson House.  Really, what is the City’s hurry? (We have no idea what the Mayor is planning behind the scenes for the property that includes Jackson House is, though without Jackson House all that remains is pretty much a big lot with just surface parking, but do not be surprised if there is some big development proposal for that land.  Sadly, that is what we have come to expect given the administration’s track record.)

Last week, we said we did not care about the motivation of those who wanted to restore Jackson House as long as it got done, that we needed to keep our eyes on the prize.  Unfortunately, it seems that, at least in this case, the administration is more concerned about personal arguments (and/or as yet secret plans) than saving historical buildings and honoring African-American history.

Is that the change of DNA of which the Mayor has so often spoken?

Innovation – the Nexus Between What You Want and What You Have To Offer

There was another column in the Times about creating an innovation economy.

Some states are really good at it. Washington is awash in big-name innovators like Amazon, Microsoft and Boeing. So is California, with Stanford University and, of course, its Silicon Valley mecca for business startups that produced Google and Facebook among many others. Or Massachusetts, with its powerhouse universities like Harvard and MIT, and the decades of spinoffs such schools have fostered.

That’s why these three states are the No. 1, 2 and 3 picks in the country for innovation, based on a recent analysis of a broad range of federal data by Bloomberg News.

Florida trails at No. 23 based on its so-so mix of relatively few science and engineering degrees, recent drops in productivity and only a modest percentage of technology companies among its public corporations.

For a state about to become the country’s third largest by population, Florida is an innovation laggard. All the other big-population states — California, Texas, New York, Illinois — rank much higher than Florida.

Maybe it’s time to grow up.

You got that right – it is time to grow up because being 23rd is quite weak.  Of course, growing up has many aspects, but we’ll get to that.  First, the Hillsborough County Commissioner who is willing to speak out has some thoughts:

Sharpe argues that Tampa Bay and Florida can rise in the innovation ranks. He has a plan.

1) “Attract the best companies to Florida,” he says.

There are signs that is happening with the state luring firms renowned for their innovation, including Scripps Research in Jupiter, Draper Lab in Tampa and St. Petersburg, SRI in St. Petersburg, and more recently Bristol-Myers Squibb in Tampa, among other examples.

2) “Support our nascent startup community,” says Sharpe.

* * *

3) “Emphasize STEAM” is Sharpe’s third leg of his innovation stool.

That’s a twist on the better-known approach to science, technology, engineering and math education, commonly known as STEM. Adding an “A” for the arts makes it STEAM.

As a general list, that is fine.  Of course, the companies listed in item 1 are all based somewhere else; without main offices, we will still lag, but it is something.  Item 2 is fine, but Hillsborough County still spends much more on what really amounts to subsidizing real estate development and low wage jobs than startups. (In fact, Estuary/Bass Pro Shops got three times as much as the startups.)  Item 3 is fine.

Then the column tells us this:

“Technological innovation is a key factor — if not the key factor — in economic growth and job generation,” regional economist Richard Florida wrote online this past week for the Atlantic magazine. “But in today’s knowledge economy, the capacity to innovate and generate new high-tech industries and jobs is much more concentrated and clustered in some places than others.”

Some economic leaders here believe Tampa Bay can become such a metro area.

Rick Homans, head of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp., is a believer. And he may be staking his career on it with his “MediFuture”-branded push to revolutionize the region’s health care/medical industry into an internationally recognized center of innovation.

The Tampa Bay Area can be an innovation hub, but not as it presently is.

And this is where we get back to what it means to “grow up.”  Growing up does not just mean improving education or attracting a few companies, though those are important.  It involves changing the approach to not only economic development, but how the region functions and how the local governments and business organizations within the region function.

First, if we fail to function as a region, we will never reach our potential.  Companies and their potential employees do not really care about the Tampa/St. Pete/Hillsborough/Pinellas arguments of old.  They don’t care about how much the HART board wants to “stay local.”  What they care about is how the region is built, what amenities are here, whether there are places to walk around and be in a city (with all that entails), and whether there is proper transportation.

Second, though related, it is not a coincidence that the innovation hubs are mostly places that either have been cities for a long time (Boston, NYC, San Francisco) or places that are building themselves like those cities (Seattle, which has been a city but not a huge one).  It is not a coincidence that while there are many companies in Silicon Valley, many of their employees live in San Francisco and many of the companies are moving to have a presence in the San Francisco.

These companies and their potential employees can pretty much go anywhere they want.  (Just think, Jeff Bezos of Amazon was born in New Mexico, lived in Houston, went to High School in Miami but chose to head out west to Seattle. .  He had a choice, and Florida lost.)  Most successful companies can locate where they want. Most modern “innovative” companies are not tied to raw materials like the turn of the century steel industry.  They often do not have massive manufacturing facilities, and, even if they do, they can easily get good deals to move them elsewhere (including out of the country).  Something else has to bring them and/or keep them here – namely the area and its lifestyle and the availability of talent and capital, as well as, in Amazon’s case, taxes. (see here)

The fact is that unless we address the poor planning, poor development, and poor transportation in our area – really address it not talk about it for a few years then present half solutions – we will still lag.  (Some local officials get it; many, if not most, do not; and many of those who seem to get it are still not willing to do anything substantial about it.)

The innovation economy does not care about the hype and petty political battles of local officials.  It is time they grew up.

Transportation – Pasco Toll Road Moves Forward, Pinellas Moves Back

There was news about the Pasco East-West Toll Road this week.

State transportation officials accepted a bid Wednesday from private investors who want to build and operate an elevated toll road in southern Pasco County that could change commuting patterns for generations of Tampa Bay motorists.

But before the first shovel of dirt is turned, the Florida Department of Transportation must negotiate a lease for public right-of-way in the State Road 54/State Road 56 corridor with the bidder, Florida 54 Express.

* * *

Stanley formed International Infrastructure Partners and teamed up with one of the world’s largest construction companies, OHL, to bid for the Pasco project. The 33-mile toll road would link U.S. 19 to U.S. 301 and provide unfettered access to the Suncoast Parkway and Interstate 75.

According to the proposal, which wasn’t made public until Wednesday afternoon, the consortium made an initial offer of $1.05 million per year for the duration of the lease. The consortium would negotiate tolling rates and other revenue-sharing proposals with state transportation officials. The initial lease would last 45 years but could be extended to 99 years.

* * *

“The proposal is very vague,” she said. “The devil is in the details. The first step was deciding is it worth moving forward to negotiate, and it was.”

It is clear that some kind of limited access east-west road in Pasco is needed (especially since Hillsborough did not build one).  Of course, we do not know the details of the proposal and/or any deal.  That will be key, especially how much it will cost to ride and what caps, if any, there would be on tolls. (FDOT does not engender trust on that subject.)  But at least there is some movement.  We await details.

Then there is the case of Pinellas.

Council members here are breathing a sigh of relief at hearing the state has dropped a proposal to build an elevated roadway at an intersection along Gandy Boulevard.

But they were less pleased at the news the state Department of Transportation does not intend to widen the existing overpass that crosses U.S. 19.

* * *

The DOT had considered building an elevated roadway at the 28th Street intersection, the entrance to the Gateway Business Center. But Pinellas Park officials and business owners objected, saying a flyover would kill business.

By businesses, they mean mostly a car dealership and Wawa.  While the state plans on widening Gandy from US19 to I-275, what is really needed is a limited access road to the Gandy Bridge – and it has been needed for decades. (See “Transportation – A Case Study in Inaction”)  The car dealership and Wawa will be ok, even if there is an overpass at the small intersection where they sit.

Pinellas Park is also annoyed that the overpass at Gandy and US19 won’t be expanded:

DOT officials said they can’t widen that intersection because there is no available land there for a right-of-way. The Shoppes at Park Place occupies the southwest corner of the intersection and the LaQuinta hotel occupies the northwest corner. Trying to get right-of-way from either would be cost-prohibitive, the DOT said. 

The lack of right of way is entirely Pinellas Park’s fault for not preserving the right of way.  They had a choice to make, and they chose allowing development over having the right of way.  Now they should not complain.

As we said previously:

. . . like so much planning in the Tampa Bay area, people have known that something should be done for decades, but not had the political will to do anything about it. 

Channel District Happenings

The ground breaking for Skyhouse in the Channel District has finally been announced.

Planned to break ground Feb. 4, SkyHouse Channelside will rise 23 stories and house 320 apartments after about a year of construction, its developers said.

Great.  It is about time one of the announced projects finally gets underway, and, thankfully, SkyHouse is relatively urban (though we have some concern about the parking garage).  Hopefully, the Martin, another 24 story building will get underway soon.  It will be nice to see something tall go up in downtown/Channel District again.

In further news,

The former Amazon Hose and Rubber facility is among the few remaining vestiges of the Channel District’s industrial past. The 2-acre property has been vacant since the company moved to 50th Street in 2005 as the Channel District was becoming increasingly residential.

NAI Tampa Bay commercial real estate broker Sean Lance has the property under contract again and expects the interested buyer to develop about 250 apartments on the site. The property was under contract last summer, but that deal fell through in September.

Movement on this prime lot is good.  Unfortunately, we do not know who the developer is or what the proposal is, so we cannot say it is good for sure.  Hopefully, lessons have been learned, the City will not settle again, and whatever is built will not be a suburban style apartment complex.  We do not need another one of those.  We shall see.

Downtown Tampa – Rumblings

The Tribune had an article about filings regarding land owned by the Lightning owner in downtown.

Representatives of Vinik and his partners are contemplating building a hotel and “possible residential” space of an unknown size on a parking lot at the corner of S Florida Avenue and Old Water Street, records show.

The site sits between the Tampa Bay Times Forum, the venue’s parking garage and the 27-story Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina. It’s one of the parcels Vinik acquired when he bought the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team and Times Forum lease in 2010.

We have no problem with a hotel on that site – it is just a dirt lot used for parking right now (though the parking is convenient).  It has long been thought of as a good location for a hotel.

Then there was this:

Vinik and his partners own several large pieces of land along Cumberland Avenue, which is a bit north of the Forum. The roads there are little used because they dead-end at some CSX railroad tracks that bring trains to and from a nearby ConAgra flour mill plant. Those train tracks and the flour mill for years have prevented good traffic flow in the area.

In a letter to the expressway authority, Bob Abberger of the development firm Trammell Crow Co. proposes building a new rail crossing and extending Cumberland Avenue all the way to Meridian Avenue. In his letter, Abberger says he is working with the Lightning on a real estate venture.

We have no problem with extending Cumberland either.  Connecting the Channel District more to downtown (especially if they actually build something) is a good thing.

So far, so good.

Of course, there are no designs or specific ideas, so we cannot say much more.  (Hopefully, Trammell Crow is recommending something more urban than the delayed office building they proposed up the road. See here) We will just have to wait and see.

West Tampa – What Exactly?

It has been known for a while that the Mayor wants to demolish North Boulevard Homes and redevelop the land.  This was confirmed:

Buckhorn is eying redevelopment at a 148-acre site west of the Hillsborough River and north of Interstate 275 – land that is currently owned mostly by government agencies and includes public housing facility North Boulevard Homes. The land currently produces just $150,000 annually in property taxes but could yield much more, Buckhorn told the South Tampa Chamber of Commerce.

The city is working with the federal government to get a grant to demolish North Boulevard Homes, and then will master plan and redevelop the site, Buckhorn said.

The Tampa Housing Authority said in October it would seek funding to begin relocating North Boulevard Homes residents, according to the Tampa Tribune. A call to the Housing Authority for an update was pending return. 

We have no problem with redeveloping North Boulevard Homes, though the article seems to say the land includes more than just North Boulevard Homes – if so, what else?  The real question is what does that redevelopment entail.

We have previously expressed concerns about what might get built in place of North Boulevard Homes (and elsewhere in West Tampa) and whether it will be urban and well planned or whether the City will settle for low density, surface parking, etc. (see West Tampa – A Cause for Concern)  We have seen no reason to not still have those concerns nor, given the way the City operates, do we expect our concerns to be assuaged any time soon, which is unfortunate because it is a once in a generation opportunity.  We cannot afford to blow it.

There was another item we liked:

He also proposed extending the Riverwalk, the walking path along the Hillsborough River, to the North Boulevard Bridge, which borders the site.

We are all for making as much of the riverfront public as possible.  It has never been clear to us why so much of the riverfront is not public, like in many major cities.  One issue is crossing the river because the North Boulevard Bridge is not particularly pedestrian friendly.  That needs to be looked at (though that area might be a good spot for a pedestrian/bike bridge across the river.)

Friendship Trail – The County Strikes Again

This week, Hillsborough County decided it really does want to demolish the Friendship Trail Bridge.  Of course, as with almost everything with the County, the story is a little odd.

County Public Works Director John Lyons notified architect Ken Cowart in a Jan. 7 letter that the county would go ahead with demolition of the 57-year-old bridge. Cowart, who has campaigned for two years to save the barricaded pedestrian walkway, was working with a group of investors interested in turning the bridge into a linear park connecting Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

“To date, the county has neither received a response from your group nor any other interested parties,” Lyons wrote Cowart. “Please be advised that the county will proceed with the bridge’s demolition.”

Cowart said his group never responded because the next move was supposed to be made by the county. County commissioners had told staff to seek official requests for proposals from potential private partners, he said.

“We have a team assembled and ready to go as soon as an RFP was issued,” Cowart said. “They weren’t going to issue an RFP. It’s impossible to drum up private interest when there’s little public interest.”

Uh, ok.  Unfortunately, we can’t say we are surprised, but it gets better.

Lyons said he doesn’t remember the county commission directing his staff to issue any such request, and he was researching commission meeting transcripts Monday. He said Cowart’s group could have made a proposal without the formal request.

“They never circled back with us to my knowledge,” Lyons said.

Three county commissioners contacted Monday said they couldn’t remember whether they sought a request for bids.

“I seem to recall maybe a year-and-a-half ago, we did give that directive,” Commissioner Al Higginbotham said.

If that were the case and Public Works didn’t go out for bids, “it would not be consistent with following through with the requests of the board,” Higginbotham said.

No, it wouldn’t be consistent, but, just like the homeless program, apparently no one thought to ask about it.  Since there is confusion, maybe the County should look into the proposal:

Commissioner Victor Crist said he has reservations about demolishing the bridge and think’s [sic] Cowart’s proposal deserves consideration.

“I know the proposal, while it’s a lofty one, was an intriguing one,” Crist said. “And if it could work, it would be something extremely unique and beneficial to this community.”

Right.  Of course, while the County is happy to hand out money to strip malls, there was this:

Cowart and Kevin Thurman, another proponent of saving the bridge, said last year they wanted no county money for the project except the $5.2 million the county had in reserves to demolish the bridge. Private investors, they said, would be willing to rebuild and operate a bridge for pedestrian foot traffic.

In return, they said, developers would want the use of land at the approaches to the bridge, parking revenue, rentals to kiosk-type businesses and other money making opportunities.

But Thurman said the county balked at assuming liability for a restructured span, something he said is done in public-private partnerships all the time. He cited Raymond James Stadium and the Tampa Bay Times Forum as examples. Asking private investors to assume all liability is a deal killer, he said.

It is unclear why the sore in the County are so determined to demolish the bridge rather than fix it up and have great asset for the community (like the City and Jackson House).  Maybe because it goes into Tampa rather than the unincorporated county.  Maybe because it is not in east county.  Whatever it is, the rush to demolish the bridge does not make much sense (especially in light of the comments by the Commissioners).  It all makes one wonder who is in charge.

Gasparilla Music Festival – Growing

Regarding lifestyle, one thing we have long advocated is creating a more active local music scene.  That includes festivals.  Happily, the Gasparilla Music Festival is growing, this year adding a second day.   That is a step.  We need more like it.  (When bands move to the Tampa Bay area to make it, even in the indie scene, then we will have reached the goal.)

We are also good with the recently announced Big Guava Music Festival (we really like the name) for May 2-4.   We are not so excited about the Fairgrounds location, but so be it.  Our biggest concern is that it is put on by a large promoter, and we do not want it to hurt the more local Gasparilla Music Festival (it is notable that Austin’s South by Southwest event had a local genesis and control).  Hopefully, they will both help create a critical mass.  As we often say, as a general rule, events are good.

The Strange Case of Honoring the Medal of Honor Recipient

The Tribune had an article about attempts to create a memorial to a posthumous Medal of Honor recipient from Tampa.   Despite ideas for doing something on Bayshore, US 301, and renaming Boulevard, nothing has happened yet.  You can read the article for all the details.

So here is an idea: instead of putting something on the side of a road that people will zip by, put a memorial in MacDill Park downtown, where people can stop and contemplate the memorial – which they won’t do on Bayshore.  What better place to put it than a Park that honors Tampa’s connection to the military?

It Could Be Worse

We often complain about the hype-tastic comments from local officials – and they are.  Of course it could be worse.  For instance, take this business card of a Chinese business leader listing all his skills and accomplishments:

From businessinsider.com – click on picture for article

What can you say?

Lists of the Week

This week, we have two lists presented together: Forbes’ presentation of Careerbliss.com’s Lists of Happiest and Unhappiest Cities to Work in Right Now.  This is the methodology:

Employees all over the country were asked to evaluate ten factors that affect workplace happiness. Those include one’s relationship with the boss and co-workers, work environment, job resources, compensation, growth opportunities, company culture, company reputation, daily tasks, and control over the work done does on a daily basis.

They evaluated each factor on a five-point scale and also indicated how important it was to their overall happiness. The numbers were combined to find an overall rating of employee happiness for each respondent, and then they were sorted by geographic location to find the happiest and unhappiest cities for employees. (Note: These aren’t necessarily the “best” and “worst” cities to live in; they’re simply the places where workers are most and least happy right now, according to CareerBliss data.)

First, the happiest places, which are not too surprising: coming in first is San Jose, followed by, DC, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Houston, Boston, Philadelphia, San Diego, and Charlotte.  Nothing surprising there other than Denver and Austin not being in the top 10, like they are on most lists.

Now, the unhappiest places: first (apparently unhappiest) is Cincinnati, Orlando, Indianapolis, Denver, Pittsburgh, the Tampa Bay area, Columbus (OH), Sacramento, Miami, and Arlington (VA).

The inclusion of Denver in unhappiest places is quite surprising (though given that this in one of the few lists Denver is at the bottom, that is really an outlier), and Arlington, Va, is really odd considering it is part of the DC metro.  Regardless, the Tampa Bay area, once again, does not score very well.

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